Pink Floyd – Logistics & Supply Chain Excellence (As Well As Decent Music)

The Pink Floyd exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is the latest in their successful series of “modern culture” shows, of which those devoted to David Bowie and Alexander McQueen have been perhaps the most successful. I was fortunate to be invited to a private viewing last week by a friend who works for Mercer, the HR consulting firm, who are one of the V&A’s major corporate sponsors.

Anyone interested in the Floyd will love the exhibition, and even if you are not a fan but are interested in popular music you will enjoy it. You forget how innovative they have been, as pioneers in the use of art and video, big stadium tours, use of electronics ... many other bands owe them a huge debt. But what struck me most of course was how some of the exhibits relate to the supply chain management and indeed procurement side of the band’s work.

Pink Floyd, in addition to their legendary music, are known for their amazing live performance and sets. You may remember the inflatable pig flying over Battersea Power Station (the “Animals” tour) or The Wall where a huge wall is built and then demolished between the band and the audience. But it is when you see some of the detail behind this that you realise just how much creativity, hard work and expertise goes into these events.

One element of procurement is finding the most creative people in many fields who can contribute to the show. (We ran an interesting article on people who procure unusual people and things for the art world here.) That might be puppet makers, artists, designers and even architects. Some of the innovations introduced by the Floyd have been used more widely since in other artistic and entertainment productions, and that required "sourcing" of the best people in those professions who were also attuned to the Floyd's vision.

But perhaps even more impressive was the detail included in the exhibition around the supply chain management aspect of their huge global tours. Think about constructing the sets, in different cities and stadia, then of course taking everything down and moving on to the next city. This slide projected onto a wall in the exhibition says it all.

A military freight plane, 2 Boeing 747 cargo planes, 700 tonnes of steel… it is a cliché but this is comparable to a military operation. For the tour in question, there were three identical stage sets, so I assume one is in transit, another one being erected (which takes around a week) and another being used at any given time. Amazing stuff, and a lot more interesting than supply chain management for Mars or Ford - and yet, many of the issues and skills needed must be very similar. Understanding of critical paths, trade-offs between quality and cost, issues around customs and regulations - all apply across most supply chain situations.

Which leads on to one final thought. When we promote procurement and supply chain roles to young people, perhaps we should make more of the fact that these jobs are available and important in pretty much every aspect of life. If you love music, but you don’t have musical talent, there are procurement and supply chain jobs in the industry. The same goes for sport, or fashion, or pretty much anything you can think of.

Now the same does apply to finance for example, but the difference is that procurement tends to be closer to the “business” than finance. Doing the accounts for the Floyd is not quite the same – and not as exciting - as contracting with a puppet maker, hiring transport planes or negotiating catering deals across the world. The same applies if you are buying for Burberry or Manchester United.


So maybe some more procurement and supply chain stories from these interesting industries would boost our attraction to the kids?  And finally, if you think all this is a bit trivial, remember that music is one of the UK’s most successful – and biggest export industries, and that the Floyd’s Division Bell 1994 tour in 1994 was seen by over 5.5 million people, grossed over $250 million (not including all related album sales, etc). This is big business as well as an amazing artistic endeavour and achievement.

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