23 December 2021

Five minutes with HSV Executive Director Supply Chain Mili Cohen

Mili Cohen 231221 square4

Mili Cohen joined HSV in November 2021 as our first-ever Executive Director Supply Chain. Mili brings extensive logistics experience across the retail, dairy, grocery and healthcare sectors including senior roles at Linfox, Super Retail Group, Bulla Diary Foods and Lion Dairy and Drinks.

HSV: Your first supply chain/logistics role was working in a warehouse as a temporary summer job. Why did you decide to make it your career, after having qualified in physiology and biomechanical science? How did your career grow?

I actually started out in the late 1990s working in a veterinary products warehouse in Brisbane. I found that I enjoyed the pace, and the technology that was emerging at the time was fascinating to me. Supply chain/logistics processes were rapidly evolving and that kept me engaged. 

From there, I continued on in the industry. When opportunities were offered to me, I took them. I moved up to North Queensland for that same company to set up a new veterinary product warehouse. A few years later a logistics opportunity presented in Melbourne and I was ready to make the move.

In 2000 I was appointed State Distribution Manager at Alphapharm, with responsibility for the distribution of Pharmaceuticals in Southern Australia. In this role - while very much cutting my senior leadership teeth – I was fortunate to have some very good mentors, and to be a part of an organisation that valued professional development for emerging leaders.

 I enjoyed being able to be part of an industry that was starting out in the technological space and actively looking to continuously improve processes and practices to streamline high-volume operations. I recognised that a tech-optimised model of supply and distribution was the way of the future, and that understanding has enabled me to move through my career and learn more about what makes a best-practice supply chain process.

HSV: You have a lot of senior leadership experience in grocery and food supply chain management. What is different or unique about health sector supply chains? What is similar?

The health sector is unique beyond belief. I always wanted to do something that would benefit the community and HSV is doing that.

I’d previously worked in FMCG supply chains and in pharmaceuticals, but my current role at HSV is poles apart from anything like that. There’s not much that is more satisfying to me. What HSV is doing is extremely important for the community and it’s satisfying to be a part of.

I took a 'leap of faith’ in moving from the private to public sector, but my role at HSV represents a unique opportunity in being able to lead a blank slate supply chain implementation that will serve the entire state. It’s hugely exciting to be involved with an organisation that is just building on that.

On one level it is ‘box in and box out’/’product in and product out’ but will be looking at moulding our future service delivery model to provide a critical supply chain service for the broader benefit.

My priority is to get the right blend of commerciality and customer service – maintaining the delivery that health services expect while driving efficiencies to support our savings target of $838 million by 2025. Getting our people to think more commercially will be key to our overall success.

HSV: It’s been said that ‘customer experiences live and die in the supply chain’. Do you agree and why or why not?

I agree 100 per cent. If we don’t deliver through an efficient supply chain for our customers, that experience negates everything done in the upstream process to provide the right product.

HSV: Supply chain/logistics are male-dominated fields. What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a career in these fields?

The credibility you build is the most important thing in your career.

Be prepared to work hard, have an open mind and do what needs to be done to get the job finished. I am not driven by titles or status, and I am happy to do whatever is needed.

I am willing to lead at the grassroots level, and having done that previously in my career I have a deep understanding and appreciation for the work done on the ground, which is essentially the foundation of any logistics and distribution model.

It’s important to be true to yourself and to not be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to push for the information you need.

And be ready to get dirty. Supply chain is not for everybody but it can be hugely rewarding and satisfying to see product moving through distribution centres, knowing that the service you’re providing is valued in the community.

HSV: What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?

Learning to be a bit humble was an outcome of a period of growth I went through and something that helped me. Humility is not really recognised in the supply chain industry but in the mid-2000s, I found that my way wasn’t always the best way – as we all do when we get a bit older!

Nowadays I like to let my results speak for themselves. I have no issues to do what needs to be done (including wearing steel caps and high vis, and stacking pallets) and I have built my reputation in the industry by working hard, treating people with respect and going the extra mile to understand the customer ask.

HSV: Tell us something surprising about yourself?

I have four beagles, three of which are rescue dogs. I am a massive animal rights supporter.

I am also interested in sport and have played competitive softball since I was seven years old. I have played at state representative level in both Queensland and Victoria, and while age and aching joints are catching up with me, I still enjoy being on the softball diamond on a Saturday, pretending we’re playing for the proverbial sheep station!

HSV: What were some of your experiences growing up in Brisbane?

I’m a beach addict, I love to surf and do anything outdoors.

HSV: We know you love the sun, what’s your favourite holiday destination?

The north-west part of Australia is what I love – the Broome/Cable Beach area. I love to get a couple of weeks up there every few years and enjoy all that the area has to offer.