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Building a Career in Global Supply Chain




Tom Linton, a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company and the co-author of “The Living Supply Chain: The Evolving Imperative of Operating in Real Time” and “Flow: How the Best Supply Chains Thrive,” discussed what it takes to be a successful supply chain leader in an episode of Oceanside Chat with host Helen Wang, Professor at the UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management on February 2, 2022.

The reception area of an IBM Japan office in 1966 included a THINK sign.

In light of the impact of COVID, firms everywhere recognized the critical role of an efficient and resilient supply chain. Along the way, the demand for top supply chain talent rises. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of logisticians is projected to grow 30 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than all occupations on average. Research conducted by Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) also found that salaries for supply chain professionals have continued to rise, as did workloads and the need for new skills.

In the Oceanside Chat with Professor Wang at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, Mr. Linton shared valuable insight and career advice with young supply chain professionals.

1. Get Some International Experience

“You should get some international experience, despite a bunch of people telling you that you are going to kill your career,” says Mr. Linton.

In 1987, Mr. Linton was a purchasing site manager at IBM in the U.S. Following the advice of executives, he moved to Japan and spent the next 23 years working in Asia. His decision to leave the U.S. was a pivotal point in his life, risky yet rewarding, as Mr. Linton benefited from the internet boom, became a senior executive at LG corporation, and gained valuable experience across the range of supply chains.

"In the supply chain, there is a constant push to places where capital is cheap, whereas technology and the skills to run. In the seventies, products were made in Japan because they were cheap. But then, Japan became no longer cheap, and products moved to Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and then China" Mr. Linton continues to explain why having international experience is essential.

"When you work in sourcing, your suppliers will be all over the place. So, if you don't have an appreciation or an understanding of it, it is really hard to accommodate what they may be asking for, or maybe you're not asking for enough."

2. Plan Your Career Backward

"Don't rely on the advice of people who think the way things were; think about what it's going to be like 10 years from now. If you're 30 years old, where do I want to be at 40 years old? And then plan backward, don't plan forward. Don't say, what should I do next? Instead, say, where do I want to be in 10 years? And then plot your course; where do you want to be in 20 years? Then plot your course. And then what you do is you head that direction," says Mr. Linton.

Mr. Linton wanted to be a Chief Procurement Officer in his early career, so he did all the jobs he needed to do to become a Chief Procurement Officer. Planning your life and career that way helps you in much better shape. Ask yourself:

· Where do you want to be?

· What are your goals?

· Does this job fit your plan?

"You have to follow your strong suit, know what you are good at, and what your competencies are. If you don't know, there are tools online such as Myers-Briggs to help you understand your competencies. Then, look at those very seriously and think about how to use those competencies in your goals and your career. You don't want to be doing something you shouldn't be doing that you won't be happy with. So, you might as well figure out what you're good at. And then look at your goals far enough in advance to say, okay, how do I use my strengths."

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Think

Mr. Linton's office always has a sign which says, THINK. He got it from IBM's slogan. Mr. Linton says, "Don't be afraid to think. I still apply for patents. I have patents in supply chain, and what it does is it basically says, think about it more; if you've got an hour every day, don't be afraid to spend 20 minutes just thinking. I think that's important."

Mr. Linton encourages people to go into unfriendly or unknown areas and learn about them. In this way, you'll be curious, which means that you'll put things together in ways no one's thought about yet. You're going to think about it and come up with your own conclusions. There will be many more use cases for technologies that people currently are not using in the supply chain. If you can figure out from a business side and a technical side how to put those together in new and interesting ways, you've got to find a better way forward.

4. Don't Be Afraid of Fires

Mr. Linton further shares, "If you go into the supply chain, you have to be the kind of person that when you see smoke, you go to put out the fire. You have to be a problem solver. You have to be somebody who's willing to know that you're stepping into the heat of battle. This is not you are sitting down, doing your work, and going home. Because things from the supply chain come at you from the field all the time. You don't know what's going to happen next. So, you have to be willing to do that. "

In the midst of difficulty lies opportunity. Supply chain professionals faced unprecedented challenges yet tremendous and exciting opportunities.

5. Understand the Soul of Supply Chain

Editor's Analogy for A New Perspective

Supply and demand are on opposite teams playing an ongoing tug-of-war. First, the demand team decides the total weight (equal to market size). Then, the supply team tries to match the weight (similar to capacity) by lining up the best selections of players (think of supply chain design and formation), strategizing weight distributions through price adjustments, and practicing speed and movement for flexibility to maximize the overall forces. When the supply team loses the game, it's called a shortage. But when the demand team loses the game, it ends with surplus or excess. Then the next round continues. The soul of supply chain lives to create a more powerful and longer pull within the tug-of-war.

Mr. Linton describes the soul of the supply chain as moving speed. The clock speed is the heartbeat. The heart is pumping the blood through the system. It's a rhythm, which the speed and the processes and the capabilities that drive the heart to pump the blood through the system, but the design of the supply chain is coming from the head - how airports decided to use hubs, how the railroad stations laid out the way they laid the infrastructure and the national highway system. The supply chain also must have the head or the design as well as the clock speed, the rhythm, and the beat of the business to work. The soul of the supply chain is the combination of how things are designed, how things flow, and how things work together in that context. In that way, you have a moving echo system. You have an efficient moving system.

Now, are you ready for the challenges to build a successful career in the field of global supply chain?

Professional Bio

Podcast Creator & Article Editor: Helen Wang

Helen's professional career working on disruptive innovations has brought her passion, joy, and self-fulfillment. Her career in multinational technology companies, from Apple's first iPhone to Google's self-driving car, has shaped her transformational leadership style. She advises and coaches companies worldwide while serving as the Chairwomen of the Institute for Supply Chain Excellence and Innovation at the University of California San Diego and teaches at the Rady School of Management. In addition, Helen founded the non-profit organization Oceanside Perspective to build an intellectual bridge between the current and future generations of thought Leaders, Innovators, Technologists, and Entrepreneurs.

Guest: Tom Linton

Tom Linton currently serves as a Member of Board at Sierra Wireless (SWIR) and as Executive Director of the Board at Resilinc. He is also a Senior Advisor at McKinsey and Company and Lutron Inc. He co-authored “The Living Supply Chain; The Evolving Imperative of Operating in Real Time”Most recently he was chief procurement and supply chain officer for Flex. Previously, he spent 20 years at IBM, developing and founding several world-wide trading and technical centers. After leaving IBM, he helped found E2Open, Inc. He has served as CPO of Agere Systems, Freescale Semiconductor and EVP & CPO at LG Electronics. He has been honored with the Institute of Supply Management’s J. Shipman Gold Medal; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Procurement Leaders Organization; the Procurement Leaders award on Global Risk Management; Gartner’s Supply Chain Innovator Award; inducted into the Chief Procurement Officers Hall of Fame; and the Intelligent Business Award by the Financial Times of London; among others.

Contributor: Susan Xiang

Susan grew up in Huizhou, China and moved to Canada in her teenage years. She holds a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering from the University of Toronto, and she has worked on project management and process improvement in a major Canadian bank. Susan is a natural extrovert and enjoys empowering others to do great work. She recently graduated from the MBA program at the Rady School of Management while exploring more business opportunities in the U.S. and enjoying the sunshine in San Diego. She is now the Purchasing Manager at Aptera Motors, a solar electric vehicle manufacturer.

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