Navigating leadership and challenges in the supply chain function with Linzell Harris, former SVP of global supply chain and strategy at AstraZeneca
Supply Chain & Operations Officers

Navigating leadership and challenges in the supply chain function with Linzell Harris, former SVP of global supply chain and strategy at AstraZeneca

Linzell Harris, former SVP of global supply chain and strategy at AstraZeneca, discusses disruption in the supply chain function and offers advice for future leaders.
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In this episode of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast, Heidrick & Struggles’ Carlos Garcia speaks to Linzell Harris, former senior vice president of global supply chain and strategy at AstraZeneca. Harris reflects on the supply chain disruptions he’s experienced over his 35 years in the discipline and shares how the leadership challenges have changed over time. He also shares how he would energize and motivate his teams to understand how much value can come from the latest supply chain technologies and what helped him accelerate digitization initiatives and discusses how the expectations of his external networks evolved and what effect that had on the supply chain function. Finally, he shares advice for executives aspiring to become chief supply chain officers.

Below is a full transcript of the episode, which has been edited for clarity.

Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation. 

Carlos Garcia: Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. I'm Carlos Garcia, a partner in Heidrick’s Supply Chain & Operations Officers Practice. In today's podcast, I'm excited to be speaking with Linzell Harris, who has just retired after a career in supply chain leadership for over 30 years. Most recently, Linzell was AstraZeneca’s senior vice president.

Linzell, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Linzell Harris: Well, first of all, thank you, Carlos, for the opportunity to speak today. It's a wonderful time for supply chain and everything else that’s going on globally here. This team at AstraZeneca is really focused on the patient and with our mission of putting our patients first. It's just fantastic. 

Carlos Garcia: As you reflect on all of these supply chain disruptions that you've experienced over 35 years in the discipline, how have the leadership challenges changed over this time?

Linzell Harris: The reflection on this is pretty interesting. I do not believe, at the base of all of this, that the customer and patient expectations have changed. What I will say regarding the disruptions is that the expectations have become more informed; they're compressed in time; they're transparent and visible. So, all of these disruptions really have tested the resiliency of supply chain—so, the ability to be agile, to be resilient. And to ensure that our teams are managing the situations in a connected way end-to-end across our value chains has really become paramount and truly important to everyone involved, including our patients. 

Carlos Garcia: Let me ask about supply chain technologies. How do you energize and motivate your teams to understand how much value can come from the latest supply chain technologies?

Linzell Harris: The technologies are fantastic. It's all about the art of the possible in the visualization and being able to paint a portrait of what that supply chain vision could be in the future. I truly believe our teams are curious. We want to explore whatever will make us more efficient, that will increase our speed response to the network, simplification of work—there are so many benefits that can come from these new technologies that are being brought forward. 

We've gone from an execution and reporting mindset to decision support, visualization, the autonomous networks that can be created. So, when you start to think about, again, the art of the possible, where you can really drive the supply chain, in terms of execution, these new technologies just create a sense of buzz. They really will help us do all of our jobs in a better way, and therefore serve our customers, serve our patients at a higher level of excellence. That's what we're always shooting for: how to make sure, especially in life sciences, that you disrupt no one's medicine in their regimens. So these new technologies will really help us in the future, and our teams are really fascinated by the capabilities that are being brought forward by all of them. 

Carlos Garcia: What leadership changes, in terms of either structure or skills, helped you accelerate your digitization initiatives? 

Linzell Harris: First, the prioritization. You must prioritize this area, this digitization in your strategy. You must make sure that you're ready to invest and know the value that can be driven. Once you've set it high enough in your strategy, we found in our supply chain strategies, then the resourcing and the capabilities and the processes you need to really maximize the benefit of all of them come into play. We started with the strategic importance then moved into the resourcing and strategy. In this digitization, it's not only the technologies and digital capabilities, whether it's AI or otherwise, but it's also the data and the data governance, which has become a real lever in being able to optimize some of your processes. So we have really looked at that. We have looked at it strategically. And then, what has happened over time is that the talent has come along with it. So, you're looking at supply chain professionals and having the functional key professional capabilities that you want to build from. But now we're overlaying that with the digital capabilities, bringing in the citizen developers, teaching people how to be citizen developers so that you now mesh that digital capability with how you set up your strategies and where your solution sets are being built. The combination of the two has been pretty powerful for us. 

Carlos Garcia: Looking beyond the enterprise, Linzell, how have the expectations of your external networks evolved and what effect has that had on supply chain leadership?

Linzell Harris: Well, the end-to-end capability of the supply chain has never been more critical, more important in my 35 to 40 years of being in supply chain. The connectivity to your suppliers, level one through level three, and beyond, has become, again, paramount for the capability necessary to serve your global customers and global patients. When I look back to where we were so many years ago on execution and how we were trying to manage the partner network, it has just truly changed. We really treasure and prioritize the innovation that we can get from our supply network. We will always need the executional capabilities that come with our partnerships.

And then you're trying to also manage the demand variability that you see around the globe. That is a current in today's supply chains that we see from all the disruptions. But you also think about the sustainability requirements that are happening for the net-zero carbon targets that we have, so we are closer to our strategic partners and network than ever before. And I believe that is the case for all of the industry segments. So, your partnerships and the capability that you put into those partnerships jointly will pay off, and we see it. So, you just need to maximize the benefits there as you are putting the right talent into those connections with your partners. 

Carlos Garcia: Linzell, what advice would you give to executives aspiring to become chief supply chain officers? What skills will be most important for the next generation of supply chain leaders? 

Linzell Harris: Well, I truly believe that there are some skill sets that have been important for a number of years, but, moving into the future, being able to develop this vision for the future and telling the story of where you want to go 5 to 10 years further will be critically important for the chief supply chain officers. 

I would also give a little advice to not minimize your past experiences in that storytelling. I think that the earlier generations, the multiple generations that we have in the labor workforce, want to hear those stories and can build off those stories. They also allow you to build off where you need to be in the future from a process perspective and a patient expectation, or a customer expectation perspective.

So, the storytelling is key. It's critically important. It is the art of the possible. How far can you take your foundation and move it into that maturity cycle, and then to move innovation along with it? So that is one thing that I think is truly important. 

The other point that I would bring out for the future chief supply chain officers is risk management and resiliency. How do you ensure that your supply chain design is built in a way that it can withstand disruption? It can withstand some of the risks that we're seeing become so prevalent in our global networks, whether geopolitical or climate or you end up with sustainability challenges.

We're adding another layer of challenge to being able to execute within the supply chain. So, the mindset of understanding that end-to-end comprehensive risk and how you will design ways to mitigate that risk will be and is today very important. And, I think, for the future, it's a core skill set of any supply chain or supply chain officer.

And the last piece that I would leave with people is that agility and speed is not becoming less important. We see it with the development of our products and our medicines. You'll see it in all of the consumer marketplaces. How fast can you move through a supply chain to deliver products both in your pipeline of new products or in your legacy products that you have established pipelines and establish supply chains? So, you can never forget that agility and speed is critical to delivering value, but while you're doing that, you really need to be able to mitigate the risk that the current supply chains are having to deal with. If you can be successful in both of those, then your supply chain will flourish. And at that time, because you had that foundational execution, you really need to be able to paint the picture and tell the story about where you want to go in that strategic horizon. Once you do that, your entire group, and your organizations, will be able to follow, and I think they will love hearing how they can add value to that story. So, Carlos, that's what I would lead with for the future supply chain officers.

Carlos Garcia: Great insights. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. 

Linzell Harris: Thank you for having me. It's greatly appreciated.

Thanks for listening to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. To make sure you don't miss more future-shaping ideas and conversations, please subscribe to our channel on the podcast app. And if you're listening via Linked In, Twitter, or YouTube, why not share this with your connections? Until next time. 

About the interviewer

Carlos Garcia ( is the global managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ Supply Chain & Operations Officers Practice; he is based in the Los Angeles office.

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