Supply chain now child's play, thanks to children's author
Illustrations by Aneta Amersdorffer
Right, quick multiple choice. Which of the following is not a children’s picture book?
- Hungry Caterpillar
- Cat in the Hat
- Supply chain and operations management
Actually, it’s a trick question, because the answer is: all of them. Yes, the world of picture books has a new heroine - a pony-tailed girl called Supply Jane, who - with her trusty logistics-savvy mutt, Fifo - is always on hand when supply chain catastrophe threatens to ruin everyone’s day. Sound familiar?
Supply Jane is the brainchild of Megan Preston-Meyer, a Zurich-based American author, speaker, and communications expert. Meyer also spent a decade working in process improvement, supply chain, and analytics roles, such as:
- Mapping inbound barley supply chains in Latin America and Africa, to determine how grain was being lost along the way.
- Building models to make the brewing process more sustainable, by optimizing the sale and use of brewing by-products
- Managing demand-forecasting and purchasing for super-perishable fresh food.
Data never tells the whole supply story
Her journey to becoming a children’s author began when she realised one day that data can never tell the whole story.
“I came to understand that although processes are interesting, people are even more interesting. So I decided to focus more on how to make complex messages simple, authentic, and fun, and how to help other people do the same.”
And it was this that led her to create Supply Jane. So what was the inspiration for creating her pony-tailed heroine?
“I’d love to be able to say that the Supply Jane & Fifo adventures came from a place of incredible conviction about inspiring children and nobly leading the next generation toward rewarding careers in the field of supply chain management,” says Meter. “But actually it all started with a pun.“
She continues: “My husband and I were hiking one day and we started trading supply chain puns. We decided that ‘Fifo’ (First in, first out) sounded like ‘Fido’, the generic dog name, and then we came up with ‘Supply Jane’. Once we had invented these characters, they needed adventures, and so I created some.”
Supply Jane’s adventures are set in the town of Logisticsville, which is famous for its dragon eggs. The first adventure is called ‘Fifo Saves the Day’, which takes place in a grocery store that is experiencing stock issues with its dragon eggs.
In the second book, ‘Supply Jane Clears the Way’. Jane and Fifo find and fix a supply chain bottleneck in a dragon-food factory.
Supply chain gets a hand from Santa
Meyer has also recently published a third picture book, featuring that original supply chain hero, Santa Claus. Called ‘Twas the Month Before Christmas: A Supply Chain Carol’ we follow Santa as he surveys the carnage of global supply chain woes.
But does Meyer really believe her books will nurture in children a desire to carve a career in supply chain, logistics or procurement? You bet she does.
“It’s never too early to expose kids to possible career paths,” she says. “Why not supply chain and operations and logistics? There are a ton of books that inspire kids to be a fireman, a doctor or an astronaut but not so many about being a digital supply chain analyst or a procurement manager.
“Astronaut books are great – shoot for the moon and all that – but it’s also nice to show kids something that’s a little more down-to-earth.”
She adds: “The Supply Jane & Fifo adventures reveal to kids some of the simple but powerful logic that makes the world around us work. My hope is that, once kids understand how things work, they can start thinking critically about whether things are working as well as they possibly can.”
But, and I had to ask, why dragons?
“Because with dragons everything is better. A store full of baby dragons makes for some great illustrations, which entertain and engage kids. They keep turning pages to find out what is going to happen to all the baby dragons, and along the way, they learn a lesson about rotating perishable inventory.”
Reaction to the Supply Jane books has been positive, says Meyer.
“I’ve heard from several parents that the books have helped them to explain to their kids what they do for a living, which is exactly what I had hoped would happen. One kid has completely changed his stance on leftovers and is now excited to eat things in the refrigerator before they ‘hatch’.”
So what next for Supply Jane and Fifo?
“I want to try to tackle the bullwhip effect and maybe something on intermodal transportation – trucks and trains and ships are such recognizable symbols of supply chain, ones that kids are already familiar with, so it would be fun to go a little deeper into them.”
(NOTE: On Christmas Day, Supply Chain Digital will publish Meyer’s supremely engaging and droll ‘Supply Chain Carol’ in full).