Catching up With Fane Friberg: Supply Chain Management Expert
I recently spoke with Fane Friberg, principal at CEPHAS and a supply chain management expert, about how he started his company, as well as current market challenges he sees and what he thinks the future holds for companies—especially post-pandemic.
Dan Beaulieu: Fane, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. To get started, tell me a little bit about your background.
Fane Friberg: My pleasure. I have spent over 30 years in supply chain management, sourcing, and fulfillment operations. I started by spending 10 years with General Electric (GE), working in various divisions, including GE Aircraft Engines, GE Healthcare, and GE Gas and Oil. I also worked with small job shops and some Fortune 100 companies. All of those engagements dealt with supply chain, manufacturing, sourcing, distribution, warehousing, logistics, and fulfillment.
Beaulieu: What prepared you to start your own company?
Friberg: I have an undergraduate degree in business with a major in operations management. I was recruited by GE out of college and developed my expertise in business turnarounds, focusing in on-time delivery and cost to serve, mergers and acquisitions, design/layout of manufacturing and distribution centers, and fulfillment site optimization (how many distribution centers, where are the distribution centers located, what products should be in each DC, etc.).
Beaulieu: How did you start CEPHAS?
Friberg: Many of my roles during my career involved turnaround and optimization. I have always wanted to start my own business, and I knew that at some juncture of my career, I wanted something where I could leverage the best practices from large industry organizations and small startups.
Beaulieu: There is some of that in all of us, but few of us take the initiative to actually do it, so good for you.
Friberg: To use a football term, there came to a point in my life and career where I wanted to be more than a “game manager” but rather always driving for continual improvements. I wanted to find the bottlenecks or constraints precluding 100% on-time delivery that exceeded budget expectations. And I really wanted the opportunity to help small-to-midsize businesses work with the velocity that makes them special and yet bring some of the rhythm, structure, and influence of large conglomerates. It’s exciting.
Beaulieu: Were there any challenges when you went out on your own?
Friberg: I was fortunate at the beginning of my startup, where I was able to do some longer-term W2 (1099 contractor) engagements but still within the strategy of turnaround and quantified improvements. However, the biggest challenge was I had to be the supply chain/operations expert and a salesperson.
My wife was in sales. I used to always tell her how easy it was to be in sales and that the real challenge in business was not getting the order but actually making the widgets and delivering by the due date to which the sales team had committed. However, I’ve found the challenge is finding that business where the proprietor is ready and open to change and can structure that balance of best practices from corporate America while maintaining the basic fabric of how that business found, made, and sustained its niche.
Beaulieu: That’s funny because I always thought the buyers had it easy, but the salespeople had it tough; it depends what side of the desk you’re on. Now, tell us about the company. What services do you offer, and where does the name come from?
Friberg: CEPHAS means “the rock.” Structuring the solutions within the supply chain as the foundation for sustained improvement and growth is the strategic imperative. And the key imperative is to help companies develop a completely smooth-running supply chain management system that provides improved on-time delivery, improved cost to serve, sales and operations planning, rough-cut capacity planning, the theory of constraint management, the implementation of simple yet effective key performance indicators (KPIs), supplier collaboration and supplier scorecard tools, and 6-S methodology—safety, sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain.
Beaulieu: Providing all that, what makes your company stand out from others?
Friberg: First of all, my experience. I have been in supply chain management for many years, and during that time, I have developed a basic “boots on the ground” approach. I go into any company and develop a study of its existing systems from evaluating the existing standard operating procedures/practices that the company already has at some level. Then, I find a way to not only optimize those fundamental components but also weave in some other best practices and, most importantly, measurements. Measure what you expect.
Beaulieu: What you do can apply to any company or organization. Can you give us an example of a success story?
Friberg: There was a client who brought in someone like me as a last resort. The business was not able to deliver on time, and most jobs were exceeding quoted costs. As I got on-site and started doing my discovery, I quickly learned that one of the owner’s children died at the facility. It was a freak accident during some routine weekend overtime. The passion was gone. Having children myself, I was deeply touched and humbled by the situation.
The key part of the engagement was empathy. They gave me the opportunity to work with them to help shift—for part of the day—away from the grief and look for small personal and professional successes within the business. They were able to move into another facility, with fewer memories, and have grown their business focused on their strategic imperatives. While there is no way I could provide a “solution” for the hurt—nor did I try—I focused on incremental successes, so we were able to get the business operating at their desired performance levels.
Beaulieu: As consultants, we are often forced to use empathy and understanding with our clients. I call it having a good bedside manner. It could be said that empathy might be a good consultant’s secret weapon. Next, let’s get into the actual logistics of your services.
Friberg: The initial engagement is a free consultation. This can be a phone call, a Zoom meeting, or an on-site visit, which is sometimes dictated by the “new normal” of our world. I ask, “What is/are the pain-point(s) for the business?” “What key areas do you feel you are underperforming relative to your strategic imperatives of your customer’s needs?” and, “What do you measure, such as KPIs, and how are you performing to those?” Nine times out of 10, on-time delivery is key.
The services/solutions are dependent on the client but include the following derivatives of these elements: I meet the leadership team, and then I walk the floor with the shop-leader and listen to learn about the current flow. I see what pinch points they identify and look for visual indications of where production flow is backing up; if queued up in the shop, that is most likely the constraint. Second, I walk the floor and office area on my own and make observations. Are there objective and performance measurement in the facility, and are they current? Third, I conduct short interviews with individual department leaders.
Within a week, I submit a proposal back to the owner on scope, timing, and cost. This includes a formal presentation to the leadership team on a plan and solutions based on the “watch one, show one, do one” approach, like in surgery. I help them enhance or develop simple KPIs that can be maintained daily/weekly but no less than weekly.
Although there are initial improvements, sustainable on-time delivery solutions usually take 90 days, and sustainable cost-to-serve solutions take 180 days. Once the desired performance level is attained, we determine the go-forward strategy. This could be a weekly site visit to ensure that the tools are consistently being used and driving the right outcome, or a weekly submission of the KPIs for me to review remotely and provide feedback. Then, I do monthly visits to maintain relationships and accountability. If a new constraint is highlighted, then I make the necessary recommendations to positively quantify/influence that limitation.
Beaulieu: Now, more than ever before, we need your services. Can you tell us why that is?
Friberg: First, we don’t know when things will become “normal” again or what the “new normal” is going to be. Second, although we can have desired outcomes relative to business recovery, we don’t necessarily know if the recovery for a given business/industry will be a U, V, W, or some logarithmic curve. Third, each SMB will have unique challenges on their customer base, employee base, supplier base, and the expected execution dividend for their customers in the new normal. Having the ability to leverage a qualified external resource to help with the recovery may have the greatest return-on-investment.
Beaulieu: What do you think are the biggest challenges that companies face today?
Friberg: There are so many unknowns at this time. What will the structure of the new economy be? Will there be a quantum change in the way goods and services are sourced? What about new strategies regarding onshoring and insourcing? How will this global pandemic change the way we do business in this country? Will some companies relook at their brick-and-mortar strategies and find a way to balance that fixed expense with a different model? Because of proven success during tough times, where are back-office teams going to be located moving forward? These questions still circle back to the execution dividend on delivery, cost, quality, and responsiveness.
Beaulieu: How can you help these companies overcome these challenges?
Friberg: It’s about getting them to accept change and commit to their success without being tied to “the way we always did it.” By having a fresh set of eyes, show them how to look at their company differently to identify and break bottlenecks through integrity, analytics, and speed.
Beaulieu: What do you see in the future, and where would you like your company to be in five years?
Friberg: From this global crisis, how we do business will change to a more collaborative/virtual model where that’s possible. With the change in the employee base from Baby Boomers to Millennials to Generation Z, the companies that pivot will be positioned for profitable growth. In five years, I would like to see the benefits from the CEPHAS model expand to the point where the demand for this solution enables me to add additional consultants to the team and maybe even build a family business that I can bring my children into.
Beaulieu: Wrapping up, why should companies call you?
Friberg: Thanks for giving me this opportunity. Remember that this is about their short-term recovery and long-term success. This is not about billable hours for me but superior accomplishments for the SMBs (small- to medium-sized businesses). This is about collaboration and coaching for measured and sustainable improvements. It’s also about committing to the intensity, focus, and dedication that it takes to help SMBs increase profitability and accelerate growth—always making sure that promises made are promises kept. And finally, play to win while having fun.
Beaulieu: I love that. Any final comments?
Friberg: Believe that you are not alone. You don’t have to be the subject matter expert (SME) on everything, and you do not have to be perfect, but you do have to be ready to pivot. Embrace this responsibility. Stick to your moral compass and the strategic imperatives and values of your organization.
Some SMBs are going to be challenged to recover post-pandemic. But the reality is that many SMBs in certain verticals will potentially be better positioned to react to the “crack of the bullwhip.”
A viable solution could be to engage a certified supply chain professional. Leverage that resource to optimally position your enterprise on mission-critical activities to further expedite your recovery plans.
Let me help you be that business that delivers on time, every time. Now is the time to lead and take care of your team. Together, we can.
Beaulieu: Fane, thanks for talking to me today. This has been a fascinating conversation. Good luck, my friend.
Friberg: Thank you.