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Are Supply Chain Leaders Ready for the Top?

Why don’t chief executives come from the top supply chain ranks as readily as they do from finance, marketing, and sales? Senior supply chain management roles constitute some of the best preparation possible for the CEO’s position. But if they are to be seen as such by those who plan CEO successions, supply chain leaders themselves need new ways to think about the route to the top office.

By ·

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.” If the “top of the mountain” translates as the role of chief executive of your company, is one of those paths a career in supply chain management? 

If you had asked this question 15 years ago, the answer would be “no.” Today, that’s changing, albeit slowly. More supply chain executives are starting to progress toward the executive suite. But if the few who do make it are to become many—as we believe they should—we need to give serious thought to what’s needed for that to happen. In effect, we need to know how to chart a wider, more accessible path to the top of the organization chart. It is important to do so not only to elevate the supply chain profession but to benefit businesses by having more high-quality, well-rounded, operationally savvy executives vying for the top job.

Like Sir Edmund Hillary being the first to climb Mt. Everest, we can point to some pioneering chief executive officers (CEOs) who rose through their organizations as executives with significant supply chain and logistics operational experience.  One of the most notable is H. Lee Scott, who served as president and CEO of Walmart Stores, Inc. from January 2000 to January of 2009. Scott was a major catalyst behind the improvement of Walmart’s distribution network. 

Another trailblazer is W. Bruce Johnson of Sears Holding Corp., who was executive vice president of supply chain operations before becoming interim CEO and president of Sears Holdings (it’s yet to be seen if Johnson assumes the CEO role on a permanent basis).
However, the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs still come from disciplines such as marketing, sales, finance, and legal. While those paths are by no means inappropriate for development of the next corporate chief, they are not the only paths. We believe that CEO succession committees would be helping to strengthen the top management team if they routinely considered supply chain executives as potential candidates.

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By ·
Download Article PDF

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.” If the “top of the mountain” translates as the role of chief executive of your company, is one of those paths a career in supply chain management? 

If you had asked this question 15 years ago, the answer would be “no.” Today, that’s changing, albeit slowly. More supply chain executives are starting to progress toward the executive suite. But if the few who do make it are to become many—as we believe they should—we need to give serious thought to what’s needed for that to happen. In effect, we need to know how to chart a wider, more accessible path to the top of the organization chart. It is important to do so not only to elevate the supply chain profession but to benefit businesses by having more high-quality, well-rounded, operationally savvy executives vying for the top job.

Like Sir Edmund Hillary being the first to climb Mt. Everest, we can point to some pioneering chief executive officers (CEOs) who rose through their organizations as executives with significant supply chain and logistics operational experience.  One of the most notable is H. Lee Scott, who served as president and CEO of Walmart Stores, Inc. from January 2000 to January of 2009. Scott was a major catalyst behind the improvement of Walmart’s distribution network. 

Another trailblazer is W. Bruce Johnson of Sears Holding Corp., who was executive vice president of supply chain operations before becoming interim CEO and president of Sears Holdings (it’s yet to be seen if Johnson assumes the CEO role on a permanent basis).

However, the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs still come from disciplines such as marketing, sales, finance, and legal. While those paths are by no means inappropriate for development of the next corporate chief, they are not the only paths. We believe that CEO succession committees would be helping to strengthen the top management team if they routinely considered supply chain executives as potential candidates.

SUBSCRIBERS: Click here to download PDF of the full article.

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Global Supply Chain Pricing May Face New Pressures in 2019
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IHS Markit’s New Economic “Predictions” for 2019 and Impact on Global Supply Chains
The U.S. will remain “above trend,” while other key economies will experience further...
Global Kuehne + Nagel Indicators Signal Global Supply Chain Resilience
So far this year, international merchandise trade has risen by 10.6%. Emerging markets and North...