Of the 1,000 CEOs I’ve interviewed, when I first met Revathi, I could immediately tell she was a great leader— combining vision, detail and genuine caring. As background Flex is a $24 billion diversified manufacturing company with 160,000 employees in 30 countries. Although Flex isn’t perhaps a household name, they make diverse everyday products – such as coffee machines, medical devices and autonomous driving systems. I thought her insights on supply chain, manufacturing, healthcare, and women leadership would be of particular interest during these times.
Robert Reiss: What is at the core of the supply chain challenges, and what advice do you have for CEOs?
Revathi Advaithi: I believe one of the most significant supply chain challenges is a lack of visibility.
For instance, most component providers have limited visibility on their end market needs and can only forecast about 12 months out. Yet, when we look at sectors that have been severely impacted, like the semiconductor industry, they need much longer lead times – up to as many as four years – to plan their capacity and investments. When we saw demand spikes for electronics products like coffee makers, medical devices and gaming systems due to COVID-induced stay-at-home orders, there weren’t enough semiconductors to go around. This is just one example of a global problem.
Moving forward, industry leaders need to collaborate, create greater transparency with their forecasts, and develop a new model that better depicts true market demand aggregated across industries, suppliers, components and more.
How can manufacturing as an industry emerge strong post-pandemic?
I started my career on the shop floor, so it’s fascinating to watch the evolution of manufacturing and how technology has played a pivotal role in advancement over the years. With this focus and advancements, I believe that we’ll emerge stronger post-pandemic.
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The past two years solidified that advanced shop floor technology, like simulation, will play a fundamental role in the future of manufacturing. For example, in early 2020, when travel restrictions were a significant concern, simulation enabled us to collaborate with customers closely (yet safely). The technology helped us create a virtual realm, or digital twin, of factories, line layouts, staff, equipment and other production assets to simulate real-world processes. Not only did this help us increase efficiencies in throughput, bolster production, and optimize processes, but it also allowed us to test scenarios and have upfront conversations with customers without having to travel or move equipment and material, saving time and money.
Beyond simulation, innovations like automation, AI, digitization, and other transformative technologies, coupled with the years of experience and critical thinking of employees, will unlock a new era of manufacturing. This era will allow organizations to capture and transform all the data on the shopfloor and generate never-before-seen insights that enable optimization and spark further innovation.
Share some of the breakthroughs in Flex Healthcare and how they are advancing the industry’s ecosystem.
Flex is committed to helping create quality healthcare products faster and more efficiently than ever before. We produced record volumes of medical goods during the pandemic in record time on our customers’ behalf. Whether it was handheld blood analyzers, nebulizer systems, infusion pumps, critical care beds, diagnostic tests or more, our team worked tirelessly to support our partners under extraordinary circumstances.
In fact, our team went from never producing a ventilator before in 2019 to creating more than 50,000 between April – December 2020, making Flex the largest non-captive manufacturer of ventilators in the world to help COVID-19 patients.
Based on these initiatives, we now know how fast we can ramp our medical manufacturing when every minute counts. My goal is to continue applying key learnings to rethink how we can accelerate innovation and production in the healthcare industry.
What was the key to your personal success and what advice do you have for women leaders who want to become Fortune 500 CEOs?
As I reflect on my journey, a few things have helped me accelerate my career trajectory. The first is taking risks. I’d encourage women leaders who want to become Fortune 500 CEOs not to be afraid to make mistakes or take on challenging assignments early on. You must be ready to jump in, roll up your sleeps and say, “I can do this!”
It’s also essential to build out support networks. Having mentors, sponsors and allies throughout your career is crucial. And don’t wait for someone to ask if they can sponsor or mentor you; take the lead and approach the people you feel will be the most beneficial for your journey.
Today, we have 42 women Fortune 500 CEOs or only slightly over 8%. While this has grown from just 4% a few years ago, we still have a long way to go to get to 50:50. I hope this interview helps inspire other women of color to become CEOs.
To listen to the full radio interview with Revathi Advaithi by Robert Reiss go here: