People, connection, community

From the October 2023 print edition

From his earliest days working, Nick Nanos has focused on service, connections, and giving back to his community.

Image: Mike Ford Photography

Nanos grew up in Trenton, a small town east of Toronto. The community, with a population of about 16,000 people, hosts a Canadian Forces Base. Young Nick’s father operated a family restaurant in the town, and some of Nanos’s fondest memories are connected to the time he spent at the establishment.

“It was a family business, and I literally grew up there,” says Nanos, now the chief supply chain officer for the provincial-government owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario, known as the LCBO.

The LCBO is one of the largest retailers and wholesalers of alcohol in the world, with five regional warehouse facilities, 680 retail stores, and 18,000 restaurant and bar wholesale customers.

“I think it’s in my blood to focus on service and on community and family and that’s what you get when you grow up in a family business,” he says. “Those are all the things that I’m able to recognize here in my role at the LCBO: service, community, and family, so it’s rewarding. I feel I’ve found my place.”

The restaurant taught Nanos several skills, from working the cash, to washing dishes, to operating the grill and deep fryers. He sometimes jokes with his wife that when he retires, the couple will open a restaurant of their own. She jokes back that he’ll have to take on that project alone.
While the restaurant industry is even more challenging now than when he was young, Nanos stresses that it’s also rewarding because of opportunities to deal with people, feed them, and help them enjoy time with friends and family.

Nanos now gets that same sense of serving the community from his position at the LCBO. Profits from sales go to the Ontario government, which are then invested in the province’s communities.

“One of the special things about the LCBO, when you look at it through a sustainability lens, is that every dollar of net income – or in our case, dividend – goes back to the province for investment in programs and services such as infrastructure, healthcare, education. That’s a really satisfying thing for all of us that work at the LCBO.”

Nanos earned an undergraduate degree in political studies from Queen’s University
in Kingston, Ontario. While the degree had no direct connection to supply chain, he’s since earned several industry designations, including the CITT-Certified Logistics Professional, and sits on the CITT’s board. He’s also a Certified Fraud Examiner through the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. He has a certificate in logistics management from the Schulich School of Business at Toronto’s York University, an executive development certificate through his alma mater of Queen’s University and, most recently, the Certified Supply Chain Management Professional designation through the Supply Chain Management Association of Ontario (SCMAO).

The customer experience
Nanos began his career at the LCBO in the early 1990s. He started in retail before moving into store management. He worked across Ontario in different roles and a variety of store types, and recalls that period as an exciting, transformational time at the retailer. At the corporate level, the organization understood what it needed to do to provide a good customer experience in LCBO stores.

From there, Nanos decided to make the jump to more corporate roles within the organization.

“I was in stores for about 12 years when I decided it was time for a change,” Nanos says. “I applied to corporate roles, and I had the opportunity to work in various roles right across multiple different capacities. I worked in store audit, corporate audit, finance, wholesale logistics, and it gave me really broad experience across all our functions.”

When the LCBO did an organizational review in 2016, it asked Nanos to act as the senior vice-president, logistics and quality assurance, for 18 months. After that, he permanently stepped into the role of VP of distribution and logistics. In that role, he led all of the organization’s distribution and logistics activities. That was the final position he took before accepting his current role of chief supply chain officer.

At first, the job title was senior vice-president of supply chain and wholesale, which Nanos accepted in 2018. He oversaw all of the company’s business-to-business operations and its end-to-end supply chain. He was then appointed chief supply chain officer in 2020. The position focuses on transforming the LCBO’s supply chain to better enable the organization’s retail, wholesale, and digital experience.

“I’ve got a very unique portfolio and I oversee the entire B2B sales, and the end-to-end supply chain from the source right up through to retail, wholesale or digital customers – it’s really my dream job,” Nanos says.

Nanos didn’t start off with dreams of a supply chain career. Yet his desire to work in the field evolved as he realized its importance to the LCBO. Supply chain is fundamental not only to retail and wholesale operations, but to success in providing the right customer experience and service levels.

“I didn’t start in it, it evolved into this role,” he says. “And I attribute it to all the different perspectives and assignments I’ve had across the organization that helped me or put me in
a position where I could have a good perspective and get prepared for a role like this.”

Having invested so much into a career in supply chain at the LCBO, Nanos puts a lot of value on continuing education. And while it’s a good idea that people invest in themselves, organizations must also invest in their people, he says.

Nanos practices what he preaches. Along with his industry designations, he continually takes courses to sharpen his skills and knowledge.

For example, last winter he completed a course about blockchain. While blockchain isn’t an area he would usually examine, it’s still helpful to understand how the technology works and whether it could be applied to supply chain improvement.

“Continuous and constant, never-ending improvement – it’s so important,” he says. “You have to invest in yourself, and organizations have to invest in their people, too.”

Nanos stays involved with some of the organizations from which he’s received designations. He’s the vice-chair of the national board for the CITT. He also appreciates the courses offered by the SCMAO and the value they bring to his team, he says.

No two days alike
Like many in supply chain, Nanos says that each day in the field tends to be different from the last. Yet that variety is an attractive feature of the occupation. He’s responsible for a large breadth of tasks and activities. Operational items make up one part of his work. This includes foundational tasks like ensuring the business is on track, while focusing on the customer experience and how supply chain can support it.

“I’m continuously looking at KPIs,” he says. “It’s like your bread and butter. What’s our in-stock position, our fill rates, our cost per case, our productivity measures, sales? All sorts of different things. The other part of it is, we’re in a global environment, and we import product from 80 countries around the world. We have a very expansive, large supply chain. There are issues and events that happen all over the world that can impact our supply chain and have downstream implications. So, I’m scanning the marketplace regularly for what it is that could impact us.”

Many of these events are beyond anyone’s control. Nanos cites recent port strikes in British Columbia, as well as climate concerns such as drought and the low-water levels in some supply chain lanes like the Panama Canal. Even if an organization doesn’t bring much cargo through a particular lane, disruptions can still affect your supply chain. Keeping an eye on what’s happening globally is important, he says.

Nanos also focuses on large, transformational projects and how they affect the organization. Focusing on strategy while looking ahead three-to-five years, along with coaching and mentoring, are large parts of his role, he says. He does a lot of one-on-one coaching with those reporting to him.

“Those would be the three big buckets of what my days look like: operational, strategic, and a huge component is our people, in development and retention,” Nanos says. “There are about 1,500 people on the team. Obviously, that includes a lot of the seasonal employees in our facilities across the province.”

Among the highlights of his career, Nanos sites the transition, in 2021, of the LCBO’s downtown Toronto warehouse and offices. The offices were moved to a location next door while the organization’s warehousing transitioned to a third party. The project was years in the making and was a response to the sale of the LCBO’s downtown Toronto property. The process was a major operational change that required close collaboration internally across all divisions and with trade partners.

The new facility was an opportunity to modernize functions, Nanos says. And while the COVID-19 pandemic added complexity, the project was completed successfully on an accelerated schedule. Trade partners saw minimal disruptions. Nanos led the warehouse transition, and was involved in the office transition, sitting on its steering committee.

Another career highlight for Nanos was navigating the pandemic itself. “We were lucky – we were given permission to remain open,” Nanos says. “Like so many businesses, our greatest concern was the safety of our people and our customers. I’m very proud of how the organization, and our supply chain organization, managed through that and led through that, on top of a lot of other challenges that we’re facing in the supply chain. We had transportation challenges globally; there were raw material challenges for a lot of our suppliers.”

Nanos’s contributions to the supply chain profession haven’t gone unnoticed by his peers. Drinks Ontario, an industry association for the beverage alcohol industry, awarded him the Partnership Award twice, in 2011 and 2015. Receiving it in 2011 was all the more special because
it was the first time an entire business unit won the accolade, with Nanos as the unit’s director.
“That was a real point of pride because I won it with the team,” he says. “I then won it in 2015 individually, which was satisfying because it was on the heels of completing a transformational project. That project included a new DMS and WMS to improve our efficiencies.”

While supply chain is rewarding, there is no shortage of challenges that professionals in the field face. For starters, the effects of the pandemic linger in some parts of the supply chain, Nanos say. Many of those supply chains face a “transformational junction,” with organizations struggling to stay on top of technological advances. Those organizations may have to work to stay ahead of cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence or blockchain while weighing how to fold them into operations.

To decide what technology an organization should use and how, begin with the end in mind, Nanos advises. As well, be sure to choose the technology that is actually needed. There can be risks, and there’s a learning curve associated with many technologies out there. Change management, updating processes, and organizational development are factors to consider.

“It’s very important that organizations really focus on evaluating the different technologies available and making sure that it fits with what it is they want to accomplish,” Nanos says. “There’s a technology for every hour of the day if you really want to look at it. You need to be very, very calculated, very disciplined, and very clear with what the problem is that you’re trying to address.”

Nanos has had the opportunity to see transformational change at the LCBO over his 30 years of working there. As the market continues to evolve, Nanos hopes to continue to contribute to building the “LCBO of the future.” On the distribution and fulfillment side, that includes looking at opportunities for more automation, he says. And whether in transportation, packaging, or other areas, sustainability remains an important opportunity for supply chains going forward.

“Those are big opportunities as we look to the future,” Nanos says. “One of the things that the LCBO is very committed to, is the spirit of sustainability, and supply chains provide us with many opportunities in that. I think that’s something that is exciting.”

Nanos lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife, daughter, and son. He describes himself as an outdoors person and spends a lot of time with his family. He counts hiking and fishing among his hobbies, along with spending time in the outdoors.

For those looking to a supply chain career, Nanos stresses the importance of curiosity. There’s value in challenging the status quo and approaching the field as a “disrupter,” he says. Opportunities reside in every process, and small adjustments can lead over time to large improvements in service and savings.

It’s also important to remember that supply chain is a business career, he notes. As such, the field offers a great way to understand how a business operates across multiple functions, because supply chain touches all of those functions.

“That’s probably the biggest message I would have,” he says. “From an end-to-end perspective, we might be sourcing some product from a winery in a remote part of Italy, and ultimately bringing it into our warehouses, into our stores, into a licensee, to the consumer to enjoy. When you see the entire end-to-end, and all the different touch points for parts of the organization, I think the supply chain gives those that work in it an opportunity to really understand an organization and what its strategic objectives are.”