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Didier Wakin, certified Lean Expert and Club Delville Member, Revisits His Experience on Mission

Didier Wakin, certified Lean Expert and Club Delville Member, Revisits His Experience on Mission

A certified Lean Expert with thirty years of supply chain and transformation experience, Didier Wakin knows how to improve processes and efficiency – fast.

Wakin is an engineering graduate with a masters in business, and he has built on this combination of practical know-how and commercial savvy to become an asset to Delville’s pool of highly skilled interim managers. Particularly well-versed in the automotive and textile sectors, Wakin possesses a high-level, easily transferable skill set and personable nature that allows him to adapt to new situations and assignments confidently and competently, quickly earning the trust and respect of those who work with him.

Wakin describes himself as a “business change expert : able to consolidate a vision through feasible solutions, and then to break down this vision into processes and especially mindset change; and also a Lean Expert : able to draw up detailed operational processes and lead continuous improvement.”

We spoke with him about his work history and recent projects for Delville.

How did you move from more permanent roles into interim work?

I knew Delville as a top professional interim management company and I am known as an expert in my fields (lean, automotive, company transformation in all industries) with a wide international experience. Thus, we met very early as soon as I decided to work as an interim executive, just over three years ago. I feel comfortable and confident with the managers of Delville because they know precisely my skills, the specific contexts of change (transformation and turnaround, business and process change, lean and collaborative processes, complex projects, management improvement) where I match the needs of a company and where I provide the added value against a personnel solution or against a less experienced candidate. I feel that Delville really know who I am, they really know who could be interested in me and they do the match.

Tell me about your first assignment for Delville.

In September 2015 I took up my first assignment for Delville at the Isle of Wight, England. The company was Gurit, a manufacturer of parts for luxury cars. The company was setting up a new plant in Hungary to service the Italian market, and my role was to improve and then transfer processes at the existing UK plant and install them in the new plant in Hungary.

What were some of the challenges you faced there?

An early problem we had was with securing the deliveries to a big customer, Porsche, because we had issues with labelling. The UK plant used to deliver boxes of panels to a warehousing subcontractor in Germany with a packing list showing the item numbers of this subcontractor and those of Porsche. These item numbers were not correct because they didn’t correspond to the parts inside the boxes, this also meant that stock check between UK and the subcontractor was not accurate.

How did you discover the issue?

The process between the subcontractor and Gurit was not well defined, I discovered this through my conversations with staff. There were also communication issues – the German people at the subcontractors’ site had difficulty speaking English and were not well-understood by my team. There was another issue, too – the packaging was not secure, and these were luxury parts.

What did the recovery of this situation look like?

I addressed the issue in three parts. In UK and with the subcontractor, I made the item numbers correspond to the box content; at the subcontractor, I opened all the boxes in stock and relabelled them; and I ensured that moving forward, deliveries to Porsche would be conducted according to a new system and labelled correctly. I project-managed the introduction of a new scanning interface, SAP, and implemented a Kanban system to streamline the packaging and labelling process. I also developed a protection system for this packaging to support storage for several weeks without any damage. In two months, I recovered the situation. In six months I achieved new packaging. We installed the new plant in Hungary in six months with only a small delay against the budget. And I reduced the inventory by 30% and increased production by 30%. It was really urgent to get the customer, Porsche, confident again in our capacity in order for us to get new business.

What is your interim management style?

I know my strengths and weaknesses. I’m an engineer, I have worked in production and in supply chain, I have not worked in research and development. This could be considered a failure, but I don’t see it like that, it means I simply rely on my other skills and on other people who are experts in this department. My priorities are: first, safety; second, quality for customers; and third, performance. This could be surprising that I put performance at the end, but if I have a problem with safety, I can’t manage people. I’m optimistic and approachable, my door is always open for employees to discuss issues with me. I can be sometimes very demanding but I also give people time if they need it.

What is your approach when first taking on an assignment?

First, I ask questions. A boss is not an expert in everything, he asks questions, he gets answers and then he finds the solutions using his common sense. For example, with Gurit, I developed an automated system and I developed the transfer of this system from one plant to another. I developed this through speaking with people and finding out what stops us from performing at our best, and then finding ways to improve that performance. Some concepts are essential, like the cycle times of your work station. I quickly made it understandable to employees that this – having people move from one station to another – was the only solution to make the work fluid.

Wakin’s current Delville post as a project manager for tape and paper company Ahlstrom-Munksjö sees him using many of the same skills he applied in his successful Gurit project. “I have the job of developing automation, with an investment of $4.5 million, to replace the current process,” he says. “I have managed a 10-person project team of skilled professionals; trained the production team in common sense lean process; built the project nearly from scratch; designed a complete production line design with new techniques (folding, packaging) that I made available for the paper industry thanks to partnership with suppliers; and extended the budget to ensure this production line is high-speed, high quality and flexible. Now we are coming to the execution phase.” 
Adaptation, Wakin says, is key to the financial turnaround of SMBs. “I came in the context of crisis, but I also came in the context where people wanted to develop,” he says

“The best way to calm down employees in a crisis is by instilling confidence in them – confidence in you, their boss, confidence in the business and confidence in themselves – by getting them involved and engaged again with the work they’re doing.”