Is Supply Chain Management Really a ‘Specialist’ Skill?

Spread the thoughts

What ‘skills’ should one have to be acknowledged as a good supply chain talent?

What is the barometer that recruiters and managers can use to identify a good supply chain talent?

Questions like these are perhaps relevant to just about any occupation out there. Is Investment Banking a really specialist skill? Is Management Consulting really a specialist skill? Is People management really a specialist skill? Is program management really a specialist skill?

Is engineering sub-sea tunnels a specialist skill? Is semiconductor defect testing a specialist skill? Is Jet Engine testing a specialist skill? Is deep sea diving a specialist skill?

Ok back to supply chain.


It depends. It depends on the firm. I do not ‘DO’ supply chain every day. No one does.

Every firm is unique in her own way. Not all of them are or can be Walmarts and P&Gs and Apples and Amazons of the world and need not be. Business models are inherently different. Industry competitiveness is different. Process Maturity is different. Customer service philosophy and emphasis is different. Manager’s incentives are different. The ‘glam’ quotient is different (someone must do the drudgery). The way firms organize her people, departments, functions and facilities are different. Manufacturing strategies are different. The way Businesses grow are different. The speed at which they embrace new technologies and application software is different. The willingness to collaborate with outside world and share information is different. Hence the supply chain management ‘skills’ needed in each of these firms vary in emphasis. It also depends on location of work!

However some CORE skills needed here draw from the same fundamental body of knowledge that is applicable to most other business functions viz. general management, negotiation and people skills, decision and management sciences, risk valuation, applied mathematics, problem scoping and formulation, cost accounting and financial and business analysis. These skills are not getting obsolete anytime. Any additional skill incl. climbing palm trees or learning a new data analysis technique is a bonus. Talking of risk quantification, a ‘good’ supply chain manager and a good investment banker employ more or less the same fundamental math and models for resp. decisions viz. deciding the right product availability plan in the network and the options price resp. For that matter employing time series and regression models for forecasting demand (or anything), designing supply chain contracts, asset utilization models, variability reduction etc. need deep insights into the way business must be carried out now and in the future. So in that sense supply chain strategy is indistinguishable from business strategy and hence skills needed from a supply chain manager should be at par with the skills expected from a Business Manager, Marketing Director or the CEO. There may be many ways of (re)organizing the supply network for achieving business goals of costs and profits. So skills are needed from just about every domain of business and beyond. “I am a supply chain manager, not a cost accountant” will not do.

One thing is certainly changing in the recruitment space. More so for supply chain talent. The job titles are getting precise. And so are the job descriptions and candidate profiles sought. Not only precise but contextual and need based unlike in the past when a supply chain ‘guy’ was everything not finance and not marketing!

Titles like Demand Manager, Supply Chain Performance Manager, SC Improvement manager, Inventory Optimization specialist, Customer Delivery Service Manager, Logistics Analyst etc. is an embodiment of the precise expectations from the job. Though such titles alone do not always restrict your real role in the firm and that is perfectly alright as long as you are willing to learn, propose and implement innovative ways of making a business process painless, save a buck or two and make some restless (aka information hungry but indecisive managers) souls happy.

Apart from reinforcing your core skills, keeping your eyes and ears open to novel tools and applications that provide you with another view of your world (of supply chain and business) and better insights into your data and processes helps. But like with everything else in life, before you decide to recommend such tools, be sure you do your homework well. Do you really need it? Can I build one on my own? This is also an important skill.