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Letters In Response To Bob Evans

Here are letters Bob Evans received in response to the original column in 2001.

*********************

Your coal story was very interesting, esp for one with an 88 year old dad and from the great lakes.

Being from Detroit, you do not see suppliers with large numbers of parts sitting around. That is because of the AIAG system of JIT and 830 supply schedules they have been using for years. All the auto companies have left to do is do is institute JIT with the dealers so the inv is not so big.

Nortel and Cisco should look to Detroit for some old but good practices.

*********************

Just wanted you to know I enjoyed your article about your Dad. It was a wonderful story that was very touching and still very related to our IT business. Kind of a model for why data warehousing is so necessary!

Also, so sorry for your loss. I'm sure you are glad you took him on that little jaunt no matter how much trouble it was.

*********************

As a long-time reader, I think this is your best piece yet.

*********************

I enjoyed reading your recent story about your dad needing to know the end fate of the coal. I draw a parallel in my own mindset about needing to understand the flow of how our processes work from start to finish.

I built data centers in a previous job. When it came to train the newly hired staff in how to operate the systems, my training involved the phrase, "Let's get dressed warmly, we're going outside." I started outside the facility. I'd point out the utility power lines entering the building and show the conduits disappearing through the back wall of the data center. Next, I'd unlock the gates surrounding the genset. I'd briefly cover the operation of that system. Then, and only then, would we re-enter the facility. As we headed to the transfer switch I'd explain without power, we were all out of a job. Therefore, the operator's primary responsibility is to ensure that electrical power makes it into the facility.

It sounds as though your dad had the same burning desire to see and understand the basic concepts. That clarity gives us a major step ahead of those who don't recognize what is inevitable when you understand the primary elements that we manage to work toward our own successes.

Great story, Bob. Thanks for sharing it!

*********************

Bob....

Thanks for the great story. While Growing up on the Great Lakes (MI) it really caught my attention. Also from a business aspect--its not just about products--its the thinking that is important--the broad perspective etc. (in our work--it's systems thinking). A great lesson learned and a fine story.

*********************

Thank you for your poignant, informative "where does the coal go" story - it was one of your best! In a future article I would be interested in learning your views on the rise of the importance of coal again - thanks to the Bush administration - and the mountaintop removal process explained in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine (7/22/01).

*********************

Nice story. This is the kind of stuff that really makes you think; about life, about family, and about how things interconnect. This is a connection I'll remember !

Thanks.

*********************

Bob,

I get enough Tech pubs through email and snail mail to choke a Blue Whale. I find myself rapidly skimming & hitting the delete key or the recycle bin more often than not.... but your paragraph about Lake Erie transported me, be it ever so briefly..... my measure of good writing is if it 'captures' me, it's good. Your blurb was good.

Thanks for the brief 'trip'!

*********************

I grew up in the Madison / Geneva area of NE Ohio and when I was a kid it was a big deal to go to Ashtabula Harbor and watch the lake freighters load and unload. Later in life several of my boyhood friends went to work on the freighters since that was a great way to earn a lot of money in the summers that could be quickly spent in the winters! In those days the shipping was not always open year round.

I still have family and friends in that area so I go back a couple of times a year and never fail to head to Ashtabula Harbor to see the lift bridge and docks and have some Lake Erie Perch!

Thanks for the story.

*********************

Dear Bob,

I just read your article about your Dad in this weeks "Read Between the Lines". Great article! Your Dad, it seems, was a man well ahead of his time! Oh, if only more C-level people had his insight! Having an end-to-end vision of their supply chain, from their vendor's vendor to the customer's customer or in your Dad's words - "But where does the coal go?" is absolutely essential in today's economy. But unfortunately, we have too many C-level executives that only see the fences and stop there! How do I know this you might ask? Experience. The company I represent is a strong supporter of companies having that end-to-end visions of their supply chain operations and have the talent on hand to help them reach that vision (your Dad would have fit in nicely with our group). But (you knew there was a but coming) to many only see the immediate "fences" facing them. But those that do pursue the end-to-end vision are seeing remarkable results directly to their bottom line!

Once again my hat is off to your Dad, a man ahead of his time. God bless him.

*********************

Bob:

Your article this week could have been in any number of magazines and made perfect sense. . It reminds me a little of another of my favorites, Rick Reilly who writes for SI in a similar back page slot. I incidentally went to high school with a kid named Grayle Howlett who is the Assoc publisher of SI these days.

My dad as well is seemingly on the verge of leaving, he will be 83. WWII vet, great guy... it is sad to watch as these guys get old, so for a number of reasons your article captured my undivided attention.

I am sure you were a good son, which beats a great editor any day.

*********************

...glad you spent the time w/your Dad when you could. -

*********************

Bob

Nice story. I don't know that it was the best parable for your point, as the missing link in the chain was one internal to the harbor's operations, so wasn't really part of the larger supply chain.

But as a former sailor on Kinsman Marine (the big S on the stack for Steinbrenner), Medusa Cement, American Ship, and Reiss Steamship companies, I appreciated the reminder of a past life. For me the mystery was always the vagaries of the freight market, which could have us carrying sand for a small town up a narrow waterway in Michigan, then the next trip carrying taconite ore for a steel mill in New York. We fit into a lot of supply chains, but I'm sure as a logistics footnote. I think I came into Conneaut in 1974 or 75. I saw a lot more of Cleveland and Lorain of Ohio ports.

*********************

Thanks for sharing that moment w your Dad w us! Which theatre was your Dad in during WWII? Was it the Pacific? Was he ever in the Philippines?

As for companies with excess inventory - did they not have some ERP system however rudimentary that would have warned them about this build-up? I'm in SAP support - Production Planning & Logistics and MM/QM/WM in the pharmaceutical industry! In my monitoring activities, I was noticing how much of our Xenical stock we're getting close to Expiry dating and not a single unit delivered to wholesale/retail. They built this inventory anticipating a huge public demand (through physicians barraged w samples) and actually designed production facilities for 7/24 operation. And a year before launch, they hired reps to train for sales blitz. Well, with FDA warnings, none of the anticipated demand materialized. Financial plans were revised and more realistic goals set. But we did have to institute cost cutting measures including layoffs - 1500 in the US. And a changing of the guards, of course! As for those Xenical lots - they were all scrapped!

*********************

My dad passed away last year at 76 years of age, so I could identify with your story and I found it surprisingly uplifting. I'm glad you got to solve the mystery together and fulfill that small dream of your dad's while he was still able to enjoy it. Thanks for sharing your personal story.

*********************

Dear Mr. Evans:

This e-mail message is primarily to thank you for sharing your memories of your Dad with the rest of the world.

I have been receiving Information Week via e-mail for a long time now, but I seldom read beyond the headlines (sorry, nothing personal, just didn't have the time). Today the headline of your article 'The Need To Know Never Goes Away' caught my attention and I actually read it through.

Apart from the educational theme, which is commendable, your article demonstrates respect, admiration, love and care for your Dad. These sentiments and actions are the essence of filial piety and the essence of moral conducts. Nowadays such sentiments and practice are very rare, and yet seriously needed. The fact that you wrote about your Dad shows how much you love and miss him and how grateful you are that he taught AND SHOWED YOU BY HIS OWN ACTIONS, that 'The Need To Know Never Goes Away'. I salute YOUR DAD for setting an example and I salute YOU for sharing the stories.

It just happened that this Sunday (7/22) was my Dad's 29th Year Memorial. I too have many uplifting stories to tell about my Dad and how he taught me, and others, by setting examples. Unfortunately because of my business schedule, I do not have time to write a book about him at present, perhaps one day I will. But reading an article in which a Dad was lovingly remembered in uplifting stories is very refreshing, comforting, inspiring and encouraging. Thanks again for sharing the stories. I am sure your Dad would have been very proud of you that you told the stories, between the lines, if he were here.

Just to share a little bit of my experience as fellow grateful children of great dads: Seven years before my Dad passed away (my Mom was gone long before), I invited him to visit United States (from Taiwan). In order to be able to spend more time with him seeing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I resigned from a lucrative engineering position at a large computer manufacturer (otherwise I would have only 2 weeks vacation time). For almost a whole year, with the help of a great American friend David Rashes who later became my Mentor and business partner, we took my Dad around the country and Canada, visiting many places of interest to him. This visit to US, as I learned later, was one of his wishes.

Incidentally, one of my current projects is the compilation and production of a library of Chinese Classics in bilingual Chinese and English texts, as a dedication to honor the memories of my Dad and Mom. One of the smaller Classics is called 'The Classic of Filial Piety' - a Chinese Canon written before 400 B.C. If you are interested in reading the English translation portion, I would be glad to send you a draft copy, when it is completed, for your perusal.

*********************

Great story, great Dad, good son

*********************

Dear Mr. Evans, Thank you so much for that story of your father. It is all too rare that we have a chance to see the hearts behind the minds of those we rely on in the world of the internet. As for this reader you have my indulgence any time. Thank you for intelligent writing with soul.

*********************

Thank you for your article. I am sending a copy to my father and I am framing the original page.

*********************

Bob,

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your article, "The need to know Never ends"

Being a writer myself, I am frequently looking for things to write about. I know how hard it can be.

Great work.

*********************

Bob:

I have never written to a writer/editor regarding his work in a publication, and I'm a bit surprised at myself for writing on this particular subject. But, I do want to thank you for your 'Father's Perspective' column in the July 23rd issue of Information Week. It was at once entertaining and enlightening. And, I think that because it came from such a personal view, it made the impersonal subject more tangible. As a result, I think I'll have a slightly different attitude while scanning your publication in the future.

*********************

Bob,

My condolences to you and your family on the passing of your father. What a neat thing for you to have done to show your dad "where the coal went".

Your writing strikes a chord with me since I grew up in Toledo. We spent our summers at the cottage my grandfather built on Swan Creek about 10 miles north of Monroe, MI. We were only a half mile from Lake Erie and often took our little boat out to the lake to swim, fish, and watch the huge ore carriers go by to and from the Detroit River entrance. They were so long they couldn't go out on the ocean because they'd break in the middle if suspended on high waves.

Your article is very personal. You are one of the few people I read who can relate such an article to business well. Thank you.

*********************

Bob: I have never met you, nor you I, but I believe you have experienced what I am coming to accept. Somehow, we are able to perceive things that we do not expect.

Whether we have a "hunch" that is our mind really remembering something that our conscious mind is not aware of or We perceive the emotions or feelings of someone else.

For example; did you really just "happen" to take your father on the "coal" flight and maybe his passing was unexpected to your conscious mind, but what about unexpected to the whole of your perceiving person?

I felt the need to visit my father who was in a nursing home in Texas, ( I live in Tn) and traveled to Texas to do just that. I had only been back home 2 weeks and I received a call that my father had passed away. It was also unexpected.

I am not advancing mentalism, psychics, telepathy, religion or anything similar, but I have come to believe that in our wonderful age of computer support, we and our mind are still the most wonderful computer (little used as it is) and what I am suggesting is that "We listen more to our inner feelings because more often than not, for whatever reasons, our own abilities or those of some higher power, they are right".

I for one do not believe that chance plays as much a part in our lives as many would think. We not realize it, but many of those chance happenings are not. *********************

Dear Mr Evans

I enjoy your column in Information Week each week. This one is one of the best, showing your care for your father. The description of coal being transported by ship and railroad prompts me comment about an analogy to the Information industry.

Information is the product of this industry. It is what is created and what is sold to and needed by the end users. The computer, OS, applications, browsers, internet and the rest are merely the transportation infrastructure and have no reason to exist in themselves. It is the information end product and what it does for society that counts.

Back in 1973 I read a book by a Russian cybernetics expert in which he pointed out that the 'industrial revolution' was a leveraging of mankind's muscle power by the application of mechanical and chemical energy to do work. And now the 'cybernetics revolution' is a leveraging of mankind's brain power with at least equal magnitudes of expansion and with it changes that can not be foreseen. In the mid 19th century the industrial revolution hit the transportation industry with creation of railroads and steam ships. The result was a tremendous decrease in the cost of transport, especially of bulk goods like raw materials and food. The overall effect was deflationary. But along the way there were several investment 'bubbles' in the stock of railroads and related industries.

Now we are seeing a similar situation in the information transportation infrastructure industry. If the railroad industry in thee 1920's had been allowed to buy and control all the airlines being created then our economy and society would look quite different today. If Rockefeller and the other oil and steel barons had been able to keep control of the railroad transportation industry society would have been even more different and if product transportation in all phases, rail, truck, air, ship, was not kept separate from product creation we would indeed by in big trouble. That is what 'common carrier' legislation is all about.

There is a lot more to this, but I won't go on. I guess the main point as far as Information Week is concerned is to promote the independence of the information creation folks from the transportation infrastructure. Another issue is to look into the future. With the rapid decrease in the cost of transporting information comes an increase in the ease of creating it, and I believe, a deflationary pressure just like the deflation in the cost of food in the last half of the 19th century. The same transportation revolution that enabled the American farmer to ship all over the world but still led to reduced prices of grain now are enabling information creators to set up in India or wherever and ship world wide but with a reduced price for the product.

*********************

Bob, Thanks for the brief article about your grandfather and Conneaut, Ohio. I grew up in that area and remember clearly the intense focus on logistics--steel mills, rail transportation, so many ore and freight carriers on the lake.

Of late, ..ever since a stint with Ernst & Young, where I did some connected supply chain architecture, I too have imagined achievement of the illusive goal of end-to-end (demand-supply chain) visibility. I imagined that such a "bird's eye view" might be attainable through "business intelligence and analytical applications" that aggregate key performance indicators of change. What we're seeing today are only the latest examples of so many failures of command and control "eyesight." Are the business models too tactical? Are the measures simply insufficient? Is the integration of indicators insufficiently complex or insufficiently thought-through? Clearly predictive connected supply chain management is yet to be realized.

*********************

Dear Bob,

Just a thank you for your wonderful piece on seeing things - and business - end-to-end. Very applicable in this day and age. A delightful story, too, about you and your dad. What a great gift you gave - and got.

It was wonderful, just wonderful!

*********************

Thanks very much for the article about your Dad and "Where did the Coal Go". My Dad came to Florida for my son's wedding and I got to take him Deep Sea fishing while he was here. He died several months later - so I was glad we had that special "fishing" time together.

*********************

The excellent story below brings back many memories for me, having sailed on the Lakes for ten years. We sailed into Buffalo, Conneaut, Ashtabula, Grand River, Cleveland, Lorain, Sandusky and Toledo may times to unload or load. Boy the kid memories you must have as I do of NE Ohio. Little does a child realize that a parent is giving so much as we grow up. It is only later in life that we realize by reliving the memories. You must have summered at Geneva-on-the-Lake as a kid.

Next time you are in NYC let me know, My office is decorated with Great Lakes pictures, ship blueprints, and the stories I have. I am a plank owner of one of those 1,000 footers you talked about. They are so big at the dock but so small in the open waters.

*********************

Thanks for the personal story. While you employed it as an illustration to make an important point regarding "supply chain lessons", the story makes a point all on its own: the quest to know and understand, to learn for leaning's sake and hence to grow.

Sounds like your dad was my kind of guy. By the way, my father who will be 76 next month, still operates with a need to know attitude.

PS: I read IW starting with the last page first. Why? Your comments are always thought provoking and I learn something each week.

Thanks for your work.

*********************

Bob, I was touched by your wonderful gift to your father. Your surprise outing story made me think of my departed parents and the memories I had with them. Thanks for being a good son and thanks for sharing it with us.

*********************

Bob,

Supply chains that provide a complete end-to-end vision to all the parties in the supply chain are a prime example of collaborative business. And most of the benefits of supply chain management will not be achieved unless we get that end-to-end vision. You point out that companies could avoid the old trap of massive excess inventories if they had end-to-end vision in their supply chains. This kind of supply chain would give companies the power of a self-adjusting feedback loop. Supply chains that provide a self-adjusting feedback loop would go a long way toward ending the age old problem of the business cycle that is always dragged down by the build up of excess inventory.

However there is a big obstacle - end-to-end vision requires trust and cooperation from all the parties in the supply chain (the manufacturer, the distributor and the end use customer). My company is a major distributor of maintenance and cleaning products used by property management and building service contractors. Four of the largest property management companies in North America have jointly invested in an Internet purchasing portal and we have learned a lot in working with them. Trust means two things: keep the data confidential; and also do not use this data to simply beat up suppliers and destroy profit margins. If the end use customer uses the automated supply chain to nickel and dime suppliers on every item, then there is no cooperation and the larger benefits of lower transaction costs, better operating efficiencies and the miracle of the self-adjusting feedback loop do not occur.

We can build the systems to support the end-to-end vision and enable the operation of the self-adjusting feedback loop. But before that happens there are business trust issues to be worked out. It seems to me that the supply chain is "owned" by all the players in the chain and not just one player since the data and cooperation of all players is needed to make the supply chain really work. The total value of the supply chain should be measured and the benefits should be shared by all the players. As a distributor who has built the systems needed to participate in an efficient supply chain I do much more than just sell and deliver product. Allow me to profit from the contributions I make that enable the efficient operation of the supply chain. Otherwise why should I participate?

*********************

Bob, I appreciated your story about your dad. I grew up in Erie and made many trips to Conneaut. The end to end view makes a lot of sense for any business.

********************* you have my respect sir. beautiful act for your father and your self. Would that we all had the chance to act as you did. thank you for such positive input in such down times.

*********************

Aloha Bob. I just read your tale of your father's need to know where the coal went. Very touching indeed. Maybe if more of us "wondered where the coal went" we wouldn't be facing massive layoffs and such huge charges.

Great magazine...keep up the good work.

*********************

Hello Bob Evans:

Thanks for sharing your personal, touching and relevant account of your Dad's victorious finale in his search to where the coal goes.

In the process, the article revealed that you also are a Buckeye. No wonder I'm able to read and understand your syntax.

*********************

Mr. Evans:

I really enjoyed your column of 7/23. The personal tale was great and reminded me of my father.

Thanks again for providing the personal touch.

*********************

I generally don't comment on commentary - the extra effort being superfluous to the work put into the original - but I obviously felt compelled in this case. As an independent consultant in the networking field, with a background in Industrial Engineering and the avionics field, I think I have a useful perspective on this whole thing.

I must be missing something. I find myself relating a lot to your late father's desire to know "where the coal went" and thinking that it's not just Nortel who didn't seem to have the full end-to-end view, but an entire technology-based industry. Never before have we ever had planning tools available like we do today. Software now exists that allows decision makers to determine where, when, and how any component of the manufacturing cycle twists and turns from basic material to consumer. Every widget that goes into a product can be tracked with a level of detail that borders on the compulsively insane.

Many years ago, I began working with what was then considered the panacea of manufacturing; Materials Requirements Planning (MRP). Its results were spotty at best. But those who took advantage of it and saw it for what it really was - a powerful tool in the hands of the skilled - did well and made constant improvements in time-to-market and reduction in costs. Now we have ERP - and with it, a litany of excuses for why it isn't working *and* why it's still so great. But ERP, like it's predecessors, is lacking only one thing. People with the understanding and skill to make it work and use it properly. The software, regardless of who makes it, does what it's intended to do. It records, reports, and recommends. It's up to the people who run things to make sense of it all, and there are plenty of factors that ERP *doesn't* factor in that affect where the company goes from there.

[Companies today] have at their disposal the most sophisticated software planning tools ever known to man and they *still* failed to gauge correctly the recent turns in the market. I'm not so convinced they didn't see the whole picture end-to-end, but rather chose to ignore many of the clear warnings about the consumer chain. Could it be they chose to make decisions that would please investors in the short-term rather than building to avoid, what always seemed to me, an over-inflated and over-optimistic investment cycle? After all, what do the investors (and most particularly, the brokers) care about how these companies do in the long-term? They can always leave, taking their easily gotten cash and stuffing it into someone else's mattress for the time being. Never mind the billions wasted and the jobs lost as a result.

So like I said, I'm unconvinced. I believe the mistake companies today are making isn't so much in their inability to *know* the relationships as much as it may have been their willingness to ignore the information when it really counted. They had the "ability to see clearly to the far end of the supply chain and simultaneously in the other direction to the real behavior of its customers and their customers". What they didn't have was a willingness to use that information when it really counted.

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