Logistically Speaking: The Supply Chain Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

April 15, 2013
What would happen if everybody started apologizing for their less-than-perfect supply chains?

Tim Cook, CEO of high-tech gadget giant Apple Inc., seems to have acquired the adjective "embattled" lately, which is a somewhat strange nickname considering the guy has a net worth in excess of a half-billion dollars and gets to test-drive the new iPhone models months before the rest of the world sees them. And yet, as the successor to the legendary, rarely criticized Steve Jobs, the embattled Mr. Cook has found himself on a seemingly never-ending apology tour, extending olive branches for offenses both real and media-generated.

There was the apology to Samsung, for instance, where Apple had to admit that the Galaxy Tab isn't really a carbon copy of the iPhone after all. There was the apology for the Apple Maps app, which omits numerous bodies of water and in one case even misdirected users to drive directly onto an airport runway. And now Cook is apologizing on his company's behalf to China for shortchanging Chinese consumers on their warranties.

Frankly, when I first heard Apple had taken its apology tour to China, I imagined it would be directed at the employees of Foxconn, the sweatshop-like factory as well known for worker suicides and fatal explosions as it is for assembling Apple's iPads and iPhones. Equally unlikely, though it would've been a welcome sight, was the thought that maybe Apple would apologize for allowing its child-friendly devices to be assembled by child labor.

In fact, though, Apple's apology seems to have been issued for no other reason than to ensure that Chinese consumers keep buying its stuff. As the Wall Street Journal points out, China is a $24 billion market for Apple, accounting for 15% of its revenue, and those numbers are trending up. Plus, Apple's popularity with its customers has been such that, on the strength of its phenomenal achievement with inventory turns, the company has been named the world's top supply chain four years running by analyst firm Gartner. 

Still, Apple's notoriety as a supply chain leader notwithstanding, it has been intriguing watching the company's frequent mea culpas of late, and it got me to thinking: What if other organizations follow Apple's lead and begin issuing apologies to their customers for failing to live up to their expectations? Here are a few acts of atonement I'd like to see:

Walmart: "We'd like to apologize for always selling out of the stuff you want, and never restocking those items until you don't need them anymore."

The cable companies: "Yes, it's ridiculous that you're now paying $200 a month for bundled TV and phone service, and we're sorry about that, but how else can we afford to provide you with episodes of ‘Dancing with the Zombie Apprentices' that you can watch on your smartphone?"

United, Delta, American, et.al.: "We regret that our desire to maximize profits has led to our increased reliance on small jets operated by regional carriers. We also regret that anyone taller than 5'6" must now tuck their knees behind their ears when they're seated."

The oil companies: "We're sorry that we keep hiking the price of gasoline even when there doesn't seem to be any geopolitical or weather-related reason for us to do so. Sometimes we just like to see the look on your faces when the cost of a gallon of gas jumps 30 cents overnight."

The U.S. Government: "Seriously? You expect us to apologize? Hah!"

I guess, even when I'm dreaming, some things are just too far-fetched to imagine.

Follow me on Twitter @supplychaindave.

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