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COVID-19 Advice From a Supply Chain and Logistics Expert - Linda Venables

During COVID-19 organisations are identifying expertise gaps in critical areas. As we work through this crisis period we have created a series to focus on these critical areas, with insights from one of our readily available expert Interim Executives. View the full series here.


Linda has 30+ years of international and cross-functional experience building and leading teams and delivering positive business outcomes and change. Linda inspires a healthy culture with high levels of engagement and is known and recognised as a ‘values-based’ leader. She is passionate about safety, high performing teams and the management of risk.  Linda has been involved in large transformational programs including mergers, acquisitions and divestments and she is skilled in leading negotiations, operations and change management across the retail and manufacturing sectors.


Five years ago, on Anzac Day, the roof in the NSW distribution centre collapsed in two places due to a massive hailstorm which rendered the distribution centre inoperable. The distribution centre supplied over a thousand NSW and ACT grocery and liquor retailers, as well as cash and carry customers.


Linda and her team led the crisis management effort for the company and the program to re-establish supply, coordinating with property and automation partners to re-establish the integrity of the building, repair the damage and return full operations to the distribution centre.

Linda mobilised a program structure, increased leadership resources and established a governance regime.  She also led the internal and external communication as the crisis unfolded and was ably supported by an external risk management partner firm and their resources.

In assessing risks and benefits, the safety of their operational teams was, of course, front and centre for their focus, both in terms of physically in the operational areas and from a fatigue and mental well-being perspective. Constant communication about changes to the operating environment, engagement with teams in the warehouses and offices and a focus on managing working hours for team members in key roles, saw them lead the recovery efforts safely.


Crisis management processes, including teleconferences, kicked off within 4 hours of the initial call indicating the building had sustained damage.  Mobilising a cross-functional team and scheduling daily calls to update status and coordinate decisions, saw all internal stakeholders updated in a timely manner.

Continuity of supply was critical to their customers and so operations were swiftly transitioned to supply from Queensland and Victoria distribution centres and the switch of product replenishment from their vendor partners into these distribution centres along with it. The speed with which they were able to manage the transition gave them the opportunity to showcase to their customers the benefits of their national operations structure and scale of their geographic coverage. This rapid transition of volume to Victoria and Queensland saw opportunities for their NSW team members to volunteer to work inter-state, as the change required sharp increases in team member numbers and operating hours.  Within 3 days, their Queensland and Victoria warehouses mobilised to be able to handle what were Christmas-level volumes! 

Given the sheer volume of products required, satellite warehouses were then instigated in NSW, relieving the volume of product travelling inter-state and reducing order lead-time for their customers. In mobilising new facilities, opportunities were taken to leverage relationships with external partners and in order to mitigate risks, detailed plans were shared and updated frequently.  This saw them able to rapidly fit out three facilities and quickly recruit and train teams.

Other opportunities presented in the form of increased communication and deepening of team and partner relationships.  Increased awareness of the significance and complexity of the supply chain and the efforts of individuals and teams led to increased credibility for the supply chain teams and of course, these extraordinary efforts presented multiple opportunities for recognition.

Coordination of repairs and detailed transition plans saw them gradually reoccupy the distribution centre and close down satellite warehouses, until the final transition was made back to the distribution centre in June 2016, 16 months after the original event.

What Linda Learnt

  • The key in achieving their plans was working with their vendor and transport partners to scale up operations, with inter-state transport services and cross-dock hubs quickly mobilised.
  • The rapid development of milestone plans, describing overarching strategies, assisted teams and external partner alignment.  Working closely with so many parties, both internal and external, was supported by the sharing of targets, progress and KPI showing service levels.
  • By partnering with their colleagues up and down the supply chain and aligning with their communication requirements, they were able to provide relevant information to support status updates to their vendor and customer partners, something which was given tremendous focus.
  • Linda believes that having business continuity plans and adequate insurance in place, coupled with a close relationship with their risk partner, saw them in a good position to mobilise the recovery post the event. 
  • She believes it would have been beneficial pre-crisis to have taken their business continuity plans to the next level and to have pressure-tested the viability of the key areas of their plans. This would include systems changes, detailed mapping of transport network options, reviews of vacant warehousing space and steps required in mobilisation of new facilities.