Many people equate UPS with its brown delivery trucks, but over the past couple of years the Atlanta-based company has tried to emphasize the company's capabilities as a logistics provider. Now, as the sole provider of logistics for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, UPS has the opportunity to prove its abilities on an unprecedented scale.
"This is the largest peacetime logistical operation in the world today," said Cindy Miller, managing director UK, Ireland, and Nordics and the woman at the helm of the operation.
In London, UPS is responsible for receiving, warehousing, and delivering every item used during the Games. And then after the Paralympic Games are over in September, it will have just three months to undo what took 18 months to prepare, as it performs "reverse logistics" and sends everything out to the next destination. By the end of the Games, UPS will have moved 30 million items in and out of the Olympic Village and all the Olympic venues.
Ms. Miller became managing director in the U.K. in October 2010 after UPS had secured its bid to be the Olympics' official logistics partner. And while the size of this event is much larger than any other the company has ever managed, it hasn't shaken Ms. Miller, who has been with UPS since 1988. She said logistics are a part of the UPS "daily diet".
"Everybody has their secret sauce and UPS's is that for the last 105 years we have been crafting and honing and perfecting, every single day, different pieces of a complete logistics supply chain," said Ms. Miller.
Ad Age caught up with Ms. Miller to learn more about UPS's Olympic partnership.
Ad Age : How long has UPS been preparing for the Olympic Games?
Cindy Miller: We got involved with this Olympic journey officially in September of 2009. Leading up to that there was a dedicated group of individuals planning and preparing, trying to put together the scope and the business case to showcase exactly what UPS does, which is logistics. Once we were afforded the opportunity to be the logistics provider, we have been doing everything from planning and distribution and warehousing, and supplying the Olympics venues with supplies by game time.
We like to say to our customers that if we were to take the Olympic Village, and we were to put our hand underneath it and turn it upside down, everything that fell out of those venues -- 4,283 whistles, 600 basketballs, 26,400 tennis balls, 15,000 computers, a couple hundred thousand chairs -- other than people and horses, that is what UPS was responsible for in the complete supply chain.
Ad Age : There were 44 test events leading up to the Olympic Games. What was UPS's involvement with that ?
Ms. Miller: As you can imagine, London and the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) need to make sure that every one of their facilities are game ready. So over the course of the past year, starting in early 2011, there were test events that were run under the London Prepares series. So, as an example, they would have run a world championship caliber event in the Velodrome to make sure that everything in the indoor track was working well. So UPS had an opportunity to make sure that every single one of our supply chains -- whether we were doing warehousing or venue and village management or distribution or courier service, whatever service we were providing -- was working and that we had handled things flawlessly leading up to the Olympics. It's been a terrific series of events for all of our venues and all of our local folks to really feel extremely comfortable and confident in being able to deliver the games.
Ad Age : How does UPS value the branding opportunity of delivering each item and being the logistics provider for the Olympics?
Ms. Miller: The message from UPS to the customers, to the ones that we currently have and the ones that we don't have yet, is that we are setting up this temporary supply chain -- after the Olympic Games the tents are going to fold up and they're going to move on to the next city -- and yet we will handle it flawlessly.
It's a message to our small customers that have figured out how to get their products to the customers in their area, but are trying to figure out how to go to the next state, the next country, how to cross the next border, how to cross the next continent. And I believe that to that small customer or to the medium customer, and certainly to the global customer, the Olympics really is a great opportunity where UPS can showcase what we can do on a grand scale. We would be more than capable to partner with companies to find out how can we take bits and pieces of the supply chain or how can we take the full supply chain and be able to help them reach across a border or a boundary or a continent in order to get your product into that next customer's hand.
Ad Age : UPS's Olympic logistics effort is not your full-time job. You are still running UPS in the U.K., Ireland and the Nordics. How do you balance this event with your other responsibilities?
Ms. Miller: I got involved with this in October 2010, and from that moment until now it was an awful lot of meetings and planning and preparation and white-board sessions. As we've gotten more and more into the day-to-day, I have a very competent day-to-day team of individuals that are actually embedded in LOCOG.
Certainly since the calendar year ticked off and we moved from 2011 to 2012, I can tell you that I've become more actively and physically involved with the actual events. There are a lot of media events that have had to be done...surrounding our capabilities and our ability to share with them some of the things we're doing. So, yes, it's been time consuming but I can honestly tell you that it's never been a better time in my life or my career.
Ad Age : You have been delivering and warehousing everything for these Games. What item in your warehouses is the strangest?
Ms. Miller: One of everybody's favorite sports is beach volleyball. I would have thought that [the Olympics organizers] went to the local beach, but they get some sand and put it in whatever arena they're going to be in, and people play beach volleyball. Well, we house tons and tons of special sand.
And its sand that has certain things in it so it doesn't blow as easily as other sands and keeps it out of people's eyes. It's such a special blend of sand that it has to pass certain requirements...I can tell you that we've had to watch over that sand as if we were watching over the Crown Jewels. When you watch those guys and gals doing their thing in the sand, let's just say that you and I, on any vacation that we will ever take in our lives, will never walk nor play in anything that special.