Leadership’s Future

From the April 2019 print edition

Where our future leaders come from is changing as the nature of business changes. The fluid nature of

Michael Power is editor of Supply Professional magazine.

business allows for more movement from one field to another. This is often an advantage, as it allows for the breaking down of silos within an organization, letting different areas of the business to benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience.

I recently attended the ProcureCon Canada 2019 conference in Toronto. The event boasted a great line up of speakers and relevant, engaging topics. The event always does a good job of covering many of the leading-edge topics in procurement and supply chain.

One of those speakers, Jamie Crump, president of the Richwell Group, told the audience an anecdote about working with a new chief procurement officer. Interestingly, Crump told the audience, that CPO had no actual, hands-on procurement experience.

At first, Crump was apprehensive. What could this new CPO know about running a procurement department, its priorities, challenges and needs? But as she got to know this new leader, she realized that it was actually a very good fit. She knew the procurement needs and would focus on them. Meanwhile, the CPO would concentrate on other priorities like raising procurement’s profile within the organization.

What struck me about the anecdote was how much more porous job descriptions have become. This is evident in supply chain as the field takes on a more strategic, less tactically focused position within the business world.
Hard skills are still important. But they’re easier—well, let’s say more straightforward—to teach and to learn. It’s a different game to teach soft skills: curiosity, emotional intelligence and so on are the skills that allow people from outside supply chain to take up leadership roles within the field.

But the ability to transfer skills, soft or otherwise, is also what’s allowing supply chain leaders to grow beyond the profession. It’s allowing them to take up leadership positions in other areas of an organization—including right at the top.
A fortune.com article from last December argues that many future CEOs will come from the ranks of chief supply chain officers. Driven by the “Amazon effect,” speed to market will increasingly become important to organizations looking to ensure they don’t lose out to faster, more nimble competitors.

As this effect tightens its hold on business, the article argues, organizations will increasingly turn to top-tier supply chain professionals for the skills needed to provide customers with the experience they’ve come to expect and demand.
We’ve already seen this among a few of the largest and most successful companies on the planet. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook— recruited by Steve Jobs in 1998—is often credited with fixing its supply chain. GM’s CEO, Mary T. Barra, served as the company’s VP, global product development, purchasing & supply chain, before taking the top job.

Supply chain’s evolution has meant that those from the outside can use their experience to enrich the field, while supply chain professionals can export their skills and expertise to other areas—including the CEO’s office.

Not every supply chain professional will rise to CEO. But every supply chain professional can use their skills and leadership qualities to support their organization’s strategic vision.