If you get anything out of all the space we devoted to MH&L’s editorial advisory board roundtable this month, I hope it’s a resolution to save your company. How you save it is up to you, but if anyone can do it, it’s a supply chain specialist. If that’s not your title, you’d better make it part of your job description because as our advisory board members said in various ways throughout our discussion, that’s the expertise required to get companies through the economic turbulence that’s here to stay.
Two names you won’t see among the others on our panel are Shekar Natarajan and Alex Scott. Natarajan is the North American senior director of supply chain planning for Anheuser Busch and Scott is a Ph.D. student in supply chain management at Penn State (prior to this he held several positions at IBM). They’re our board’s newest members but they joined right after we held the roundtable. Nevertheless, I wanted to give them the opportunity to weigh in on any of the topics we covered. The fact they both chose to address the changing role of the supply chain specialist told me we’re onto something.
“Corporations like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Anheuser, Intel and others have recognized the importance of identifying and hiring technically savvy supply chain talent,” Natarajan told me. “This is primarily to bring a scientific approach to supply chain management. They are using a combination of internship and campus programs to hire talent.”
His point is that companies can no longer copy the traditional talent development techniques of operations and sales. Supply chain as a discipline must be constantly redefined. This will prepare supply chain experts for corporate leadership—a sentiment you’ll hear echoed in MH&L’s boardroom discussion.
In fact Jim Tompkins said so right at the start of our meeting. “Supply chain is becoming the major contributor to the strategic path forward for companies.” Tompkins began his supply chain consulting career 30 years ago, when what happened in the transportation and distribution departments was considered separate from a company’s corporate focus.
“I would never be in the board room or at C-level back then,” he said. “Today I work with the C-level every week.”
From our discussion it’s clear that even transportation managers will have to start broadening their field of vision to see what’s going on elsewhere in the supply chain. This will enable their companies and their customers to make adjustments as needed.
Alex Scott exemplifies that statement. He worked for JB Hunt Transport 10 years ago when the economy was still healthy and transportation capacity wasn’t an issue. As we discuss in the roundtable, capacity is very much an issue today—or lack of it. That means transportation managers must also be plugged into production. In fact they will influence the production schedule.
“If transportation availability and cost becomes too big of a pain point, then companies may have to produce earlier in the season when capacity is more readily available, like the spring and early summer, and distribute as close as possible to when that demand will occur in the peak season,” Scott believes. “The negative aspect to this is higher inventory and slower turns, but as transportation costs go up, inventory becomes relatively cheaper and the value of having products closer to the customer increases.”
By the time you get through our roundtable meeting this month, I hope you’ll conclude that whatever your company does for a living, it will rely more and more on you for that. Living, that is.
Follow me on Twitter @TomAndel.