supply chain careers

Compete: Prepare for Who You'll Need to Be

Logistics professionals facing today's challenges must also prepare for tomorrow's. Here's advice for managing a career on the move.

It is likely that the transportation and logistics jobs of today will not be the same tomorrow. We're talking about a 24-hour period, not weeks, months, or years.

These industries change with ever-increasing international trade and the development of sophisticated technology. But they are also affected by political unrest and natural disasters. Consequently, the C-level executives in these sectors must be masters of many disciplines that affect moving goods from point A to point B.  The world has become much smaller due to rapid transportation and with that comes the intense pressure to get goods on the shelves so that sales can be made.

See Also: Transportation & Distribution Logistics News & Analysis

New-age leaders must focus on technology's evolution, political events that require re-routing, rising gas prices and ongoing education.

Crises are Normal

Consider some of the nightmares these executives have faced in recent years. A volcanic cloud descends on Europe, disrupting flight plans. A tsunami in Thailand ripples across the Pacific and affects port activity in California. Forest fires in Florida close highways for days. Merchant Marine fleets are delayed due to piracy threats on the African coast.

These scenarios have become fairly typical for today's logistics and transportation executives. Their jobs are now more about dealing with crises and understanding technology than simply about loading boxes on trucks and airplanes. These positions require skills that could not have been anticipated just 10 years ago. And with these changes come new criteria for senior executives.

As the methods and strategies behind logistics and transportation change, so will the criteria for C-level executives. And, it will happen at a dizzying pace. Why? Because no other industry illustrates the axiom—"time is money"—like logistics.

Developing Vision and Visibility

Success is measured by minutes and requires minute-by-minute tracking in all parts of the world, developing cost efficiencies while guaranteeing timely delivery, and anticipating problems and having back-up plans. 

These abilities are developed early, as reflected in the growing sophistication of college programs preparing today's students to be the transportation and distribution executives of the future. Taught by current executives, these classes have become quite complex.

For example, a syllabus for the Supply Chain Management major at a major university clearly illustrates the complexities of this field:

• Provides solid exposure to supply management, logistics, business-to-business marketing and operations management topics;

• Develops cross-functional team skills by integrating Supply Chain Management students with engineering students in the Integrated Product Development (IPD) program;

• Emphasizes advanced cost analysis, negotiation, product development and e-business;

• Integrates core business courses with supply chain major courses;

• Provides field study and experiential learning opportunities. 

Résumé Talking Points

Without being too simplistic, the profiles of logistics executives have changed from managing a guy in a warehouse to someone in the board room having an understanding of robotics, inventory management, software/hardware, international customs, currency exchanges, border treaties and security, to name a few responsibilities.

On the local level, a snacks distributor deals with new systems that influence profits on many levels. They have state-of-the-art warehouses featuring robotics, labeling machines and high speed conveyor belts.  Drivers are required to follow computer-generated routes to get products to stores efficiently and save gas and wear and tear on the vehicles. These routes are updated regularly, re-routing trucks in the event of accidents or road construction.

A logistics professional's responsibilities expand along with the distances of their markets. Following are some of the demands that C-level executives must be able to address:

• Intermodal transportation that could involve complex sequences involving trucks, ships, planes, trains and then trucks. There must be seamless transitions that enhance speed of delivery, while saving money;

• A knowledge of international currencies as well as border treaties, terrorist/piracy hot spots, taxes, regulatory laws and government issues;

• Security, since international shipping frequently involves product movement through dangerous areas. How can these areas be avoided? How can protection be secured for pilots, truck drivers and crews?

• Transportation management, another critical element of logistics and supply chain management. This is perhaps the largest single cost and impacts all supply chain activities;

• Negotiations with transporters in other countries and understanding pay scales and impressing upon them the importance of timely deliveries. An understanding of local cultures, religions and work ethics also comes into play when dealing with personnel throughout the world.

These capabilities translate into profits because they enable products to get to the purchaser faster, resulting in timely sales. Prices and profits can be managed better when processes result in lower transportation costs and fewer man hours.

Evolve With Your Job Description

FedEx, DHL and UPS are among the industry leaders that have revolutionized this sector. Logistics executives must be visionaries simply because their discipline is changing rapidly. Today's transportation and logistics era will be viewed as the time of dinosaurs within a few short years.

Logistics and transportation will continue to advance and grow without plateau. Companies are always seeking faster and better ways to get product to market and on consumers' shelves or in their driveways. Anyone with these responsibilities requires ingenuity for today and vision for the future.

Juan D. Morales is the managing director of the Miami office for Stanton Chase International Executive Search (www.stantonchase.com), a global retained executive search firm. He is a former executive with DHL Worldwide Express and United Parcel Service.

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