The supply chain manager as superhero

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For those of us who work in supply chain management and its related industries, it can be a real challenge to easily describe to others what we do. Despite the fact that supply chain management touches each of our lives on a daily basis, it can often be difficult for outsiders to grasp—and for the experts to explain in a way that is easily understood.

Demystifying the industry, the Department of Supply Chain Management at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business created a great series of videos to explain exactly what supply chain management is. The concepts are delivered in a way that is easily digestible (and humorous). The supply chain manager is repeatedly positioned as a superhero with a cape, someone that children aspire to become. This type of message is exactly what the industry needs to attract more people to the field of supply chain management, a challenge that only looms larger as we enter 2011.

A December 27, 2010 Fortune magazine article calls supply chain management "2011's hottest job you never thought of," in addition to stating that the industry currently has a shortage of qualified managers and "a decidedly unglamorous image." While the article also states that supply chain management is "the complicated, behind-the-scenes work of getting goods from one place to another, on time and on budget," the video series from ASU proves that, while the work itself may be complicated, explaining the industry doesn't have to be. And, in my opinion, the videos also demonstrate that the industry's "unglamorous" tag is an unfair one. Whether you're a typical consumer, a student contemplating a career in supply chain management, or a 30-year veteran of the industry, there's something to learn from these ASU videos —even it's just how to explain to your mother what you do for a living. Check out the entire series on YouTube:

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Tweets that mention The 21st Century Supply Chain » Blog Archive » The supply chain manager as superhero --
- January 12, 2011 at 12:47pm
[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rick Todd. Rick Todd said: The supply chain manager as superhero: The supply chain manager is repeatedly positioned as a superhero with a c... [...]
Garrett Brothers
- January 12, 2011 at 5:45pm
This is right on the money. Throughout my college career when I told people I was a Supply Chain Management major the number one reaction was “huh… what’s that”? No matter how many people I told and hard I tried to inform people of the power supply chain optimization has, I always left with the impression they were underwhelmed and still has a less than appropriate appreciation of supply chain management. But as you suggest SCM is becoming ever so important to businesses in a world of increasing costs that people with this niche skill set are prepared to see huge rewards. Good Read!

Garrett Brothers
Lauren Bossers
- January 13, 2011 at 2:59pm
Thanks for the feedback, Garrett. I'm glad you found the videos as valuable as I did. Here's hoping that supply chain management will get its proper due in the future.
Ron Freiberg
- January 13, 2011 at 4:57pm
I have to agree with Garrett as well, unless you are talking with someone who is already well educated in business, sales or engineering management, few people understand supply management or for that matter any of its functional areas. Forty years ago as a fresh Business School graduate, jobs were in tight demand so I took a job as an electrician for 6 months and to this day every one in my family describe my chosen profession as an electrician no matter how I try to explain that I had moved on to elements of supply management over 39 years ago.

I suspect there are a number of other professions that may be a bit obscure as well, especially as technologies and the need for specific skills and capabilities change; I'm sure some of the newer descriptive job titles leave many people wondering. Let’s face it SCM as a career prior to about 15 years ago didn't really exist. Sure there were the functional elements of purchasing, sales, traffic/logistics etc. and even then few people had a deep understanding other than those who were the actual practitioners.

Then there is the issue of all the functional areas SCM either directly or indirectly manages or controls. When you try to describe the whole to someone it can become a bit mind boggling and yes it would take 12 video modules as with the ASU videos just to get a rough overview of the task.

Yes it would be nice to be able to indicate what I do in one or two words and be able to give people some understanding rather than have to resort to 12 videos. On the other hand keeping people guessing is interesting in itself.
Ravi Patil
- January 17, 2011 at 4:02pm
Let us make sure we, as professionals, don't confuse the public by incorrect use of terminology. SCM is not Supply Management but is Supply Chain Management. Supply management only deals with resources and not operations.

See Rex Beck's comments on "Is the Term Supply Chain Management Obsolete?" back in 2009.

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