Hari Perumal Wants You to Care About Supply Chains
Keen's Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain describes how he got into the shoe business.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
When Hari Perumal got recruited out of engineering school to work at a German shoe factory, it was the first time he’d been farther than 100 miles from his hometown of Pondicherry, India. He never intended to make footwear, but he appreciated the engineering principles he had to apply to each step of the manufacturing process. “It was eye-opening to see it all come together,” he says. “I really enjoyed it and found my passion.” Perumal eventually moved to the Bay Area to work at a boot factory during the day and pursue his MBA at night. Today, he supervises product development and innovation for Keen and is always striving to find ways to make its products a sustainable reflection of the company’s values, and his own.
Invest in People
“Keen makes a third of its product in factories that we own, and we might get that number up to 40 percent. In the U.S., our factory workers get the same benefits that I do, and we try to stay above the wage rate to attract the best talent. Instead of focusing on cheap labor, we find efficiencies so we can hold down our costs.”
Embrace Some Automation
“Some jobs are overly repetitive or safer for a robot to do, but we can teach an operator to control three robots and to manage the computer program. Offering training for that kind of value-added work improves employees’ lifestyles and wage rates, and helps them to grow as people.”
“We took the most stringent list of restricted chemicals we could find and went one step further. We’re PFC-free. We only work with tanneries that have zero liquid waste discharge. We’ve eliminated pesticides. We’re dramatically reducing the use of solvent-based cements and have a three-year plan to get rid of cement all together.”
“You have to start asking questions in everything you do. How do you heat your water? Can you use solar energy? How much waste are you producing? You have to breed that culture throughout the company, but especially in the supply chain. The energy you save can be humongous.”
Pave a Path
“The outdoor industry is predominantly white. I ended up in this position because my first job out of school was making shoes. Now I travel all over the world. It’s extremely demanding, but I enjoy every bit of it. I want people who are graduating college—especially people of color or of South Asian background—to see that supply-chain management is a great opportunity.”