Complications in supply chains have become a front-and-centre preoccupation for organizations of all sizes since the beginning of the pandemic. National lockdowns led to an accumulation of issues for procurement professionals. Supply chain experts proved their worth during this time through resilience, procurement know-how and perseverance to deliver in a highly unstable environment. Angela Qu exemplifies this approach; she is driven by a deep-held vision to infuse supply chain management with innovation, efficiency and sustainability.
Angela is the Senior Vice President, Chief Procurement Officer & Supervisory Board Member of Lufthansa Cargo. Since she began her journey at Lufthansa Group, Angela maintained her successful track record to develop her team with her passion for sustainability and D&I at the workplace.
Lufthansa Group is a leading aviation company that has spread its wings to transform procurement functions into strategic business partners. They are also enhancing their supply chain operations to develop and curate functional competence management.
Insights Success caught up with Angela in our expedition to find “The 10 Most Influential Women in Supply Chain” and talked with her to understand how she has been consistently adapting to the industry for over two decades.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
How did you start your career in the supply chain?
You would not believe it! In 1994, I joined one of the Siemens joint ventures in China. My role was to support the general manager in building up a manufacturing site from scratch. I was part of the core team to hire and train the workforce, acquire the first customers, and start-up production. Then the company offered me to build up one of two departments, Procurement or Sales. I decided to go for procurement for a very simple reason: I realized that I could not drink much alcohol when celebrating the first contract signed with our customers.
That is an interesting decision! How did you further develop yourself towards your current position at the Lufthansa Group?
I am fortunate that I had roles in large organizations that are industry leaders with global footprints, such as Siemens, Buehler/ Leybold Optics, and ABB. I traveled the world and enjoyed working with people from many nationalities in many different locations. I lived in China, Germany, and Switzerland.
In early 2019, I became the Chief Procurement Officer for the Lufthansa Group, based in Frankfurt. We manage the strategic sourcing activities for the Group’s external spend, which was 20 Billion euros before the COVID crisis. We have globally 300 categories and over 30000 suppliers and partners.
Please tell us something more about Lufthansa Group and its mission and vision.
The Lufthansa Group is an aviation group with operations worldwide, with more than 100,000 employees. We generated revenue of EUR 36 Billion in 2019 and 13.4 Billion in 2020. The Group is composed of Lufthansa German Airlines, Swiss International Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, and Aviation Services, including logistics, MRO, and catering.
Our mission is to connect people, cultures, and economies in a sustainable way.
Can you please describe in detail the values and the impact you have made on your organization?
Procurement and supplier management is, above all, a people business. By seeking to be an inspirational and empathetic leader, I aim to build a joint vision with my teams and enable them to strive for excellence. I make sure I give my procurement teams a clear mandate, provide them with training, tools, methodologies, as well as data and transparency, enabling them to make informed decisions towards both suppliers and internal partners.
When working with our external suppliers, my approach is always to stay professional; that means being challenging but also fair. We maintain regular dialogues with our suppliers and partners, and we are always ready to improve ourselves to reduce complexity.
Overall, I aim to create high-performing teams by putting people at the heart of what we do.
How did COVID impact your organization and your leadership behaviour?
The COVID crisis held a mirror up to many business leaders in terms of how we responded with ethical standards at those critical times. In March 2020, when many countries around the world closed their borders, and the term ‘lockdown’ entered our vocabulary, the Lufthansa Group was forced to ground almost its entire fleet of over 750 aircraft. By the end of Q1, passenger volumes were down 98%, and only 5% of flights were operating.
The Group was burning cash at a rate of €1 million per hour and facing a significant insolvency risk by mid 2020.
The Procurement teams at Lufthansa Group identified a list of operations-critical suppliers to protect our ongoing, albeit reduced, flight operations. At the same time, we had to maximize liquidity levels as long as possible until the government aid package arrived.
Even under extreme pressure, we did not cut corners for short-term benefits. We communicated openly with our suppliers and found mutually agreeable solutions. In particular, we supported those suppliers who were in a weaker position than us, enabling them to access their payments on time.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
Data is the new fuel in today’s world. We leverage technology to provide our team with real-time data, cost-out forecasts, business foresight, cash flow optimization, and material flows. We leverage the analytical insight to provide our internal partners with different solutions. Externally, we have integrated our suppliers into our operational planning and a seamless accounts payable process. In short, we want to utilize technologies to enable procurement as a source of business value, ranging from automation of operations to seeking out rich seams of innovation with our external partners.
What, according to you, could be the next big change in the supply chain industry? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?
There will be many changes in supply chain management in the near future. One of them is digitalization in the supply chain. We should be able to gather and analyze large sets of structured and unstructured data. We will need skills from computer scientists, statisticians, and mathematicians to process and model data, then interpret the results into business plans and drive actions.
Another big development is the increasing awareness of sustainability in the supply chain. Procurement leaders have the responsibility to make sourcing decisions that have a huge impact on CO2 footprints. Therefore, we need to work jointly on sustainable solutions, cross-functionally, crosscompany, and cross-industry. Going forward, investors will be assessing our performance in how we manage our supply chains from a sustainability perspective. At Lufthansa, we are working to ensure the supply chain is a key contributor to our sustainability goals.
What are your future goals for Lufthansa Group?
After 18 months of crisis management and managing disruptions in our supply chains, we are on a journey to transform ourselves into a more strategic function at Lufthansa group. Our long terms goal is to provide innovative and sustainable solutions with a customercentric approach. Procurement will become one of the main value creators in the future success of our Group companies.
Another goal of mine is to improve Procurement into an equal, diverse, and inclusive function. I have been passionate about this cause throughout my career, including at ABB where I started the first D&I program group-wide on this topic, which has now become a major initiative throughout the company. I am bringing the same passion to Lufthansa Group, especially as I am in the process of hiring diverse talents from other functions and other industries into procurement and supply chain management. We need to improve our capabilities to the next level by investing in our talents and creating long-term development opportunities.
What would be your advice to budding women leaders who aspire to venture into the supply chain industry?
I have never regretted choosing “Procurement and Supply Chain” 28 years ago. This is a profession that requires a lot of resilience, decision-making in uncertain environments, stakeholder management, and problem-solving skills. If you like to work with people, are capable of handling fast changing environments, and are willing to find joint solutions with business partners, then you will have a lot of fun. The success is very tangible and rewarding.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, professionally and privately?
As a business leader feeling at home in both Asian and western cultures, I am happy to give back many of my leadership experiences and learnings to other organizations. I feel strongly about sharing across a variety different initiatives, such as leading change, people development and diversity and inclusion, where I can be a catalyst for growth.
Giving back to the supply chain community is another focus area, where I work as advisor with the Aim 10X Executive Council, to create new standard of future digital transformation.
I would be happy to expand my service portfolio into other related areas and industries.