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December 17, 2017
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The making of a Supply Chain Master

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To promote the development of supply chain expertise in its ranks, Intel set up a special career track. Its program later inspired CSCMP's Supply Chain Management Professional designation.

At Intel Corporation, we have always prided ourselves on our technical expertise. After all, our success for the past 40-plus years has been built on our ability to design and refine micro-electronic process and product technology. But starting in the 1980s, we began to realize that we were not just a product design company, we were also the world's largest manufacturer of micro-electronic parts. To be able to compete, having the best technology was no longer good enough. We also needed to be able to build products at the right cost and the right volume, and then deliver them to our customers at the right time. In other words, supply chain expertise had become increasingly important to our company's success.

In spite of that realization, Intel did not have, until recently, a formal career path in place for the development and advancement of its supply chain professionals. Like most corporations, we had both a management career ladder and a technical career ladder. Yet neither of those career paths was conducive to developing and advancing deep skills in supply chain management. Moving up the management career ladder meant that a person's time was consumed by managing people and not by solving complex supply chain problems. The technical job ladder, on the other hand, was geared toward electrical and chemical engineers; it was created to recognize the skills involved in circuit design and process design, but generally not the advanced purchasing, mathematics, or business skills needed for effective supply chain management. For this reason, the technical job ladder was, for the most part, closed to supply chain management professionals.

Article Figures
[Figure 1] Intel's jobs ladders pyramid
[Figure 1] Intel's jobs ladders pyramid Enlarge this image
[Figure 2] Intel's areas of supply chain expertise
[Figure 2] Intel's areas of supply chain expertise Enlarge this image
[Figure 3] Examples of internal and external influence
[Figure 3] Examples of internal and external influence Enlarge this image
[Figure 4] CSCMP's supply chain management titles and associated criteria
[Figure 4] CSCMP's supply chain management titles and associated criteria Enlarge this image

These limitations were further compounded by our decision three to four years ago to remove an entire layer of management from the organization in order to speed up decision making and decrease costs. While this move has helped create a leaner organization, it has further limited our employees' opportunities for growth in the management area.

These two dynamics created a stifling environment for our supply chain people. Our supply chain organization is large, made up of four different groups that employ a total of more than 4,000 people. In spite of that size, we were offering those employees few opportunities for advancement and growth. Supply chain professionals could only progress up to a midlevel job grade. To move any higher, they had to switch into a management position. As result, Intel was finding it hard to attract and retain people in the supply chain field because we couldn't show them a discernable career path. At the same time, Intel was facing supply chain problems that were significant, thorny, and highly technical. The quality of our supply chain talent would have a big impact on the success or failure of our company, so we had to find a way to attract and retain supply chain experts.

Upper-level management was not blind to this need. They carefully considered the company's retention numbers, our ability to hire supply chain professionals, and the consequences of removing a layer of management. It quickly became clear that we needed to create a formal supply chain career ladder that would identify our top supply chain talent and motivate them to expand their in-depth knowledge of supply chain management.

Building on precedent
Fortunately, we already had an existing model for developing a non-management career path. Within Intel, there has long been an engineering job ladder in addition to the traditional managerial one. Just as Intel employees on the management career track could progress from manager to senior manager to general manager, so could the company's engineers and technical experts move from principle engineer to senior principle engineer to "Intel Fellow." (To receive the "Fellow" title, a person has to make a major impact that represents significant and meaningful innovations in our manufacturing or design process.) By having a formal technical job ladder, we have encouraged our employees to develop deep engineering expertise. This expertise, in turn, has contributed to the many technical achievements that Intel is known for.

In 2006, we developed the supply chain career ladder based on the technical or engineering ladder model. Candidates who fulfilled certain criteria would receive the title Supply Chain Master. In the second year of the program, we refined the nomination and selection process and added the Senior Supply Chain Master designation. An illustration of the three job ladders is shown in Figure 1.

As the pyramid shows, a supply chain master is the same grade as a midlevel manager or technologist. A senior supply chain master is considered to be the same grade as a principle engineer, senior principle engineer, or senior manager (director-level positions). You will notice that we do not yet have a position on the supply chain career ladder that is equivalent to an Intel Fellow on the engineering job ladder or a general manager on the management track (vice president or executive vice president positions). We are hoping that this program will ultimately lead to the kinds of positive impact that would generate a "Supply Chain Fellow."

Defining the skill set
Once Intel recognized the need for an additional job ladder, the problem then became how to define and establish this new designation. Leaders from two of the supply chain groups at Intel—Technology Manufacturing Equipment (TME) and Customer Fulfillment, Planning and Logistics Group (CPLG)— sponsored a task force to work with Human Resources to create the designation and the nomination process. The program was based on the technical job-ladder nomination processes and criteria but was modified to fit the needs of the supply chain designation.

Because there is no standard industry definition of supply chain management, the task force spent a considerable amount of energy discussing and debating which areas of expertise would fall within Intel's supply chain designation. This was especially tricky, because the roles and capabilities of the TME group— which focuses on the purchasing of major manufacturing equipment—are quite different from the roles and capabilities of the CPLG organization, which focuses on all of the customer-and factory-facing functions such as logistics, customer service, and planning. The task force had to create a consensus among the varying viewpoints. The goal was to be inclusive of both business expertise (such as customer/supplier management and negotiations, intellectual property management, and distribution strategies) and supply chain technical expertise (such as statistics, quality engineering, and supply chain modeling). The resulting list of areas of expertise can be seen in Figure 2.

After the skills were defined, the task force had to identify how to evaluate whether a candidate's accomplishments were worthy of the Supply Chain Master designation. We determined that candidates would be judged on four key criteria: depth of knowledge, internal influence, external influence, and role model/mentor.

  • Depth of knowledge: Successful candidates should be able to demonstrate leadership and the ability to develop and execute new and trend-setting ideas in their area of supply chain expertise. This might be a new way to negotiate, establish contracts, or model the supply chain. It does not matter what the area of expertise actually is, only that the candidate is able to drive advancements.
  • Internal influence: Successful candidates need to show that they not only have a history of innovation but that their ideas also have come to fruition. The ability to influence their organization to implement their ideas is the second criteria for consideration.
  • External influence: The successful candidate will also have influence across the industry. This might be shown in terms of establishing new industry standards, driving research, or influencing suppliers or customers to interact in a new way. Figure 3 provides some examples of how candidates can demonstrate their internal and external influence.
  • Role model/mentor: Finally, candidates must be recognized within Intel as thought leaders in their area of expertise and be actively working to share their knowledge with other personnel. Internally, we express this leadership characteristic in a somewhat humorous way by asking this question: "Is the carpet in front of this person's office worn out from people coming by to seek advice and counsel?"

To demonstrate their accomplishments, candidates are required to submit a curriculum vitae (CV), which defines in some detail their history of expertise and accomplishments in the four evaluation areas.

In the second year of the program, we decided to add a Senior Supply Chain Master designation. The factor that would determine whether a candidate should be designated a supply chain master or senior supply chain master would be that person's sphere of influence. In other words, if the candidate's influence reaches not just within his or her own business unit but also across the entire organization, then he or she is recognized as a supply chain master. If in addition to the internal influence, the candidate demonstrates some form of external influence on the industry as a whole (the external influence criterion discussed above), then he or she is a senior supply chain master. Currently, Intel has approximately 20 supply chain masters and one senior supply chain master.

The selection process
The selection process begins with Intel publicizing the program, its benefits, and criteria to the appropriate internal organizations. We encourage interested candidates to put together their CVs in accordance with instructions and samples that we provide.

Current supply chain masters and senior supply chain masters then work with the candidates to develop their CVs. For example, as a senior supply chain master, a significant part of my job is reviewing candidates' and emerging candidates' CVs and identifying which skills they need to improve, why they need to work on them, and what experiences they need to develop their careers. I also am working with several current supply chain masters who want to become senior supply chain masters.

Candidates then submit their CVs, and an impartial committee of senior staff members ranks and rates them based on the criteria. The committee then determines whether those selected truly possess the level of accomplishment that is represented by the Supply Chain Master designation. Several cross checks are performed across organizations to ensure that the designation and criteria are applied in a consistent manner.

More than a mere title
Intel recognizes its supply chain masters in all the typical ways. Supply chain masters receive a plaque from the executive vice president, are honored at the company's quarterly business meeting, and are written up on Intel's intranet site. But as with all recognitions, there needs to be something more. If this designation is only for the sake of a new title, then it is barely worth the effort of submission and selection. At Intel, we have tried to make this recognition meaningful by several means.

First, supply chain masters get additional time in their schedule for mentoring and advancing their particular area of expertise. Additionally, they participate in a "community of practice" (COP) within Intel Corp. that meets and discusses strategic supply chain issues. This COP consists of all of the company's supply chain masters. The masters get together and discuss what they are working on, what challenges they are facing, and what supply chain initiatives Intel should be considering. To date, the group has had several face-to-face meetings as well as several virtual meetings and is developing a secure, internal social networking tool for exchanging information on projects.

Participating in this COP exposes supply chain masters to Intel's most important initiatives and gives them an opportunity to affect the strategic direction of the company. For example, about a year and a half ago, the COP talked about the need to develop a supply chain for the company's new Atom microprocessor, Intel's smallest and lowest-powered processor to date. Because the Atom enables a new generation of energy-efficient mobile Internet devices and a new category of affordably priced devices for the Internet called netbooks and nettops, Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini has predicted that this could be a multibillion- dollar-per-year product opportunity for the company.

The supply chain COP felt that this game-changing product would need a game-changing supply chain solution with a vastly different cost profile than most of Intel's central processing units. The supply chain masters presented their recommendation to senior management, who determined that the supply chain masters themselves should be key contributors in the development of a cross-organizational project team that would design this new supply chain. For six months, team members worked on developing the Atom's supply chain. Intel is now running proofs of concepts for the key ideas that were developed. The team believes that as a result of its efforts, Intel will be able to reduce the product's supply chain cost profile by a significant percentage.

The recognition and attention surrounding the supply chain career ladder itself, as well as projects such as that for the Atom microprocessor, have helped the Supply Chain Master designation spread within Intel. Additional organizations, such as our Materials group, have embraced the recognition and selection process, making the designation even more meaningful. Our work, however, is not complete. We hope that ultimately there will be a pay designation tied to the supply chain master position. Before we can establish a pay level, we need to be able to determine the market value of a supply chain master. To accomplish this, we have been encouraging other companies to adopt a similar supply chain professional designation program (see the sidebar, "The CSCMP story").

The impact of the supply chain master program at Intel has been significant. The supply chain master community of practice is initiating and participating in a number of key projects that have helped Intel to save money. But the real payback is that we have succeeded in achieving our original goal: to encourage and excite people to develop supply chain management skills. Employees in Intel's supply chain organizations now have a higher level of job satisfaction— and not just among the supply chain masters but also at the developing-level positions. People are now seeing that we have a career path for them, and they are proactively taking steps to develop their skills. Supply chain management professionals at Intel can now say, "I have a career here, and not just a job to do."

James R. Kellso is a licensed professional engineer (PE) and a senior supply chain master at Intel Corporation.

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