Knowledge Center: Article

Supply Chain and Operations Officers

Ever Considered a Supply Chain Career?


While many executives specialize in supply chain management, a proper, institutionalized career track in this field is missing, even though the industry has long identified four core competencies for specialists in this field: planning, procurement, manufacturing and logistics.
While most supply chain professionals start with a degree in engineering and perhaps an advanced management degree along the way, there is no clearly defined path to reach this level, unlike sales, marketing or finance.

“You can start a supply chain career from almost anywhere because it is not a purist field like accounting or finance which is one reason it so difficult to develop a good supply chain career,” says Dr John Gattorna, an international supply chain expert and author of several books about supply chains. Those who reach the top of their supply chain profession can end up as chief operating officers.

Even without an industry-wide framework, supply chain professionals should still actively forge their own career progression.

They may start with up to 10 years with large companies like Unilever and Procter & Gamble, known for their expertise in this area. Then, they can move on to “more chaotic” companies, with a higher position, better pay. From that position, they can make a significant mark in the new company’s supply chain management practices.

Industry experts caution that currently, many supply chain professionals stay put at one place for too long. They need to avoid the trap of cornering themselves into narrowly-defined roles; they need to seek exposure in other disciplines, so that they can rightly claim both depth and breadth.

“By definition a supply chain is like a patchwork quilt. What you’re trying to do is stitch together different components to create the full mosaic,” says Gattorna.

“If you’re perceived to be very good in a certain area, you could get locked into a certain role, and you may not get exposure to new thinking in other disciplines. After a while you become wary of being a thinker, and you’re seen as being more of a doer. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he adds. Thus, supply chain professionals need to constantly keep in mind their entire career, as they attempt to find the balance between breadth and depth.

“I’ve met a number of executives who have risen to senior positions in very specific, narrow roles, but are then disappointed when they don’t have the breadth of experience to take on other senior roles in the organization, and by then it is too late,” says Boyd Williams, senior Asia Pacific vice president of human resources for DHL Express.

But companies do realize that they need to give due recognition and attention to their supply chain executives - even if they might not know exactly how.

A senior HR leader with a good understanding of this field should help champion and map out career development paths for his colleagues specializing supply chain management.

“Companies probably aren’t doing enough to develop supply chain careers, as they probably don’t know what to do. What’s more, a lot of the line executives in companies rely far too heavily on human resources departments who are unfamiliar with supply chain management,” says Gattorna.

Given the strong demand for supply chain professionals, it is essential for companies to offer competitive remuneration packages. They must also offer regular training and mentorship programs so that executives in this area feel challenged and gets recharged over the long run.

Only by doing so, can they add to the depth of the management bench for this essential job function, and contribute to the company’s overall performance.

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