How to find supply chain leaders

Nov. 7, 2004
by Jeff Wierichs and Jed Hughes, Jr.Managing the supply chain is no longer about gaining a competitive edge. These days, supply chain management is about

by Jeff Wierichs and Jed Hughes, Jr.

Managing the supply chain is no longer about gaining a competitive edge. These days, supply chain management is about ensuring survival in a global marketplace.

"In the past, everyone had a different definition of what 'supply chain' meant," says Brian Kelley, president and CEO of SIRVA Corp., a provider of logistics and relocation services. "Today, supply chain encompasses the entire process — from procurement, manufacturing and distribution to the customer experience. It's about bringing quality to every part of the process. And for consumer businesses that traditionally are more segmented, strategically managing the supply chain provides a huge opportunity to make a difference."

Businesses need leaders who are able to manage complex supply chain issues, whether they are overseeing a global supply chain or looking to improve internal, cross-functional processes. While there is no one-size-fits-all prototype for the ideal supply chain executive, a set of required skills and competencies for successful leaders is emerging. It takes a combination of skills, based on organizational requirements and complexity, to effectively manage a supply chain that adds value to the company.

"You have to be a leader," says Bob Ostryniec, vice president of consumer supply for packaged food company Heinz North America. "This includes being a great communicator, driving and inspiring your teams, being committed to delivering results and, most important, having a passion for your customers."

Companies are shifting their production capabilities to remain competitive. The emergence of China in particular as a major marketplace and hub for operations is driving the need for supply chain talent who have international experience.

Organizations must find supply chain management executives who are able to manage these complexities beyond traditional borders. Executives must have the tools to reach across the complexity of the change and manage expectations, driving global success through agility, adaptability and alignment.

For many, this requires firsthand experience with the cultures. For others, it involves possessing a clear understanding of the region. However, the degree to which executives require the global experience depends on their particular situation. If you are part of the global supply chain, living and working in a specific country or region can give a better perspective on cultural needs and consumer expectations and behaviors.

Companies also require someone who can manage the entire supply chain — from manufacturing and logistics to alliance management and P&Ls. This requires an executive with a strong track record of operational excellence — someone who has a big-picture perspective but can also manage the details.

"We need business leaders who have done more than just purchasing," says Kelley. "They need to understand all aspects of operations."

To get the necessary experience, Ostryniec recommends that supply chain executives get cross-functional experience. "Take a role in operations and manufacturing. Look into purchasing, as this will help you learn how to partner with peers and manage suppliers. In addition, get involved with warehousing and distribution. It not only offers you the opportunity to understand inventory management, but it requires you to employ your analytical skills — a must for today's supply chain executive."

With the drive to achieve more transparency in the supply chain — with the ability to evaluate the performance of each function in the chain — supply chain executives need to forge strong relationships both internally and externally.

"Supply chain leaders need the ability to influence others," says SIRVA's Kelley, "and this can only be done if these leaders have established positive working relationships with their peers throughout the organization."

"A way to establish synergies through the supply chain is by communicating and partnering with your peers and your team in a non-threatening way," adds Heinz's Ostryniec.

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all supply chain executive, there is no onesizefits-all approach to finding great leadership. Among the traditional sources for supply chain executive talent are the established companies that have mastered global integrated supply chain management over the last decades.

You should also look to global logistics and transportation organizations and consulting firms. These organizations can be a source for consultants who will be able to learn the operational grounding and general management leaders who possess strong cross-functional backgrounds, financial experience and handson operational management.

Supply chain talent also needs to be developed internally. Companies need to recognize, though, that internal development takes time so they may need to augment that development through recruitment efforts.

"Companies also should look outside of their industries," says Ostryniec. "While industry experience can be a very good thing, in the world of supply chain it isn't [always] necessary."

Ultimately, by hiring and/or developing supply chain executives who exhibit the critical characteristics — leadership, global perspective, business-minded and a relationship builder — a company's chances for long-term success can improve dramatically.


Heinz North America


Jeff Wierichs and Jed Hughes, Jr. are consultants with executive search firm Spencer Stuart ( Wierichs is based in Philadelphia, where he places senior level executives in consumer products and life science industries and specializes in supply chain. He can be reached at [email protected]. Hughes is based in New York, in the consumer goods and services practice. He can be reached at [email protected]

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