When the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) meets in Denver later this year, the group will celebrate its 50th anniversary. When thinking about that, I realized that the first annual conference I attended—when the group was called the Council of Logistics Management—was during its 25th anniversary. It's hard to digest the fact that I've been writing about supply chains and logistics for a quarter of a century.
In those days, I was writing for Purchasing magazine, a once very successful magazine that sadly ceased publication a couple of years ago. I was an experienced reporter when I took that job, but I was new to the world of freight transportation, material handling, procurement, and all the associated practices that we now call supply chain management. I still recall in my first week asking my editor exactly what "LTL" meant.
The term "supply chain management" was still in its infancy at the time. Trucking and rail deregulation were less than a decade old and shippers and carriers (and lawyers) were still grappling with their implementation. Some of the nation's largest motor carriers failed to adapt to the new environment and either closed their doors or were absorbed by more agile truckers. Those bankruptcies led to the battle over what was called the filed-rate doctrine. (If you don't know what that is, be grateful.)
It would still be a few years before intrastate trucking deregulation took hold—an effort oddly led by an air express carrier, Federal Express. The term "3PL" would come along a couple of years later, and the big debate was whether asset- or nonasset-based providers would win shippers' business. Logistics and warehousing technology was still in its infancy. My colleague James Cooke recalls it as about the time businesses were beginning to make the transition from mini computers to desktops, and entrepreneurs were bootstrapping development of nascent warehouse management systems.
The profession has evolved in some remarkable ways over the past 25 years. Supply chain professionals now have a seat at the executive table. The term "supply chain" is now common in the news. Managing complex supply chains is a high-order skill, and top performers are in great demand.
What will the next 25 years bring? In 1988, even science fiction didn't anticipate you would be able to carry a powerful computing device with worldwide connectivity in your pocket or purse. So I would not want to hazard a guess about how technology will develop.
But I think it's fair to say that as long as there's trade, as long as there's commerce, as long as the laws of physics apply to goods and materials, logistics and supply chain will offer good, rewarding careers.