6 Sure-Fire Ways To Become A Head Of Supply Chain

We explore six ways that can guarantee you that dream head of supply chain management job…

head of supply chain
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Firstly, take time to find out what the job is really about. At its simplest level in manufacturing, for example, it means leading the sourcing and procurement of direct and indirect materials from suppliers, production, warehousing, transport and the distribution to the customer and/or end consumer.

A simple supply chain

Secondly, jobs may not even have similar titles: it could be Executive Vice President of Global Supply Chain, Supply Chain Director or just Head of Supply Chain. The job content differs widely across industries so no two jobs at this level are the same.  There is no one definitive job description.

Whatever the title, the Head of Supply Chain is responsible for integrating and optimising all the processes that are involved in every stage of getting a product or service to a customer. If your desired role is in an industry such as agriculture, healthcare, or I.T and telecommunications, there are other considerations including security, waste, safety, managing returns and many other different risks. 

In reality, it has become much more complex. It may rather look like this.

Let’s look at the 6 ways that can get you that dream job.

There is no substitute for experience

Prospective or current supply chain managers that aspire to reach the top job in supply chain should acquire in-depth working experience in at least one of the functional areas within supply chain.  Heads of Supply Chain, in the list of the top 25 leading global supply chains as identified by Gartner in 2019, have all got extensive and relevant work experience, usually in their industry sector.

In fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG), global leaders also need expertise in distribution technologies, emerging markets and sustainability.  For example, Sandra MacQuillan, the Executive Vice President, Integrated Supply Chain at Mondelez International, has “a wealth of international expertise in sustainable supply chain and technology strategy, with vast experience in packaged goods at global companies where she has built world-class supply chain capabilities,” according to the CEO.

Get an educational qualification   

The competition for the top jobs is tough, without a recognised qualification it is almost impossible to get hired. An exception may be where the candidate has a spectacular skill in a tight niche where there are no other suitable applicants, but this is rare.   

The most common route into supply chain management is to take a foundation business, finance or engineering degree, and then an advanced diploma or certification in an area such as logistics or procurement within supply chain management.

Demonstrate the required technical skills

As a leader, it may not be necessary to be an expert on all the technical skills that exist in your teams, but some level of proficiency in most of these will provide you with a certain level of respect. 

  • Knowledge of the raw materials, manufacturing processes and distribution methods in your business
  • An understanding of business and management principles and strategic planning
  • Well-developed analytical skills and attention to detail
  • Knowledge of economic and accounting principles, ERP/MRP systems, forecasting, and budgeting

Show your ability to lead others and drive change

Building relationships and influencing others are fundamental to the role.

Change management is ultimately about people and your capability to guide them in a particular direction.  Some of the elements that lead to success in leading a team are:

  • An open and participative style when collaborating with influential stakeholders and their teams
  • Well-developed verbal and written communication skills and the sense to know when and how to use which channel 
  • Ability to work in a fast-paced dynamic environment while keeping calm under pressure
  • Solving problems based on available information
  • Dealing with ambiguity while providing positive outcomes and minimising risks.

A leader will spend a fair portion of their time on employee competency development, building capacity and understanding what people need to perform well.

Keep up with the program!

Because the role is essentially process driven you should be comfortable when implementing new technological solutions. Digital technologies are inserting themselves all over the supply chain from data analytics and e-sourcing through to automated picking and drone deliveries.

The implementation of digital solutions is redefining supply chain operations at leading companies such as BASF, Cisco, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, BMW and many others. As Head of Supply Chain you may not need to be head geek, but you will need to understand the basics of the various applications of each type of technology and be alert to trends. 

Have a global view with a local focus

The head of supply chain often has global responsibilities that entail maintaining supplier relationships across continents and cultures. Understanding these complexities is essential in supply chain planning and its execution. 

It is becoming increasingly important for supply chain leaders to have had global business exposure, either from working in virtual teams or preferably having completed international assignments.

David Cutter, as President, Global Supply & Procurement, for Diageo, a major supplier of alcohol beverages, is responsible for a world-class supply chain delivering their brands to over 180 markets around the world from over 100 production facilities located in some 30+ countries.  

Leading firms are looking for those people with process-driven experience, often in similar size companies, attained from outside their home country.   

There is no one accepted preferred career path or basket of skills that you need to become the head of a supply chain.  However, you will need to be able to apply modern methodologies and solutions to a wide range of responsibilities across the entire supply chain. 

If you’d like to read additional related content or get involved with thought provoking discussions check out the Supply Chain Pros group – a one stop shop for all your supply chain needs.