Features

Santiago Noriega – Spectrum Brands

Finding the business value in supply chain

For a company to grow even a little during the COVID-19 economic slump is an accomplishment. A company growing over 20 percent calls for a closer look.

So, turn the lens to a home-essentials company headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin. According to Santiago Noriega, Spectrum Brands exceeded sales expectations when its 2021 fiscal year ended in September.

As head of the company’s supply chain in Mexico, Noriega doesn’t credit its size or international presence for its recent success. Rather, he credits the company’s role as a key contributor in the global supply chain.

Santiago Noriega | Head of Supply Chain, Mexico | Spectrum Brands

Santiago Noriega | Head of Supply Chain, Mexico | Spectrum Brands

Employing over 17,000 people in four U.S. states and the U.K., Germany and Mexico, Spectrum Brands manufacturers and supplies a wide variety of home products, from plumbing and vacuums to insect repellant, hair curler and weed killers. The company then delivers these products or other brands’ products to retailers, consumers and companies. Noriega is working to make this supply chain competitive through managing operations like transportation.

The supply chain begins, he says, with products dispatched from Asia or the U.S. to a local retailer, which is Spectrum Brands’ main focus. After that, the company handles commercializing and marketing the products while also meeting and speaking directly with local retail clients who then sell the product to their consumers.

Numbers: a company’s soul

Noriega also attributes Spectrum Brands’ success to employees and clear communication. He explains that the company has three important ways of communicating: executive meetings as needed; a monthly six-hour meeting between executives and the sales department; and a weekly meeting between “demand planners,” sales managers and executives. A major point of discussion is forecasting financial, commercial and operational trends.

“Working with these various teams, I led the local implementation of S&OP in Mexico,” Noriega says, using the shorthand for sales and operations planning. “This wasn’t an easy task because people tend to be reluctant towards change, but I believe the successful implementation is partly responsible for a lot of our success and revenue across the board.”

Santiago Noriega | Head of Supply Chain, Mexico | Spectrum Brands

Although S&OP was a part of the company’s U.S. and U.K. facilities, implementing it in Mexico took some effort. Noriega had to show the value of collaboration to all levels of employees, including the executives. He also sought and gained support from the general manager and the board members.

As a mathematician, Noriega turned to numbers, showing the executives the importance of a transparent and data-based forecast, which helps to decide what to supply and when. Think, for instance, about the growth in demand for toilet paper and antibacterial wipes during the start of the pandemic versus the falling demand for fashion industry products and cosmetics.

Noriega explained that if the sales, marketing and supply chains could share information about such trends, the executives could meet their revenue goals while the company could avoid over- or undersupplying. With S&OP rolled out, the sales department now meets with other departments to forecast and test its assumptions, which includes looking at what competitors are marketing.

Santiago Noriega | Head of Supply Chain, Mexico | Spectrum Brands

“We managed to get everyone to interact clearly and constantly with each other,” Noriega says. “The level of involvement from our general manager and board members is amazing and the key to our success.”

Although Spectrum Brands exceeded revenue expectations in 2021, Noriega reminds his employees, colleagues and bosses that the only thing certain about forecasts is that they’re never 100 percent correct and often wrong. Still, he predicts that if the company continues executing the S&OP process, they’ll react better to new demands, such as the increased demand for travel gear as pandemic restrictions lift and vaccinations become more common.

Unification through automation

Apart from improving communications, Noriega also wanted to eradicate manual procedures—and the errors inevitably accompanying manual processes.

For instance, he noticed that the order management department was typing up over 100 purchase orders every day. At those numbers, human error in unavoidable—no matter how skilled or experienced the workforce is, Noriega says. Almost from the moment he joined, he began working on automating purchase orders entries.

Automation was a two-fold process. First, Noriega tackled Spectrum Brands’ larger customers like Walmart or Soriana. Such established clients already had systems that could send digital purchase orders—Noriega just needed to create an electronic platform that could accept and translate these digital orders.

Santiago Noriega | Head of Supply Chain, Mexico | Spectrum Brands

For that, he and his team connected Spectrum Brands’ enterprise resource planning digital system with the client’s ERP through the Mexican vendor Masteredi.

For smaller clients that didn’t have systems to integrate, he turned to software made by internally through a Winshuttle license. Now, when contacting a smaller company, a salesperson will send them an Excel template. If the company doesn’t have Excel, the salesperson still uses that template to fill out all the purchase order information.

“This minimized human error and transaction completion time,” Noriega says. “From uploading to transmitting an order, it would take almost one day. Now it takes less than one hour.”

A developing career—and company

For nearly a decade, Noriega has known about the importance of automation. Before joining Spectrum Brands, he worked with the much larger Unilever for over eight years. Since the company had a bigger budget, almost everything was automated there, Noriega says. (For comparison, in 2020, Unilever’s revenue nearly reached $60 billion, while Spectrum Brands reeled in $4 billion.)

Santiago Noriega | Head of Supply Chain, Mexico | Spectrum Brands

In April 2019, he joined Spectrum Brands, bringing his expertise to help the business grow more efficiently. He keeps expanding his knowledge as well. He’ll soon be graduating from IPADE Business School with an executive MBA. This is in addition to his degree in applied mathematics and e-commerce diploma from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. When not studying or in the office, Noriega likes to read historical novels and play musical instruments.

“My main hobby is music, and I play several instruments from the bag pipes to pianos. Guitar is my favorite because that’s what I started with,” Noriega says. “Music have always brought me peace, comfort and joy.”

View this feature in the Vision Vol. 1 2022 Edition here.

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