By Irvin Ottenhof, Partner Manager (EMEA)
Barcelona, Bucharest, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Madrid, London. These great cities are often mentioned when the discussion at parties turns to bucket list travel destinations. People tell me all the time how lucky I am that I can travel to those places for work. And you know what? They’re right!
As a Partner Manager for Flash Global, I travel to some of the finest cities in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East & Africa), helping our partner network conduct business on behalf of our high-tech customers. That involves spare parts management, storage, and the rapid distribution of critical replacement parts in tight time frames, usually 2-4 hours or the next business day. Our partners also know their country’s specific rules for importing and exporting and have deep relationships with local customs officials — all of which is a competitive advantage for Flash and our customers.
For now, Flash has suspended all business travel to keep everyone healthy and safe during this pandemic. In the pre-COVID world, I would travel frequently to meet with our partners, checking to see how things are going, providing training on Flash systems and methodologies, and troubleshooting where needed to drive continuous improvement. Most of the time, these trips are all about work — the only views I see are from the inside of a taxi, office, and hotel. Let me take you through a typical week in my world. It just so happens this trip I am about to tell you about, a visit to our partner in Milan, Italy, was the last business trip I was able to take before the pandemic hit full force.
My flight from Amsterdam to Linate Airport in Milan is scheduled for 08:55, so I had to be at the airport around 07:00. That means an early wake-up call for the family (yes, everyone was thrilled… not!).
I ride the train and arrive at the airport on time. Even better: the line at security is short. I am off to a good start! I arrive safely in Milan around 10:30 and see the first signs that this COVID thing is getting serious. All travelers had to go through a health check; three paramedics are lined up to measure the temperature of all passengers. My good run continues — my temp is within the “normal” range.
After picking up my rental car, I drive to our partner’s warehouse, where the rest of my day is filled with meetings and leading training sessions until 18:00. An hour later I check into my hotel, immediately open my laptop and try to answer as many work-related emails as possible.
Around 20:30, my stomach ever-so-gently starts to remind me it’s time for some food. And of course, when in Italy, one does not have to look far to find amazing food. It has been a loooong day, so this night I opted for dinner and a glass of wine at a restaurant within the hotel.
Once back in the room, a quick call home to ensure everything’s OK, then it’s lights out at 23:00. Tomorrow’s going to be another long day
The primary reason for this trip to Milan is to train the partner about the operations of a client who had recently moved their inventory into the Flash network. Warehouse employees must be trained on all of our client’s products and needs, and this training must take place during regular business hours. Therefore, I leave the hotel around 07:30 to arrive at the warehouse at 08:00.
I work with the warehouse team all day, explaining what is needed for our customer. During the morning, local employees of our client visit the warehouse to also learn more about Flash Global processes. After a full day of training and meetings, the evening follows a familiar track: Return to the hotel around 18:00, respond to emails, dinner in the hotel, and in bed by 23:00. Next up: a side trip to Bologna, a three-hour drive
Our Italian partner has another FSL in Bologna, where employees need to be trained. So, I wake up at 06:30 and grab a quick bite before a three–hour drive. Whereas Italian lunches and dinners are experiences with multiple courses, breakfast is much simpler. In this case, nothing more than a cappuccino and a pastry. Exactly what I need to calm my nerves for the journey that lies ahead.
Italian traffic jams can be epic. And, true to form, they were. However, I arrive in Bologna not too far behind schedule. I am greeted by Sara, who shows me around the facility. After having an espresso (There are rules, ya know… cappuccino is not done after 11:00), we meet with the warehouse staff and go through the procedures/processes and questions they have. Then, I participate in a few pressing phone calls.
After a light lunch, I conduct a standard operational audit — something Flash does regularly with our partner warehouses. This consists of a walkthrough of the warehouse, looking at specifics such as part labeling, security, manuals, Return Air Waybills, etc. After discussing the audit results with Sara, I climb back in the car at 17:00, optimistic the return trip to Milan might go smoother. It did not; road construction delays me by an additional hour. I reach the hotel at 21:00
A full PI — that’s a physical inventory — must be completed today for a client in our Milan FSL. This client has just over 3,000 parts in this facility. We must count them. By hand. It’s painstakingly thorough, mind-numbingly tedious, but a critical aspect of our services.
Luckily, there are standard processes that need to be followed: Empty a shelf, count all the parts, and note the missing/extra parts on a sheet. Due to the volume of our client’s spare parts inventory in this facility, I assist the warehouse team in the physical inventory. It is an all-day activity, which ends at 19:00. It’s finally over … but it’s not. There are discrepancies that need to be resolved before I leave Italy.
Back at the hotel, I l do a deep dive into comparing the Excel spreadsheets. I think I’ve found the issue but will have to go back to the warehouse tomorrow
I had planned to go directly from the hotel to the airport, as the only flight out of Linate to Amsterdam is a morning flight. However, due to the discrepancies found in the PI, I must first go to the warehouse. I arrive at 07:00, joined by the Flash business development manager. Together we resolve the issues and perform a few more random checks/counts of specific bins. Everything finally seems to be in order.
I leave the warehouse quickly; I am running really late for my flight. Good thing I filled up the rental car yesterday! I also catch a break in that the rush-hour traffic is light heading toward the airport. I make my flight with a few minutes to spare.
My son picks me up at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and drives me home, where I immediately open my work laptop and attempt to get caught up on emails from the past week. The news hit the next week that coronavirus was sweeping across Italy and that Milan was one of the hardest-hit cities.
The Dutch government ordered everyone who had recently visited specific regions in Italy to work from home and quarantine. So, I did, and luckily, I did not contract COVID-19. Soon after, Flash suspended all business travel, in the interest of health and safety for all employees, customers and partners.
Before our client moved its in-house spare parts logistics and warehousing operations into the Flash network, I visited Milan with fellow Flash Partner Manager Anthony Romijn, to learn more about the city, its people, and culture. We traveled to Milan early on a Sunday morning, so we could have nearly a full day to explore before we had to meet with the warehouse team.
One of our first stops was the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest active shopping malls. It was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni and built between 1865 and 1877.
With Anthony being a huge soccer fan, we had to visit Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. With a seating capacity of 75,923, this is the largest soccer stadium in Italy and one of the largest in all of Europe. It is home to AC Milan and Internazionale.
Marcel “Marco” van Basten (born October 31, 1964) is a Dutch football manager and former professional football player, who played for Ajax and A.C. Milan, as well as the Netherlands national team. A striker who scored 300 goals, he is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
Naviglio, with its canal-side cafés, is one of the city’s hottest spots for festivals and vibrant nightlife. Though most active in the evening, you might also consider visiting during the daytime to take in the boutiques and artists’ workshops, along with ample restaurants.
The massive Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, which the Milanese call just “Il Duomo,” is among the world’s largest and most magnificent churches. With a capacity of 40,000 people, this world-famous cathedral is the ultimate example of the Flamboyant Gothic style.
About the Author: Irvin Ottenhof is a Partner Manager in Flash Global’s Network Operations in the EMEA region. In his role, Irvin is accountable for the operational performance of several Flash partner facilities, including our distribution center in Amsterdam. Prior to joining Flash in 2018, Irvin held several management positions at leading global companies such as Dell and Liberty Global.