Practitioners confronting a tough reverse logistics project may want to keep an eye on how well Cindy Miller does her job over the next seven months.
Miller, 49, who runs UPS Inc.'s operations in the U.K., Ireland, and the four Nordic countries, is overseeing what could be the largest civilian logistics undertaking in history: managing logistics for the 2012 London Olympic Games, which run from July 27 to Aug. 12, and the Paralympics for athletes with disabilities, scheduled for Aug. 29 to Sept. 9. Atlanta-based UPS is the exclusive logistics service provider for both events.
Unlike the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the Chinese government effectively controlled the logistics operations and UPS served as a vendor, the Atlanta-based shipping and logistics giant has been given virtual free rein by the London Olympics organizers.
The numbers are daunting. By the time the games begin, UPS will have handled 30 million items of endless variety from myriad origin points to 172 venues in and around London. By contrast, the company handled 19 million items for the 2008 Beijing games, where it served as the official logistics service provider but shared part of the duties with other sources, in particular the Chinese military.
But as high-pressure as bringing the goods "to market" may be, it may pale next to the stresses of sending them back. UPS will have only 90 days from the end of the Paralympics to return all the items for both events from whence they came, whether they're bound for the other side of London or the other side of the world. Given that the company had an 18-month window to bring stuff into London, the slim turnaround window may present the biggest logistical challenge of all, Miller told DC Velocity in a phone interview Friday.
"That will be our next biggest peak, the next round of sleepless nights," she said.
At this time, virtually all of the goods are sitting in two suburban London warehouses that have a combined footprint of 850,000 square feet. The next step is to distribute the items to their respective sites, and then ensure everything is in place by the time the Olympic torch is lit on the evening of July 27.
While UPS and officials of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, or LOCOG, have staged numerous dry runs, Miller is well aware that once the curtain goes up, there will be no do-overs.
"We don't have a chance to not get it right," she said. "This is one opportunity, and everything has to be perfect. There's no chance to say, 'Well, I'll do it better tomorrow.' It has to be perfect every single minute."
Miller, a Pennsylvania native and 24-year UPS veteran, took her current position in October 2010, 13 months after UPS won the bid to handle the games' logistics. Until late last year, she was able to juggle her roles as Olympics honcho and as the head of six countries where UPS does regular business separate from the games. However, late last year, it was becoming evident that the games were consuming the lion's share of her time, she said.
With the games only 10 weeks away, Miller said she's noticed that many London-area merchants have decided to stay in town and stay open, rather than taking what would be their normal vacations and avoiding the potential mayhem of an additional 800,000 people streaming into a city with a population of close to 8 million.
"We hear many people saying, 'This is my moment to be open and to reach a greater audience walking past my storefront,'" she said. "Initially, we thought that people would go on holiday. But we haven't seen people ready to leave."
Miller said she knows there are businesses in London, and those shipping to and from London and the U.K., who will be disconnected from the games and will continue to require UPS's services throughout that period. She recognizes the company must meet its dual mandate of managing the massive Olympics project while ensuring that its regular customers are taken care of.
"That's our goal and our focus, and we are lumping this under 'business continuity,'" she said. "As long as London is open for business, our responsibility is to service those customers who are here and who really need the logistics movements to continue with their business."