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INTERVIEW: Sarah Kenworthy, European supply chain director aftersales, Vauxhall/Opel

By Simon Warburton | 10 February 2012

Sarah Kenworthy, European supply chain director aftersales, Vauxhall/Opel based at the Luton warehouse that stocks 74,000 parts worth GBP35m (US$55m).

Sarah has been responsible for aftersales parts procurement and scheduling operation for five source warehouses and seven parts distribution centres, serving the European aftersales parts dealer network.

Sarah joined Vauxhall in 1992 and became UK and Ireland sales and marketing director aftersales in 2005. She progressed to her current European role in 2009. Her team consists of 80 people based across Europe, primarily in Germany, the UK and Spain.  

j-a: What are the key challenges you face in the present climate of economic difficulties?

SK: "The current key area of focus for us would be building our relationship with our suppliers and having better supplier performance for sure. We assume the material will be shipped on time - if it is not that creates issues for us.

"We are building a tool that measures supplier performance [and] started doing some collaborative meetings with some top suppliers.

"It is a complex business and we have complex set of warehouses. The drive to have sourced material into Bochum - and other warehouses from Bochum - is an attempt to simplify the business - we have been doing this for five or six years."

j-a: Away from the UK, how do you see the European side of your sector?

SK: "The challenges in Europe are probably on the distribution side and logistics. We have challenges with the Russian market where there are very tight controls. Our business complexity is that we have external suppliers. We have [a] General Motors joint venture suppliers and allied suppliers, for example, Fiat and Renault."

j-a: Has the current downturn helped or hindered your aftermarket business?

SK: "The aftermarket on retail is as tough as the retail side - we don't see that abating this year. The tendency is to delay - to do the essential MOT or repair but delay. Like in many other industries, there is definitely a potential [downturn] to have an effect on the aftermarket business. [However], aftermarket is a big chunk of the business - it is a revenue and profit generator."

j-a: How has the warehousing here at Luton changed in the past few years?

SK: "We have been part [of] bringing some of GM's warehousing functions, but it is a very good demonstration of using manufacturing principles into an equivalent warehousing environment."

j-a: Have you been able to finance much improvement given the business climate?

SK: "In terms of investment, the bankruptcy [chapter 11] limited our investment. Where chapter 11 hurts is where we have suppliers who don't want to supply - we managed our way through that very successfully. We had a lot of suppliers who were struggling [although] it has definitely eased. It was mostly to do with financial difficulty - we had the Saab issue as well.

j-a: Given those challenges, how have you improved productivity?

SK: "We have made progressive strides in reducing our total inventory base very successfully in Europe. That is driven by better buying policies, by robust scrapping of material and better planning so we don't have excess material. There is still more to do.

"Supplier relationship is the next step - I don't think there is any big bang."

j-a: How closely does the parent take an interest in your operations?

SK: "The European function is of keen interest to North America and we are reporting global statistics into the global organisation, but the level of control is really reporting only."