More than Logistics

Whether in trade or production, supply chain managers are in demand. They not only optimize flows of goods and logistics networks. In an increasingly digitalized world, these experts have to react to procurement processes that have become increasingly complex. Prof. Kai Hoberg talked to us about this exciting profession.

Professor Hoberg, your research subjects include the career paths of supply chain managers. Is there such a thing as “the” supply chain manager?

That is a very good question. In a study we conducted together with McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, we were able to show that the profile for supply chain managers is not homogeneous.

Of course this has to do with the supply chain management’s interface function. Supply chain managers not only coordinate the various departments within a company, but also connect the company to its customers and suppliers. This is why people with a wide variety of educational backgrounds and work experience are successful in the field.

Focusing on managers, we have identified six groups based on previous work experience. At 34 percent, logistics specialists who have mainly spent their careers in logistics are the largest of the six groups. The “homegrown managers” (21 percent) began in supply chain management (SCM) and worked their way to the top. The lateral entrants (18 percent) were in consulting or project management for most of their careers before they moved to SCM.

The sales experts (12 percent) are very strong in sales, while the engineers (9 percent) have spent most of their time in production. And 6 percent of today’s supply chain managers worked in purchasing for most of their careers.

This means that many lateral entrants with a wide variety of backgrounds are making the decisions in SCM. However, most of them had experience in managing personnel, which means that this quality is a more important hiring criterion for managers than a profound knowledge of SCM is.

What is the best way for students to become qualified for tasks in SCM?

The best thing to do is focus on supply chain management as early as possible. They can enroll in a special master’s degree program or major in SCM as part of an MBA program. The important thing is to take a broad view and also find out about subjects like corporate management, controlling and marketing & sales, for example.

To make it easier to find an entry-level position later, internships in SCM-related positions are also helpful as a way of showing potential employers a focused CV. I would also advise students to complete an academic semester or internship abroad because this can prepare them for working in global or intercultural teams later on. Proficiency in both English and IT are also essential for many SCM positions.

How do graduates find jobs in supply chain management?

In my opinion, SCM has no special features in comparison to other functions. Graduates can use the usual channels to start out in this field: help-wanted ads, career events, and trainee programs, for example. An internship with a focus on SCM or a relevant master’s thesis in a company can also open doors and significantly shorten the application process.

Which soft and hard skills are important?

We recently examined this question in an experiment with SCM managers. The participants had to choose the best candidate for a position from a fictional pool of applicants. On average, in-depth SCM expertise was the most important competency, followed by analytical ability. The third most important criterion ended up being good social skills. Sector experience and management skills were relatively unimportant.

We also identified two different types of managers with varying preferences when selecting candidates. The “expert hunters” were extremely interested in candidates with outstanding SCM expertise, while the “competency balancers” preferred candidates with more balanced competency profiles. This shows that depending on the boss, different strengths are an asset.

Do large corporations tend to use SCM approaches or are smaller companies also active in this area? Where does it make more sense to do an internship because you learn more?

It’s difficult to generalize here. Of course global corporations have greater financial means for developing integrated, state-of-the-art SCM.

But due to the complexity of supply chains, they are much more complicated to implement in corporations than in smaller companies. There are more traps and it takes longer to implement new concepts and technologies. Medium-sized companies are often quicker here and have an easier time with implementation. However, they have to keep a closer eye on the costs.

It’s impossible to indicate the types of companies in which interns learn more. It depends on their tasks, the position, and their personal interests.

What will the supply chain manager of the future see as his/her main challenges?

Disruptive digital technologies will make a key contribution to the further development of SCM. We often speak about “Supply Chain 4.0” – the fourth Industrial Revolution in SCM – and expect it to encompass additive manufacturing, analytics, and smart devices. These are exciting times, because many companies are just starting to find out exactly which technologies will be decisive for them in the future.

Getting employees from different backgrounds, such as the engineers in Production and the data scientists in Business Intelligence, to work together is another major challenge. Companies will not be able to understand the effects of the new technologies on their supply chains without cross-functional teamwork.

Do you see your professional future in supply chain management? Then check this out:

KLU and access invite you to the Logistics & SCM Career Event on the KLU campus from January 27- 28, 2017. Kühne+Nagel, amazon, CAMELOT, INVERTO, Jungheinrich and Tchibo will be there, looking for top people who can open new channels, optimize flows of goods, and develop innovative strategies. Apply by December 11!