All posts by David Weaver

4 Tips for Managing Your Supply Chain Career

My first hands-on experience serving as a link within the supply chain came very early in my career.

This article was first published on Beet Fusion.

After flipping burgers for a year at age 15, I decided to take an afternoon job at a garden centre chain in California. When school was dismissed, I would head to the nursery to water the plants.

While watering, I decided to read all the labels and learn as much as possible about the wide array of greenery and flowers the company sold. After a while, I was able to help customers find the plants they needed and design the optimal set-up for their gardens. This led to a promotion to category buyer, and eventually associate manager.

I enjoyed my time working as a buyer, but it was very stressful. Excel sheets from various growers covering availability cluttered my desk. On-site supplier visits, daily truck deliveries with fresh product and quality control were all tasks I had to juggle. Then there were the external factors such as weather and competition. On top of all that, I was studying full time for my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

Working as a link within the supply chain is no easy task, especially in today’s fast-paced, operating environment where customers want everything yesterday, and competitors are waiting in the wings for a supply chain slip-up. That being said, it is safe to conclude that a career in supply chain can be rewarding and exciting, especially with buzzwords such as industry 4.0, smart factories, same-day-delivery and digitisation floating around.

By no means, at the ripe old age of 30, do I consider myself a career expert, but perhaps these four tips can start a conversation on the topic and help someone find their way up (or onto) the supply chain career ladder:

1. Get your feet wet

For me, this phrase was literal. While watering the plants at the garden center, I had no idea I would be promoted to category buyer (but my socks were soaked by the end of the day). This experience, however, piqued my interest in supply chain, and I haven’t looked back since. In essence, I would encourage anyone thinking about a career in supply chain management to just jump in.

There has never been a better time to get involved in this fast-paced, innovative industry in need of some fresh talent. Your first job will not necessarily be your dream job, but it is important to use any and all job opportunities as a learning experience.  A great place to start your supply chain career and learn the ropes would be in a buyer or material planner role.

2. Be a sponge

Whether you are new to a company or have 30 years of experience at the same firm under your belt, there is always a chance to learn something new. A quote I like to keep in the back of my mind is, “Experience isn’t everything: it is possible to do something incorrectly for 30 years.” In essence, it is important to approach your career with an open mind.

Soak in your experiences like a sponge. If you have a bad manager, learn how you do not want to act when you reach a management position. If you are in management, be open to ideas from your staff. Always be looking for ways to expand your knowledge and expertise.

Within the supply chain industry, this could come in the form of master’s or bachelor’s degree programs or various certifications available to industry newcomers and professionals. Another exceptional method for expanding knowledge is engaging in online communities and being active across social media. There are some excellent sources of information that offer great insights into supply chain strategy.

3. Be the change you want to see

Nobody wants to be around a complainer. There is certainly a time and place for constructive criticism, but constant complaining and griping could create tension within teams. Instead of joining the complainer choir, start putting the change you want to see in motion.

There are many stakeholders along the supply chain within an organisation. Production teams strive for the efficient use of equipment. The sales team makes short-term delivery commitments, but the purchasing department didn’t buy enough material for the production process, so the delivery has to be pushed back. All of this is happening while top management is wanting to see a reduction in costs and increased liquidity. Therefore, warehouse managers are cutting back stock, but this will certainly have an impact on availability. With everyone working toward their own goals, it is no wonder tensions run high along supply chains.

In order for things to change, someone needs to be the first person to reach his or her hand across the table. Instead of complaining about the procurement manager who once again ordered too few screws, as the production manager, try inviting your colleague out to lunch to discuss some of the planning issues. Start working on developing goals that can be achieved together and that bring the company forward as a whole.

4. Know your operating environment

Managing a career can look a lot different depending on where you are in the world. After 6 years in the garden centre industry, I decided to study for my master’s degree in Germany (my wife is German). During my studies, I became fluent in the German language and got acquainted with the German culture. I quickly noticed some major differences.

While studying for my bachelor’s degree in California, everything seemed like a competition and a lot of emphasis was placed on individual achievement. In Germany, it was all about team work (at least at the university I attended). Another difference I noticed, while searching for a job in Germany after my graduation, was that more emphasis was placed on education and certification. In Germany, it seems as though you can get a certificate for everything. It is these accolades that employers want to see, whereas in the U.S.A., more emphasis is placed on practical experience.

You don’t have to be working in a different country to apply this tip. Understanding your operating environment is just as important when you are working for an international company. If you are sent to check-in on a certain supplier overseas, spend some time getting to know the culture before you arrive.

Closing Thoughts

When it comes to career advice, there is a lot I need to learn, especially since I have approximately 75 per cent of my career still ahead of me. Furthermore, there is still a lot to learn when it comes to supply chain management.

However, based on my experience to date, I have found that an eagerness to learn something new on a daily basis can go a long way toward advancing a career. Being a positive change agent who is willing to tackle new challenges will also open many doors along the way. And finally, understanding your operating environment will help you avoid embarrassing moments, and may even land you a job overseas.

The Supply Chain Entrepreneurial Spirit is Alive and Well

When analyzing my connections on Twitter, one of the biggest words in my tag cloud describing my followers, next to business, marketing and supply chain, is “entrepreneur.” I can understand the desire to associate oneself with this word as it is often linked to success-oriented character traits such as tenacity, optimism, passion and creativity. Luckily for supply chain processes, the boom in creative thinkers and doers has flooded into the industry, and new ways to achieve supply chain excellence are sprouting up all around us.

I partly credit the hit reality series Shark Tank (or Dragons Den for those in the UK) for the explosion of entrepreneurs out there today. During the show, businesspeople pitch their unique ideas to “shark” investors in hopes of receiving funds to help bring their new product or service ideas to the market. The majority of questions asked by the investors come back to supply chain processes (Where are you producing? What does your distribution network look like? How much stock do you have on hand?). In more recent episodes, people have been pitching their supply chain as a competitive advantage, including messages of transparency and promises of speedy delivery.

In recent weeks I have personally noticed the impact of the entrepreneurial spirit on the supply chain industry and want to share a few examples:

Procurious – Sharing is Caring

The final encouragement to write this article came after being asked by Procurious to contribute to the platform’s blog. This platform, designed exclusively for procurement and supply chain professionals, embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of next generation managers and encourages the sharing of information to increase collaboration and learning opportunities. Founding Chairman, Tania Seary, recognized a need (a fragmented industry in need of a makeover), gathered a small team of professionals, and created a platform that has now grown to over 6000 users worldwide in just over one year. The role of social media in supply chain processes will continue to grow, and Procurious has established itself as an early-mover.

Logistics: Who can deliver faster, and cheaper?

As consumer expectations grow, especially in the field of E-commerce, so too does the stress on logistics processes. Today’s “I want it now (and cheap)” culture has led to an influx of crowdsourced delivery service start-ups in the logistics industry. Basically, people bring items to other people while en route to a particular destination. This concept follows in the footsteps of car sharing, apartment sharing and other aspects of today’s sharing economy. The first company name that comes to mind when discussing this topic is Uber, which started as a ride-sharing service and has since expanded into a multi-faceted transportation company, with tests such as Uber Fresh (food order delivery) and Uber Rush (courier package delivery) under its belt.

Creative delivery solutions are however not just limited to startups. Back in April, Amazon and Audi announced their plans to develop a service that would allow for the delivery of a package directly to a car’s trunk.

This is definitely a sector to keep an eye on in the coming months.

BlueBlox & Coke Life

Back in June, I had the privilege of meeting two supply chain entrepreneurs at the European Supply Chain and Logistics Summit in Barcelona. It was great participating in an event that encouraged innovative thinking and included industry entrepreneurs.

The first encounter was with Dorothy Diedericks, founder and CEO of BlueBlox. Dorothy recognized a need in the supply chain industry, namely the closure of the gap between the potential in emerging markets in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe – and multinationals that want to conduct business there, but can’t due to numerous challenges. BlueBlox takes a modular approach to addressing these cross-border challenges, creating more visibility and increasing compliance.

Secondly, I sat-in on a presentation by Simon Berry from ColaLife. Back in 2008, Simon Berry and his wife Jane started an online “movement” which turned into an official charity in the UK in 2011. Essentially, Simon found it hard to believe that Coca-Cola was available in the majority of developing countries, but access to basic medicines was scarce. He had the idea of tapping into private sector supply chains to distribute anti-diarrhoea kits in Zambia, where 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday due to preventable causes such as dehydration from diarrhoea. After years of progress and innovation, it is safe to say that the entrepreneurial spirit of Simon and his small team has saved many lives.

WalMart Buyers meet “made in the USA” suppliers

In an attempt to improve its image and product assortment, Wal-Mart recently set-up a “shark-tank-like” pitch process that connected entrepreneurs with company buyers. Obtaining shelf-space at retail is not easy, let alone getting face-to-face time to pitch a product, so many businesses took advantage of this opportunity.

The pursuit of U.S. suppliers helps Wal-Mart gain some transparency in its supply chain and gives consumers more options both online and in U.S. retail locations. After all, according to Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart’s head of global customer insights, where a product is manufactured serves as a major deciding factor in purchasing decisions, second only to price. This forward thinking buyer-supplier set-up truly embraced the entrepreneurial spirit.

Closing Words

It is great to see the entrepreneurial spirit take over an industry that can use some more excitement and positive press coverage. It is safe to say that the supply chain industry has come a long way thanks to the tenacity, optimism, passion and creativity of industry professionals. The emergence and proliferation of connected devices, smart factories, and the sharing economy are sure to set the stage for more exciting times in supply chain and logistics.

Have you recently come across some exciting new projects? What are some examples of entrepreneurship you have seen in the industry?