CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 16, 2018

Rising stars

The recipients of CSCMP's 2015 Emerging Leader Award talk about their mentors, their experiences in the workplace, and the lessons they've learned.

The next generation of supply chain leaders, the best and the brightest under the age of 30, will transform the field of supply chain management and send it in new directions. To identify, recognize, and nurture those future leaders, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) bestows its annual Emerging Leader Award.

This year's award recipients, Ravi Kiran Unnam of Mondelez International and Eyual Getahun of Web Connect (formerly with Hallmark Cards), were chosen because of their personal achievements and their record of accomplishment in the supply chain profession. They received their awards at CSCMP's 2015 Annual Global Conference in San Diego, California, USA.

Supply Chain Quarterly asked the award winners about their career experiences and aspirations.

Ravi Kiran Unnam is global lead for the Supply Network Design program at Mondelez International. In this role, he focuses on building internal capability and expertise in network design at business units worldwide. Previously, he supported the integrated business planning (IBP) implementation at various Mondelez business units. Prior to the Kraft acquisition of Cadbury, Ravi held positions in category planning, new product introduction, distribution, and warehousing at Cadbury India. With a master's degree in industrial engineering and a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, he brings an engineer's technical knowledge and precision to his supply chain assignments.

What attracted you to supply chain management as a profession?
I'll have to give credit for this to the influential leaders I came across. In college, I was fortunate to be exposed to a set of amazing professionals and educators who helped me see every business as a supply chain. ... Add to this my realization that most concepts in supply chain, like inventory management and balancing supply and demand, have very practical applications.

The beauty [of supply chain management] is that even though you see and do something often, there is always a better or a more efficient way to do it—you strive for operational excellence. I saw that as a perfect match with my personal goal of getting better each day.

What surprised you about the supply chain field when you entered the workforce?>
I think the biggest surprise was that supply chain is not a back-end function where you come in each day and simply repeat a set of tasks and try to get better at them. Supply chain plays a pivotal role in the formulation of a business's strategy. The next game-changing proposition may come from marketing, research, or other functions, but none of them will fly if the supply chain has not weighed in and is geared up to partner with them. You have the best chance of success if the supply chain leads development and execution right from the ideation stage.

Are there any projects or assignments you've worked on that you're particularly proud of?
I can actually think of quite a few, but let me talk about leading the introduction of a global brand/category in a new market. On the face of it, that might sound like a simple "plug and play," but that is exactly how most such initiatives fail. At my company we refer to a best practice in this area as "glocalization"—launching a global brand while adapting to the unique specifics of the local market.

I enjoyed working on this because of the amount of learning involved. I was working with multiple functions, collaborating with international partners, and adapting to cultural differences, all avenues that contributed to an amazing learning experience. And I am particularly proud that these two launches are considered huge success stories in our company.

If you had to speak to a college class of supply chain majors, what advice would you give them?
I would talk about what has helped me in my career. Looking back, two things have helped me to a tremendous extent: being patient and staying positive. Add to this perseverance and being proactive, and there are your "four P's."

Also, keep in mind that the key to great careers is great relationships. If a particular relationship does not seem to be going the way you would like, accept it for what it's worth and [try to improve it]. Stepping into the other person's shoes helps you appreciate their perspective and solves most conflicts. Still, if nothing seems to work, the golden rule is: never burn your bridges. The world is small, and what goes up will come back to you. And lastly, do not forget to have fun as you continue to grow professionally.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I think a big focus for the next few years will be to learn how to promote internal (within the supply chain) and external (across the functions and external partners) collaboration in an organization. I am of the firm belief that this ability to collaborate will play a decisive role in the success of a business and its supply chain in the years to come.

I also believe that I have the potential to lead supply chain organizations in the near future. [Being in that role] should present me with an excellent opportunity to draw from my experience and put my skills into practice.

Eyual Getahun is a partner at the software firm Web Connect. Previously he was the process specialist for the Supply Chain and Business Enablement division at Hallmark Cards Inc. In that role, he applied his analytical skills to projects involving inventory segmentation, a "total cost to serve" analytical model, and the viability of sourcing from Africa. Eyual also organized a companywide user group where business analysts share skill sets and information on data availability. After earning a double major in supply chain management and finance at the University of Kansas, he founded an independent consulting company and was a founding member of CoActiveIT, a co-op information technology consulting group.

What attracted you to supply chain management as a profession?
When I was at the University of Kansas, I thought I was just going to be a finance major. Then I met [Executive Lecturer in Supply Chain Management] Roger Woody. He talked to me about the value of supply chain management and the opportunities within it. ... After talking about it with him and going on a couple of different trips to see manufacturing and distribution operations in the Kansas City area, I realized that it would be a great opportunity for me, and that there is so much that could be done in this field.

Were there any surprises when you entered the workforce?
There were many. One is that in class we did the bookwork and the math problems, and there was always a solution. ... One of the most important things I learned when coming into the workforce was that sometimes the solution is murky, and you have to find different iterations and try various solutions and work through them. My first six months were just about that, first identifying even what the problem is, and then narrowing that down and finding solutions and testing them out.

The other big thing was the scale. ... When you think about supply chain issues, a small thing can develop into so much more when you're shipping 600 million greeting cards wholesale in a year.

Are there any projects or assignments you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
Total cost to serve was a project I worked on for close to a year. ... One thing we were trying to do was identify what is the total, all-in cost [including] logistics, service, inventory—all of that. Hallmark has tons of data and information to analyze. So we were working through that, drawing a line of sight to significant savings within our logistics and distribution space and getting our different vice presidents talking to each other and making decisions for the betterment of Hallmark.

Another project I was proud of was my analysis of Africa. I'm originally from Ethiopia, so Africa is close to my heart. Hallmark asked me to look at Africa from a sourcing and manufacturing perspective. ...Being able to inform the supply chain leaders about what the landscape in Africa looks like—how big it actually is, how many people there are, what resources are there—was really an exciting project. I was able to give them valuable insights into how to approach Africa and how we should tackle that environment.

If you were to speak to a class of supply chain majors, what advice would you give them?
The biggest thing I would tell them is that the bar is not just doing your job well; the bar is doing your job excellently and finding more things to throw on your plate. Reach out, have no shame! Meet with people and ask them if you can do more. It's important to approach that conversation with humbleness and understanding that you're new and don't exactly know everything. And be open-minded about roles and organizations. ... Find a role you can grow in, and find mentors immediately. Sit at the feet of the people who have led those organizations and learn as much as you can from them.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I want to continue growing my supply chain knowledge and get more into supply chain technology. Also, one of my bigger long-term goals is helping to build supply chains back home [in Ethiopia]. I really want to help nonprofit supply chains, whether they are for food or for medicine. So I'm learning more about where I can add value and make an impact. So many people have helped me during my life, and it's time to give back. That's my big passion for the next 10 to 15 years. And also, of course, learning as much as possible, attending these kinds of conferences and meeting amazing people.

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 2015: Rising stars"> . 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.