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Oliver Wight EAME Blog

Santa: The Interview

20 December 2019

How did you get into this line of business?

In my previous life, I’ve held roles such as Supply Chain Manager, Procurement Officer and Demand Planner, all at huge global corporations which were driven solely by maximising margins and profit. Although I enjoyed the day-to-day aspects of my job, I realised I wanted to work in an industry which suited my skills and experience, but was motivated by the wants and needs of its customers, rather than revenue.

And that’s when I came across this role, on LinkedIn. My predecessor was nearing retirement, and although the job description was a bit vague, especially “Must be willing to relocate to The North and have the ability to grow a beard”, it ticked all my boxes, especially when I realised it was a non-profit organisation. So, although my earlier career was quite different, a lot of the skills and experience I acquired throughout the years have been invaluable in my role as Santa Claus.


How do you know which toys will be the ‘must-have’ every year, and how do you meet demand?

My predecessor had been in the role for over 117 years and was very set in his ways. He wasn’t so much hesitant to change, as stubbornly resistant! When I took over the role, I was surprised to see that the workshop relied almost entirely on letters from children to shape demand, which meant the bulk of presents were made-to-order. Although we are a non-profit organisation, this way of working was extremely costly and difficult to accurately budget. Labour costs were astronomical, especially overtime in the ramp up towards Christmas, and if we needed to source raw materials last minute, we paid a hefty premium for the privilege. And although we did – and still do – have certain items that we make throughout the year as we know there is or be demand, this alone wasn’t enough to offset the increasing workshop costs.

I, on the other hand, have no qualms with utilising technology to improve the way we work. In the 21st century, we now have a wealth of information at our fingertips, data which can be interpreted and analysed, and provides us with valuable consumer insights, including which toys are likely to be the ‘must-have’ for the upcoming year. This knowledge forms the basis of our Demand Plan and enables optimised inventory planning, as well as enabling production to run throughout the entire year instead of trying to squeeze millions – literally – of orders into a six- to eight-week window. 


What challenges do you experience and how do you overcome them?

Children in the 21st century are lucky enough to have a portfolio of presents that has evolved from just one tangerine in a Christmas stocking, to a choice of hundreds of thousands of toys. Although consumers like choice, as a manufacturer, it makes forecasting and planning challenging as children tend to be very fickle. But, since implementing Demand Sensing last year, we’re able to track behaviours and Christmas wishlists in real-time, before making informed adjustments to the Demand Plan throughout the year to accurately reflect demand and avoid disappointed faces on Christmas Day.

Another challenge is delivery. Although we have years of experience in navigating the delivery route, the increase in population – in the last 50 years, the population of under-14s has increased by almost 60% - has definitely puts pressure on my logistics team, as they try to determine which route is the most efficient. Despite this, I am proud to share that even with a global customer base of over two billion, a transportation route of millions of miles and a mere 31-hour delivery window, we have always delivered 100% OTIF.


How do you execute such a flawless logistical operation, every single year?

Three words: organisation, collaboration and integration. Currently, I’ve been in the role for just over four years and I when I first joined, I wanted to experience the Christmas operation, so I could identify the issues before I started making changes. It was one of the more inefficient operations I’d seen; extreme waste, lack of communication and almost forced overtime.

Although our stellar reputation has never been in doubt, the contrast between smiling children on Christmas Day, and my overworked elves post-Christmas was an imbalance that I wanted to address. I introduced an integrated business planning (IBP) solution, which champions the importance of planning and process to alleviate the extreme pressure that had haunted the workshop for decades. As well as utilising Demand Sensing to accurately shape demand, I also introduced processes to streamline production, management and a warehouse solution which ensures packages are wrapped and correctly allocated for delivery.

And having recently invested in several Regional Distribution Centres in strategic global locations, we’ve emphasised the importance of the role cross-organisational collaboration plays to enable us to execute the smooth-running of this complex logistical operation.   


Have you embraced the digital age?

Absolutely! Although my predecessor was a bit of a Luddite, my vision for the future of Santa’s Workshop is largely technology-led, as I think that tech holds the key to unlocking the workshop’s full potential. I’ve already started to incorporate technology to help streamline the operation. Using the latest tech, scanners digitise handwritten letters and postal orders collating with inputs from face-to-face meets at Santa’s Grotto an AI-ed algorithm determines whether children are ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ in my global database and a state-of-the-art-sleigh GPS system can plan the most efficient route.  


You have a record-low turnover rate in your workforce. Why do you think that is?

A modern omni-channel approach requires a workforce with the most up-to-date qualifications. Although my most recent recruits are digital natives, the average elvish lifespan is currently 367 years, so I invest considerably in a CPD programme to make sure the entire workforce continues to have the right skills – and passion – suited to my 21st century Santa’s workshop. As well as the more extensive courses, I also offer monthly training workshops, including one on ‘Elf & Safety', and the latest in tech development, such as 3D printing.

Have you got any questions for Santa? Get in touch with us on Twiiter.