"The mess in the middle." That's one chief executive's description of the supply chain, or to be precise, his customer's description of the supply chain. At the recent Council of Logistics Management conference in Philadelphia, Chris Munro, CEO of Inoveris Inc., told a seminar audience that one of his customers had used that phrase to describe the confusion that logistics professionals must sort out each day. Anyone who has tried to manage a complex supply chain will understand why: It's hard enough to mesh internal processes, never mind to coordinate the actions of an array of suppliers and satisfy large numbers of customers.
At least, said John Langley, a professor of supply chain management at Georgia Tech and moderator of that particular seminar, the executive quoted by Munro recognized that the supply chain was an important link between his oil and gas fields and the final customer. For all too many executives, the supply chain remains an amorphous term and logistics a pesky but relatively minor cost center, unworthy of a senior executive's attention.
That's why managers across the supply chain, whether they're responsible for transportation or distribution or some other logistics function, need to learn to speak the language of the executive suite. They need to find ways to frame what they do in terms that attract senior management's interest.
During a presentation preceding the panel discussion, Rick Jackson, executive vice president of logistics and supply chain engineering for Limited Distribution Services, reminded logistics professionals that they were responsible for communicating to C-level executives how their decisions drive cost. Logistics and supply chain pros, he said, see things end to end in ways that others do not. That is, logistics pros understand better than most how a decision made by someone in sourcing or sales will ripple through the company, often with unintended consequences.
Still, Jackson warned, supply chain managers must not forget that their role is to support the initiatives of the enterprise. Nicholas LaHowchic, president and CEO of Limited Brands Logistics Services and one of the panelists, said logistics professionals first have to understand where the company leadership is trying to go and then determine how to enable that. "Merchants think about what is selling, and not how it got there," he said. And guaranteed, they're not thinking about how management of the supply chain affects sales, top- and bottom-line growth, and share price. Show them that, and you'll get their attention.