Board Representation for Supply Chain

Published: 10 August 2015

I have recently completed a research paper which has focused on the development of the supply chain function over the last ten years. Having conducted the research it became clear that the function of supply chain has dramatically improved. Improvements have occurred in a number of ways, from the software that is now being utilised, through to the calibre of individual recruited.  However there is still a long way to go before there is full board level representation.

An article in The Grocer recently suggested that “60% of supply chain professionals in FMCG feel unrepresented at board level.”  I do believe that this 60% is considerably lower than it would have been before the days of Omni channel retailing and collaborative supply chains.
Within the retail sector consumers have become extremely demanding, requiring a wider range of products cheaper and more quickly. Within the manufacturing industry there is a requirement to cut costs and reduce lead times. Supply chain has been escalated to the top of the agenda and is increasingly on the radar of board members. Successful retailers and FMCG organisations are now ensuring their supply chain strategy is in line with that of their business strategy. It is important to remember there is no “best practice” or “one size fits all”; the most efficient supply chains are those who align their strategies alongside their marketing and sales teams.

At a recent round table event hosted in conjunction with our Odgers Berndtson colleagues, the topic of supply chain professionals at board level was much discussed. One of the questions raised was ‘do supply chain professionals need to ensure their experience is more rounded?’ It has been noted in previous years that supply chain professionals are very capable operationally, but potentially lack the strategic and stakeholder management skills that are increasingly required. Due to increased collaborative working, it is essential that supply chain professionals have the ability to build relationships with colleagues as well as possess strong leadership skills. These extra skills are in addition to being a strong operational professional, and within many organisations, remain a hands on professional. Due to increased demand they must also have the ability to operate at a strategic level and increasingly implement and drive change.  Therefore with this in mind, will the new generation of supply chain professionals be rounded enough to secure future board level positions, or will they still be required to gain experience in other departments including finance and marketing?

Reporting lines for the supply chain function are also still extremely diverse; although the majority will report directly to a COO, some supply chain departments still report to finance, operations, general managers or even a retail manager. Some believe there are huge benefits that come from reporting into a COO as they also have responsibility for the marketing and sales teams; this in turn supports collaborative working and any issues relating to S&OP. On the other hand, a large number of supply chain professionals believe they need more input at business strategy level and more influence at board level. 

It is evident that there have been huge developments in the supply chain function, both in how the function is operating and how it is perceived within organisations. Surely, this improved awareness and opportunity to secure a board level position, will assist with recruiting the right calibre of individual and support graduate recruitment into the function?

Leanne Adair recruits across the entire Procurement and Supply Chain spectrum focusing on mid to senior management level appointments

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