The role of today’s chief executives is far more complex than it ever has been before, as geopolitical uncertainties and massive technological advances force them to understand rapidly shifting dynamics and prepare for their impact on their firms.

Why, then, have supply chain leaders – with their renowned abilities to interact with internal and external stakeholders and help their companies cut costs, manage risks and drive product innovation – historically been overlooked in the path to the boardroom?

We believe the supply chain is a prime breeding ground for the CEOs of the future, and that the purpose and perception of the supply chain function needs to transform internally if businesses are to maximise the talent potential already available within their companies.

We have recently embarked on an insight report aimed at shedding light on the capabilities of supply chain professionals in major corporations, and encouraging businesses to invest in those talents as future leaders.

We have been able to interview a select group of senior leaders in the industrials sector who have made the transition into general management, including the HR perspective. They have told us what has worked for them and where they still see challenges, all of which makes for some fascinating reading.

We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together in collaboration with our clients. I’d like to thank them all for their input, and I look forward to hearing what your thoughts.
  Johannes Pieper
Head of Industrial equipment Practice EMEA – Proco Global

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We have summarised some of the findings from the report below.
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Key Themes

Our survey respondents say there are too many hurdles to overcome within their organisations, and that the business culture does not encourage them to move into general management.

The role of supply chain professionals has materially transformed in the past decade, so the credentials of those in the function have radically strengthened.

Today’s supply chain leaders possess many of the skills necessary to run companies, including leadership responsibility, a holistic and global view of the business, team and project management expertise, stakeholder engagement skills, and a grasp of the value creation levers.
Companies must take action to identify future leaders early, wherever they sit in the business, and accelerate high-potential talent both horizontally and vertically.

Leadership teams should ensure they have supply chain expertise and make sure the function has visibility and credibility at all levels.

Individuals need both a management career roadmap and a functional career roadmap, and should ensure they build skills in customer engagement, P&L management and product development.

Moving into Management

A decade ago, it might have been realistic to talk of supply chain professionals as inward-looking and unnecessarily focused on their own activities, rather than those of the broader business. But things have moved on.

There is a growing recognition that it is the purchasing function that permits the company to generate value, but what needs to be more broadly understood is that supply chain professionals are no longer focused purely on cost reduction, but more on value creation.

The reality is that the role of the supply chain professional has transformed, and those that put the effort into getting customer, product and P&L experience, can represent compelling candidates for CEO positions.

“Supply chain is a great background to run a business, because ultimately that’s where the money is made, producing the products and having a full understanding of the levers you can pull to improve performance.”

Steve Meszaros, Vice President of Supply Chain for General Electric in China

Developing the general managers of tomorrow

In our survey of supply chain professionals, only 30 out of our 95 respondents agreed that their company has a culture, and a leadership team, that supports supply chain leaders moving into general management positions.

Supply chain professionals need support early in their careers so that they can garner exposure to as much of the business as possible, and build the necessary skillsets, before they take on senior business leadership roles.

“You need to offer individuals both a functional career path and a leadership career path, and supply chain needs to be seen as one of the functions on the leadership track. If you see a number of great leaders from supply chain moving into senior management, that’s the best way of changing perceptions”

Michael Frei is a former member of the Executive Board, Senior Vice President and Chief Purchasing Officer at Outotec

Shaping a future in general management

One thing that came through loud and clear from our survey was that the supply chain professionals that we interviewed felt ready, willing and able to move into senior management.

64 out of 93 respondents said that they have a clear understanding of what they needed to do to make the move into general management. And then, 86% told us that they have the necessary skills, and leadership skills, required for a general management position.

Perhaps the best advice for those starting out is to have a clear career path in mind, and take care to build the skills you need, and get exposure to the necessary business units, on the way up.

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