“You want friends around the world, not enemies”

Supply Chain Expert Edwin Keh from Hong Kong advises companies to make security a priority in their strategic considerations.

Edwin Keh, CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) Photo: Edwin Keh

Professor Edwin Keh greets the camera, sitting in his office at the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), surrounded by stacks of books and documents. The CEO of the Institute—who also teaches supply-chain operations at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology—is a veteran in managing procurement and supplies for notable brands such as Walmart, Payless Shoes, and Abercrombie & Fitch. In recent weeks he has been—in his own words—“outrageously busy.” As the Covid-19 pandemic has sent demand shocks to economies around the world, his advice is sought after more than ever. In between meetings with officials to work on an antiviral reusable face mask that’s good for as many as sixty washes, Keh takes time out for an interview with Porsche Consulting Magazine.

Professor Keh, what are your observations on the impact of Covid-19 on global supply chains? What messages is it sending to companies?

Edwin Keh: It’s the first modern pandemic. Although people had some standard playbook to refer to when the economy shut down, they found that there really isn’t a scenario of what we are going through. In February 2020, the supply side stopped when manufacturing got shut out, and by March, demand disappeared. Since May, we have begun to come out of this general hold. By now, we realize that our modern lifestyle is only possible because of these very nicely oiled global supply chains, which provide the quality of life that we enjoy. The shock was that we now can see the vulnerabilities that we have. It requires everything to be in a very stable and predictable environment. We have been in a period of peace globally for the past fifty years or so. There were no jarring, disruptive changes. So we have a sense of security that this is what normal looks like. Part of the psychological changes that we are experiencing right now is that it turns out that the last fifty years were the abnormal period of history, if you will. We need to think about having more robust supply chains, and how to ensure that we have more security of the supply chains.  

Read the full interview here.