As supply chain complexity continues to grow, it correspondingly makes hiring the right people to build and manage those operations more difficult. Company leaders recognize the need for employees with both an understanding of technology and an ability to work in a global environment, which means managers are tasked with hiring people with a mix of these specialized skills—and that is challenging.


"The supply chain industry is undergoing one of the most massive talent shifts we have ever seen,” Cisco Systems Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Operations John Kern said at a recent conference for supply chain executives, a Wall Street Journal article reports.


Supply chain operations in the past were often a collection of jobs under logistics and procurement functions. Today, companies are consolidating these functions within high-level leadership, pushing the positions up the executive ladder while also looking for wide-ranging skills to construct global and complex supply chains, says Peter L. O’Brien, head of the global supply chain practice of executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, in the WSJ article. He says the most prominent example is Apple CEO Tim Cook, who oversaw the company’s suppliers as chief operating officer before taking the top position.


Another example is Kimberly-Clark, which makes Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissue. The company recently named its first chief supply chain officer, who reports directly to the chief executive, Tom Falk.


Kimberly-Clark in the past tended to look at the cost of raw materials and the cost of purchasing freight transportation service “independently,” Falk says in the WSJ article. Several supply chain managers at the company reported to different people in different departments, and none reported directly to Falk—so he decided to hire someone to unite those functions.


“This is an opportunity to link those things together and see if we can figure out a way to get more value out of that combined cost structure,” he says.


It took Falk about six months to find and hire Sandra MacQuillan, formerly global vice president of supply chain for Mars Inc.’s pet care division. Falk says in the WSJ article that he hopes to now see “an aggressive change agenda” for the company.


Executives at many companies also recognize the need for such top-tier employees. For instance, in a recent survey of executives of multinational companies by Deloitte Consulting LLP, 65 percent of the executives said leadership and professional competencies such as strategic thinking and problem solving, the ability to manage global or virtual teams, and the ability to effectively persuade and communicate will become more important to their supply chain during the next five years. However, only 45 percent of the executives currently rate their employees as excellent or very good at such leadership and professional competencies, which may create a talent gap leading to serious implications for companies and their customers in the near future.


“Companies must extend their supply chain’s talent base beyond technical skills to bring more leadership and professional skills into more levels,” says Kelly Marchese, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and supply chain strategy leader.


Companies that don’t invest in hiring or cultivating talent now “will get caught flat-footed two to three years down the road,” Cisco’s Kern bluntly says in the WSJ article.


“At any given month, particularly across markets like North America and Europe, we have a couple of dozen of these sorts of discussions,” Kern says. “They recognize the need to up-scale the skill and bring in new capabilities, new skills, and new blood. The biggest challenge today is, there is no superman or superwoman who is able to cover all aspects of the supply chain.”


What are your thoughts on necessary supply chain management skills? Does your company have a strategy for hiring—and retaining—employees with competencies such as critical thinking and the ability to manage global or virtual teams?