CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 19, 2018

The current state of the profession

Logistics and supply chain management have come a long way from the old green eyeshade days. In this excerpt from Episode 8 of the "Supply Chain Pioneers" video series, Kenneth Ackerman, Donald "Dee" Biggs, John Bowersox, Mark Richards, and Thomas Speh discuss what the profession looks like today.

To get an idea of the evolution the logistics and supply chain profession has undergone over the 50 years since the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals was founded, all you have to do is look at how the group's name has changed through the decades. What we now call CSCMP began in 1963 as the National Council of Physical Distribution Management (NCPDM) and became the Council of Logistics Management (CLM) in 1985, before adopting its current moniker in 1995. Each of those names reflected the changing nature of the profession and its practitioners' responsibilities.

Where does the profession stand today? In this excerpt from the video series "Supply Chain Pioneers," five leading logistics professionals at different stages of their careers address that topic based on their experience.

Kenneth Ackerman, president of the consulting firm K.B. Ackerman Company, is a past president of CSCMP and the 1977 recipient of the group's Distinguished Service Award. He attended his first NCPDM annual conference in 1969.

Donald "Dee" Biggs is director of customer logistics at Welch Foods and has been a member of CSCMP since 1975. He served as chairman of the 2010 Annual Global Conference and on CSCMP's board of directors.

John Bowersox is responsible for business-to-business customer service for the Kohler Company. He currently sits on CSCMP's board of directors as its Young Professionals Committee chair. His father, the late Dr. Donald Bowersox, was a founder of NCPDM and the recipient of the very first Distinguished Service Award, in 1966.

Mark Richards is vice president of Associated Warehouses, Inc. He has been actively involved with CSCMP since he began his career some 34 years ago, and served as chair of the board of directors from 2006 to 2007.

Thomas Speh is director of e-Learning at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University. He previously was a professor of distribution and senior director of MBA programs at the school. A member of CSCMP since 1973, he has served as board chair and president, and received the Distinguished Service Award in 2007.

The following is an excerpt of that conversation, which was led by CSCMP President and CEO Rick Blasgen.

John, you are one of the younger generation. How do you view the state of the profession at Kohler, and then fast-forward 10 years. If we are successful in doing what we set out to do, what will the state of the profession look like then?
Bowersox: I think the profession right now is alive and well. We have seen a big transformation over the last 10 years around the acknowledgement of supply chain as a profession, and I believe that has presented us with a great opportunity but also with a number of challenges around how we interact with businesses in a global community.

In terms of the next 10 years, I think that the fundamentals and the framework of our industry will stay the same, but the speed at which things change—the speed at which we have to make decisions for our businesses and the pace of change—will continue to grow and be a challenge for us.

Dee, you have had a long, fruitful career in the food industry with Welch's, but you also participated in industry initiatives over the years. What is your perception of the current state of the supply chain world?
Biggs: Well, I think supply chain is probably doing better than it ever has. I think all you have to do is watch TV; now we have songs about logistics! Big Brown [UPS] has got "I love logistics" all over the place. The fact that we've got people around the world talking about logistics, talking about supply chain, it's never been better. At the same time, I think the challenges are still as great as they were 50 years ago. I mean, we are still really at the beginning point of doing lots of things.

Tom, you have spent a career in academia and have mentored students who became leaders in this field. What is your view, from an academic perspective, of the profession?
Speh: Well, it is exciting, because what we are seeing now is students who are so passionate about this area. I look at the crop of students that we have, the quality of these students, and the fact that half of our students in supply chain are double majors in engineering and other areas. So we are getting a terrific group of students who are coming through the pipeline. They are energized. They are qualified, and they bring, I think, a wider array of skills to the profession than we have probably seen in the past.

John, you are recruiting all the time, looking for folks to bring into Kohler. Do you see that as well?
Bowersox: Yes, I would agree. I think that we are seeing a shift in our work force in terms of the need to bring in new students who have that supply chain background and understanding and can come to the table immediately, hit the ground running, and be able to make business decisions with that baseline.

You know, Mark, back in 1994 I was on a panel where part of the discussion was about how in the year 2000, we would no longer need warehouses because everything will be information-driven and we'll be able to create a product right in front of you. That didn't happen, and warehouses still perform an important function today.
Richards: I am happy to say that the space continues to grow. There is going to continue to be a need for warehousing. And fortunately, 3PLs (third-party logistics service providers) have learned to be very creative in the things that they do within those four walls.

The chief logistics officer or the chief supply chain officer has to be a great salesperson inside the company. Tom, do you think we could do a better job of explaining the value that we bring to those we serve?
Speh: I think we are going to see naturally some improvement in that. Almost every business school has a required course in supply chain management, so now we are getting people who may get a finance degree or a marketing degree. They come out of a business program with at least one, if not two, courses in supply chain management, which has taught them about the value that is being delivered, and about the need for integration and collaboration.

John, you have some transformational issues going on at Kohler right now in the area of supply chain. Did someone just wake up one morning and say, "Hey, I get it now?" How did that come about?
Bowersox: I think it has happened in a number of different ways. For Kohler, to be candid, part of it has been the global recession of the past couple of years. It has put a greater focus on the need for our supply chain and for us as a company to be agile and flexible. As we get the opportunity to come to the table on these discussions, it is our job to present solutions and ideas—not to just present the framework and help [management] to understand the trade-offs, but to come with a value-added proposition around how the supply chain can be used to better leverage a sales initiative or marketing campaign, or whatever it may be.

Dee, how do we get those who don't understand logistics and supply chain to understand what we do and the value that we bring?
Biggs: When I came to Welch's in the early '80s and started to put together a supply chain [organization], you would go out and start talking about the value to finance and the value to marketing. They would kind of look at you like, what [in the world] are you talking about? Over time we kept talking. It is an evolutionary process. I think more companies have a chief logistics officer or a chief supply chain officer than ever before. Fifteen or 20 years ago in the grocery industry it was pretty rare. Now it is very common.

Any closing comments on the current state of the profession and your thoughts about what we might do to accelerate its prominence?
Speh: Well, I think unquestionably it is a great time to be in the profession. ... I really think we owe it to the profession to try to get out there and spread the word to younger children before they ever get to college.

Ackerman: I am amazed at the enthusiasm of my grandchildren's generation. Some of our oldest friends have a granddaughter who went to school at Miami University. They called me up and said their granddaughter wants to get into supply chain. This kid is working for a trucking company in Chicago. I have never met this youngster, but I gather she is intense, she is enthusiastic, and it is fun to see kids in their twenties with that enthusiasm.

Richards: I believe also that it is a great time to be in the business and the profession. Historically we have been a very humble profession. We have sat in the back and we have saved money. I think we need to step it up. If we go to the high schools and we talk about the fact that if you are in this profession, there is a good chance that you are going to get a job, especially these days, that is going to get some people to perk up and take notice.

Bowersox: I will say again that I truly believe the supply chain is a fabulous place to be right now, and it will continue to be for some time. The challenge is, how do we continue specifically with a younger generation? How do we truly help them understand what the supply chain is? People know what a doctor does. They don't necessarily know what a role in logistics or warehouse operations might be. So I think as an organization and as a community we've got to continue to help educate the general public on what it means.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you're not already logged in, you will be asked to log in or register.

Want more articles like this? Sign up for a free subscription to Supply Chain Executive Insight, a monthly e-newsletter that provides insights and commentary on supply chain trends and developments. Click here to subscribe.

We Want to Hear From You! We invite you to share your thoughts and opinions about this article by sending an e-mail to ?Subject=Letter to the Editor: Quarter 2013: The current state of the profession"> . We will publish selected readers' comments in future issues of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. Correspondence may be edited for clarity or for length.

Want more articles like this? Subscribe to CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.