Packaging Revolution’s Interview with Evi Schulz

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In this edition of Up Close and Reusable, Packaging Revolution has the pleasure of interviewing Evi Schulz, Manager Managed Services at CHEP Automotive US.

1. Hi, Evi. Thanks so much for doing this interview. How did you come to end up working in the automotive pooling field? 

I have been with CHEP for eighteen years now, previously working for an Automotive Tier 1 supplier in Europe. My first role with CHEP was as an Account Manager, which gave me the opportunity to learn the business from the ground up in a really hands-on manner. After eighteen years, I must say that it is still a lot of fun and I am very passionate about what I do.

2. Tell us a bit about your history with CHEP in Europe, and how or if that prepared you for what you have encountered in the U.S.

I had several different positions while in Europe, the last of which was as the Key Account Manager for the business with General Motors Europe (Opel/Vauxhall). That business requires a unique combination of the CHEP Trip Rental program, with which CHEP owns the containers, and the CHEP Container Management program, with which the customer has container ownership. I relocated after the Automotive Team approached me to help develop similar programs in the United States.

We have done business with GM in Europe for over twenty-two years now, recently celebrating another anniversary of the successful partnership.

It has also been great for me to be part of the CHEP Automotive journey – transitioning from a company selling pooling solutions in regional markets to a global approach, partnering strategically with our customers to find complete supply chain solutions and solve their packaging problems.

3. After moving to the U.S., what were your first impressions. Were you surprised at all, or had you done enough prior due diligence that you knew exactly what you had to deal with here?

There are definitely some cultural differences between the two places, especially when it comes to business etiquette and sales approach. Of course, while there are many common difficulties in the management of automotive packaging, we also recognize that each customer has its own culture, strategy, and processes, and one of our strengths is managing this diversity.

Our container management customer portfolio is very broad, ranging from major OEMs to smaller tier one suppliers in a variety of industries. We tailor our outsourcing proposal to the customers’ need so we can provide smarter solutions. There will always be that personalization.

The perception of a country is completely different as a resident rather than a tourist, and after almost three years I must say that I really enjoy living here in the United States

4. The obvious question it seems would be for you to compare automotive reusable packaging management in Europe versus North America. My simplistic understanding is that there is more standardization and pooling among OEMs in Europe, while this has been more challenging in the U.S. with OEMs generally “doing their own thing” in terms of preferences for reusable packaging systems. How far off base is that observation?

Your observation is correct. A few things in Europe’s automotive industry are simpler due to the utilization of a VDA standard open pool with unbranded containers. This allows suppliers to have flexibility in regards to batch production and their own efficiency.

There is a laundry list of common problems in the global automotive industry, including high use of expendable substitution, not having the right quantity containers in the right place when needed, and incurring increased premium freight costs because of this. Without complete supply chain tracking and visibility, last minute container moves are required to keep production running. Loss and damage are also systemic problems throughout the industry.

We have found that our customers’ pain points tend to remain largely the same across industries and cultures, the solution is just a bit different to fit each company’s specific needs. Our experience in the Automotive Industry spans decades and we understand that the biggest challenge for our customers is to find the balance between risk mitigation, inventory reduction and freed up working capital. By outsourcing reusable packaging management to CHEP, our customers can find this balance quickly. Peace of mind in having enough packaging when they need it, wherever they need it and only paying for that usage is what differentiates us from the competition.

We make sure to leverage global process and systems best practices that have been developed over decades of successful partnerships with OEMs and their suppliers around the world.

Interview with Evi Schulz: Comparing North American and European Automotive Pooling, Opportunities for Global Solutions | Packaging Revolution

5. Tell us about CHEP Automotive’s approach in North America. I understand that you are managing reusables for GM. Is management of a proprietary pool of assets something new compared to your European experience. More broadly speaking, is it something a little different for CHEP overall?

Yes, we are proudly managing reusables for GM, both in Europe and in the United States. The management of a proprietary pool of assets is a unique venture for the U.S. CHEP Automotive team, but only in regards to the ownership of the containers.

Historically, CHEP grew very quickly on a standard wooden platform on the pallet side. We’ve learned quickly there are a lot of unique complexities in the automotive space which require custom solutions based on the needs of Auto OEMs and tiered suppliers. To cater to this need, we started breaking up our standard suite of solutions to surgically address specific requirements and pain points. If the OEM does not want to change ownership for their existing pool, we have developed our Container Management Solution to offer all of the operational efficiencies of utilizing a standard pool while still utilizing customer-owned assets. We strive to be a large company known for taking an entrepreneurial approach.

6. What about pooling opportunities in North America, domestic or offshore/international. What is in place now, and what might we look to see in the future?

Aside from our existing business with OEMs and Tiered suppliers, we are working on expanded opportunities within the automotive market. In addition to an international pooling model, we have extended our service portfolio with custom packaging design and new products to match a universal footprint. We have large pieces of business secured with flows across the ocean.

With this array of service options available, CHEP has taken aim to become a one-stop-shop provider for the global automotive supply chain.  Outsourcing allows our customers to reduce their costs, but also can support them in meeting and exceeding their sustainability targets, while enabling them to focus on delivering the best customer experience possible and creating more value for their customers.

Our primary aim is to ensure that we meet the needs of our customers from an operational perspective and while I am extremely pleased with our performance in this area, we are always looking for ways to create additional value for our customers as the market evolves over time.

7. What makes you most proud about working for CHEP, and working in this field of reusable packaging?

I am very passionate about continuing to foster an entrepreneurial approach toward creating customized container management solutions. Being a small part of a growing team and seeing the success of that team has been very rewarding. Although we come from a large company like Brambles that employs over 14,000 people across 50+ countries, each person on our team plays a key role in creating customer success stories.

8. Do you have any advice for people who might be thinking about entering the business of reusable packaging and pooling/management?

Standardization is key if you want to pool assets. Every reusable also has to be managed correctly, otherwise there is a high risk of loss and misuse. This point brings me back to my latest blog publication on the topic of software as it relates to reusable packaging; although software greatly increases automation and flexibility, it does not fix all issues related to managing reusables. I believe that the right people and processes must be in place to make the software effective enough to strive for a zero-loss program.

CHEP manages half a billion assets across multiple continents, and since we focus on this every day, it is our core competency. This allows us to lift these responsibilities from the shoulders of our customers.

9. What do you like best about the U.S., and what do you miss the most from home?

Orlando has a German community and every year they have a German style October Fest. It’s really funny to see both nations dressed up in the traditional German “Dirndl” or “Lederhosen” and having a great time together. It is always a very emotional moment when they play the national anthem from both countries and I do like to watch the pride Americans feel about their country.

What I miss most is, of course, family and friends; as well as a few good things to eat which I can’t find here (like the white asparagus which is the most delicious veggie in Germany, and it has a different taste depending on the soil in which it grows).

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