IBM’s Luq Niazi believes a smarter supply chain can lead to a better planet

By | 3 minute read | January 25, 2019

This story is part of Big Thinkers, a series of profiles on business leaders transforming industries with bold ideas.

“There’s a joke in IBM, which is that IBM stands for ‘I’ve Been Moved,’” said Luq Niazi. “If you’re progressing in your business area, you’ll get a new responsibility every two years.”

Such has been the case for Niazi, essentially, since joining the company in 2003. Fortunately, Niazi likes new challenges. In multiple roles across multiple industries at IBM, he’s been driven by a sense that business challenges are human challenges, and that strong leadership at the enterprise level can benefit society as a whole.

So when he was asked to take on the role of Global Managing Director for IBM’s Consumer Industry this October, he didn’t think twice about his decision.

“Typically, when I’ve been asked to take on a big role change, I’d go check with my wife, but in this case I immediately said I’d do it,” he said.

At the time, Niazi had been serving as the Global Managing Director for the Chemical & Petroleum Industries, and he felt a great deal of satisfaction working to make energy production, distribution, and utilization more efficient.

“A large part of my time and energies have gone toward making this concept of a ‘smarter planet’ come to life, particularly in the energy field,” he said.

Retail and consumer products, he soon determined, offered another compelling way to make that concept a reality. Today, he believes the same principles that underscored his waste-reduction work in the chemical and petroleum industries and his consumer-centricity work in the communications industry will motivate his efforts in his new role. The key, he suspects, lies in blockchain’s transformative applications for industry supply chains. Ultimately, he said, the impact will be both good for the planet and good for customers seeking great experiences characterized by transparency, convenience, and personalization.

“There’s a lot of waste that occurs at the end of the supply chain. Lots of food is wasted. Lots of clothes are burned,” he said. “We need to be manufacturing for the demand in the supply chain and also redistributing to where the demand is needed. That means people will get what they want more often, but it also means we’ll put less waste in the total supply chain.”

Niazi has always been ambitious. He began his career as a project manager specializing in programs to design, build and operate air traffic control services through Scotland and Northern England. Over the years, he’s developed a long track record of enacting major business and technology transformations for both multinational and national clients.

“IBM has such a vast array of capabilities and services and technologies that there’s always going to be a wide variety of what you get to experience as a professional and leader here,” he said. “What I think what I’ve done multiple times in my career is connect my clients’ industry agenda and their transformation needs to IBM’s transformation capabilities.”

Now, as he embarks on yet another professional adventure, Niazi is looking to keep connecting those dots. And he’s eager to apply what he’s learned at IBM to a whole new set of industry challenges, including transforming enterprise operations, creating AI-driven supply chains, driving digital consumer engagement, and delivering smarter customer journeys. His own personal end goal, however, remains the same.

“If you are educated and trained in a certain way and have a certain set of professional experiences, what you want to do is make an impact on society,” he said.