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Up Close: In Conversation with Körber’s Rene Hermes

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Rene Hermes, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at technology group Körber, shares how to navigate increasingly complex supply chains and meet expanding consumer expectations for fulfillment flexibility.

Name: Rene Hermes

Title: Executive vice president and chief marketing officer

Company: Körber Business Area Supply Chain Software

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

Supply chain performance has never been so important to overall business success. However, the current economic climate makes it increasingly challenging to achieve. Supply chain complexity is accelerating due to complicated inventories, SKU proliferation or increasingly demanding consumers when it comes to choice, convenience, speed and, of course, price. The key to conquering these complexities is holistic visibility and optimization by looking beyond the traditional levers of supply chain optimization. Companies can learn a lot from early adopters of omnichannel fulfillment you can find in the e-commerce or food and beverage segment by embracing the multiple layers of network collaboration and end-to-end optimization with the help of software and automation technology.

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How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I am making the most of my purchases online and tend to get very familiar with an offering once it has caught my eye. I love engaging with multiple touchpoints along the buyer’s journey and stay engaged with a brand. I am also the type of customer who appreciates great services from a brand and keeps coming back. You could say I tend to become a loyal promoter of a brand, if everything fits.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

Customer care is key. That starts with an aggregate view of what I purchased and when to expect it to be delivered. I appreciate delivery upon set expectations, but being an insider also allows me to understand that bottlenecks can happen. When companies cannot keep the promise they made, customer service turns even more important. Communication and transparency are vital. In addition, loyalty increases when returns are handled smoothly and the company is aware of the environmental impact.

What’s your typical work uniform?

During home office days, I prefer to wear jeans and a dress shirt. In the summer, I replace jeans with shorts. On the road, I tend to dress casually. I cannot recall the last time I wore a suit and tie; it was probably at a wedding.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

My personal taste is classic and minimalistic, but it’s not taken for granted to live up to it and have a variety of brands at hand. It’s a benefit to live in a time and place where our values and beliefs can be mapped in the things we wear. Take the rising awareness around sustainability and the response of the textile economy with rental or resale clothes models. To achieve this, innovative business models, partnerships and the harnessing of digital technology are all required.

Who’s your style icon?

Don’t look for icons; choose your own style.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

Earlier in 2022, we expanded our portfolio to enable businesses to deliver upon ever-increasing consumer expectations in today’s highly competitive omnichannel landscape through the acquisition of a commerce solution. That brought a great extension of our existing product portfolio and enables our customers to manage complex multichannel order fulfilment requirements. The order management solution spans order orchestration, enterprise inventory availability, store fulfillment, customer care, dropship, marketplaces, subscriptions, product information management, mobile point of sale, mobile fulfillment and shipment experience management. As a result, Kӧrber has become a single, global provider of omnichannel commerce and fulfillment software.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

Our business brings together a global network of supply chain experts. We are conquering complexity across borders and industries and succeed as one team trusting in the wealth of experience of each and every single colleague. We support each other and new ways of thinking, while challenging the status quo. It’s a great place to work.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

While 94 percent of Fortune 500 companies attested to supply chain disruptions from Covid-19, the pandemic has taught us that building agility and resilience into supply chain operations is no longer just nice to have. It would be unrealistic to think that a business can prevent every disruption it’s faced with. The pandemic has shined a new light on ways businesses can improve their supply chains moving forward. This is the industry’s chance to become more proactively agile and resilient—and it is embracing it through technology.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

Supply chain operations have become increasingly critical for this industry sector. Consumers now expect complete flexibility in how and where they shop. If they see stock on a retail store’s website, for example, they want the flexibility to be able to order it online for same-day or next-day delivery or to collect it from the store. More process complexity comes with returns handling, considering that the apparel industry is still handling the largest percentage of returns overall. From a retailer’s perspective, this means different elements of the fashion and apparel supply chain must be seamlessly integrated in order to meet these expectations.

What keeps you up at night?

Over the last decade, supply chains have become a mission-critical function. Rising customer expectations and the rapid expansion of e-commerce mean that supply chains have to execute flawlessly, which is increasingly challenging against the backdrop of labor shortages, material supply issues and rising costs. The problems of our customers are multilayered and intrinsically interwoven, to put it mildly.

What makes you most optimistic?

We hear the industry and keep enhancing access to Körber’s unrivalled depth and breadth of technologies so that even more businesses can benefit from a portfolio that helps businesses stay competitive and be ready to respond to changes in this rapidly evolving market.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

One innovation I’m thrilled about is our warehouse design and simulation product. It helps companies to simulate their operations and omnichannel strategies by providing an intuitive user interface to help companies build virtual “walk-through” visualizations of their entire warehouse operation, covering zones, people, aisle width, storage, marshaling areas, workstations and material handling equipment. Supply chain operators benefit from forecasting operational process changes and comparing different scenarios. By testing designs ahead of a new-build, redesign or expansion plan, they gain significant insight into how that affects their operations.