Third-party logistics providers and shippers are placing increased emphasis on developing and retaining leadership talent to help them steer through supply chain disruptions and spur innovation that will deepen a company's ties to its customers, according to the 17th
annual "2013 Third-Party Logistics Study" and industry officials.
Companies are more interested now in having executives who are quick learners and can adapt to changes in a complex business environment than in ones that have deep expertise in one functional area, according to the study on logistics outsourcing led by John Langley of Penn State University.
"Having top-tier talent that can think, innovate and go to market differently is going to be a critical competitive advantage," Zack Deming, a principle at executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, said during a conference call Monday organized by investment bank Stifel Nicolaus to brief clients about the study.
Korn/Ferry International was a study sponsor.
Learning agility - the ability to quickly master complex business problems - is one of the top characteristics companies seek in new hires, Deming said.
"In the face of continuing economic uncertainties and constrained resources, companies are looking to do more with less, looking to innovate and then hire as opposed to hire and then innovate. And so, those executives who can more readily adapt to various challenges, roles, expectations - have a more agile learning approach - have a greater success in rising through the organizations," he said.
Several top supply chain executives on a panel at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' annual conference in Atlanta, Oct. 1-3, said their companies want leaders who understand supply chain within the context of the broader business strategy.
An understanding of finance is just as important as logistics expertise, Beth Ford, senior vice president global operations and IT at Land O'Lakes, said.
"Discussions I have often are less about tactics than strategy," she added. "It's really more about being a strategist and understanding the financial, economic and operational implications of decisions."
John Lund, senior vice president of supply chain management for Walt Disney Co., said supply chain departments need professionals who also have deep understanding of strategy and marketing so that they have the credibility to speak to the chief executive officer in a language that he or she understands.
Having strong technical capabilities deep within a functional area is necessary to establish one's credibility, but it doesn't give a manager the necessary access to corporate decision-makers, Franklin Jones, general manager for customer fulfillment, planning and logistics at Intel Corp., said.
Successful companies tend to map out clear career paths for employees and quickly give top managers exposure to different parts of the enterprise so they feel challenged in their job, which enhances retention, Deming said.
(The November cover story in American Shipper, "Harvesting Logistics Talent,"
describes how several 3PLs and other logistics entities are systematically going about developing and managing logistics talent in ways that go beyond traditional human resources programs.)
Many logistics companies are also placing increased emphasis on recruiting chief information officers and top information technology professionals because they realize that managing, sharing and analyzing data is key to service and developing new solutions for customers, according to the 3PL study.
Deming said 3PLs will have to look beyond their industry and recruit talent from other industry sectors such as information technology, retailing, financial services and manufacturing to get the best leaders that can meet customer expectations for creative ways to add value their products.
Sixty-five percent of 3PLs and half of shippers surveyed by Langley's team indicated that employee training, talent management and certification programs are some of the top tools for managing a supply chain crisis. Seventy percent of 3PLs and 54 percent of shippers plan to invest heavily in those areas during the next two years to address supply chain disruption.
(More than 2,300 people participated in the survey.)
"A crisis is no time to be dusting off a static action plan and assigning responsibilities," the authors said. - Eric Kulisch