In many ways, Masao Nishi’s career has mirrored the growth and development of the field of supply chain management itself. The 2022 winner of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Distinguished Service Award, Nishi started his career with a very technical role at the manufacturing and supply company Western Electric, designing warehouses and distribution centers.
Each subsequent job that he took extended his view of the supply chain one step broader—at the same that he was witnessing the industry as a whole begin to view the supply chain more strategically and holistically.
Nishi’s wide and varied career took him to all corners of the supply chain. He has worked not only for shippers such as Western Electric and the food service distributor Sysco but also for major transportation and technology service providers. He has also served as a consultant both with large firms such as KPMG and Sedlak Management Consultants and on his own. In the academic realm, he has taught as an adjunct faculty member at St. Louis University and serves on the advisory board at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Currently, he is principal of M. Nishi Strategic Advisory.
In many of these roles, Nishi served as an innovator or pioneer, helping to introduce and implement what were then new concepts, processes, or tools. For example, as the concept of third-party logistics providers (3PLs) began to form in the 1980s, Nishi played a key role at Leaseway Transportation (now Penske) as president of its consulting subsidiary Logistics Resource Inc. Then as software applications began to radically transform logistics and supply chain management, Nishi held leadership roles at Manugistics (now Blue Yonder) and the Sabre Group.
“I almost never came in to do a job that already existed,” explains Nishi. “In just about every case, I was walking into a new area that had to be created and developed. It was up to me to do something in a new position.”
In this conversation with Supply Chain Quarterly’s Managing Editor Diane Rand, Nishi looks back at how the business world’s view of supply chain management has evolved and what it takes to implement a major transformation effort that can drive a supply chain to the next level.
NAME: Masao Nishi
TITLE: Principal at M. Nishi Strategic Advisory
PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: vice president, supply chain management and a corporate officer at Sysco Corp., senior executive at several technology startup businesses, partner at KPMG Consulting, vice president at Sabre Group and Manugistics (Blue Yonder), and president of a subsidiary at Leaseway Transportation (Penske), management roles at Sedlak Management Consultants and Western Electric Co.
LEADERSHIP: Executive Committee of CSCMP, the Science Advisory Board at Manhattan Associates, Chair for the Supply Chain and Analytics Advisory Board at the University of Missouri–Saint Louis, member of the McKelvey Engineering Alumni Advisory Board at Washington University
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics and computer science and an MBA, from Washington University in St. Louis.
CSCMP MEMBER: since 1980
You have been involved in a lot of different aspects of the supply chain during your career. How have you benefited from all these different positions?
The supply chain is a huge field, and a lot of things fall under its umbrella. Early on, I started out in the warehousing part of it. Just coming out of school, I got a job with Western Electric, part of AT&T. It happened to be in the warehousing distribution area. I am an engineer, and it was a technical position dealing with warehousing and distribution center design.
But over time, I switched over to the transportation side, focusing a lot on trucking kinds of activities. It wasn’t planned. It is not like I wanted to get away from warehousing and get into trucking and transportation and distribution. It just turned out that the next position I got was more oriented to transportation. So, I broadened my base of knowledge.
I was involved with transportation when the concept of 3PLs started. I was around at that point in time when trucking services were becoming more of a solutions-oriented business, where we were dealing more holistically with our customers in trying to figure out how best to serve them. All of a sudden, I was branching out beyond warehousing and transportation into more of a broader logistics person.
Throughout a lot of this, my career was very much technology oriented. It was a combination of transportation and warehousing and supply chain technology that supported these activities, so I got on that side of it too.
That is how it grew. I got more into consulting and more into technology software companies. It is all under the same umbrella but different aspects of it. I just had the opportunity to go from one company to another that enabled me to build the base of experience.
What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the logistics or supply chain space over the years since you began your career?
What has happened is that people started looking more at a bigger piece of the business at one time. When I started out, people were trucking experts. They were warehousing experts. They were inventory experts. They knew their piece, and they were great at it, but their view was very small and narrow. Over time, people started to look a little more broadly. Let’s not just look at trucking by itself, let’s look at trucking and distribution and warehousing at the same time. So, you start to look at a bigger picture.
And management is stepping back a little bit and saying, “Okay, let’s not suboptimize, let’s look at the bigger picture and balance these different activities. Across our company, let’s make sure our trucking, warehousing, inventory, customer service, procurement—all of that—is balanced in a way that is best overall rather than best for one piece or another.”
Then, from there, we started to say, “Okay, we’ve got our company balanced as good as we can balance it, let’s make sure we are working with our suppliers and our customers in a smart way.” So, we started looking beyond our business and looked at how we could do better combined with our suppliers. And the same thing with our customers.
Now we are talking about the supply chain world. Now we are looking at the end-to-end supply chain, and let’s see if we can’t make the whole supply chain as good as it can be. So, it has very much extended from just managing trucking and other siloed activities for your company to the entire end-to-end supply chain. That is a huge change.
Absolutely. Do you see more compromise as a whole from all the different moving parts because everyone’s goal is now focused on making the entire supply chain work efficiently?
On the one hand, I think there is. Many people are doing everything they can to get the whole supply chain balanced as well as possible and have a truly good end-to-end supply chain operating.
But the reality is it is a constant battle, and you have to stay on top of it. Company-to-company relationships change. You know, you have the right management working together and everything is working great between companies, but then management changes, people change. All of a sudden, the supplier is really interested in getting their numbers right, so that they don’t care about you anymore. Or it could be the other way around. It is constantly changing, and you have to stay on top of it and make sure that whatever is good stays that way and whatever is weak you try to make it better.
What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in supply chain?
It is a great field. It is a big field, so there are any number of things that you can do that falls under supply chain. The fact is, for many companies, their entire business is about supply chain. If you look at retail, retail is a supply chain business. What they do is they buy from suppliers. They move product. They warehouse, inventory, and deliver to stores or customers. They are the middleman between the supplier and the end customer, and that is all supply chain. If you want to go into retail, you are going into the supply chain business.
Or if you are a distributor. I worked for a huge distributor, Sysco Corporation. They are a supply chain company because it is the same story, they buy, warehouse, transport, and deliver. Manufacturers have the additional responsibility of making products. But like in the other industries, they have the critical responsibility of effectively synchronizing and managing the inbound and outbound supply chain.
Many supply chain jobs are operational, execution jobs. There are also many operations planning jobs. And, it may surprise some to hear that many supply chain professionals are information technology professionals and analytics professionals. It can be a complex field where IT and analytics are critical for a company to be in the game and be successful.
So, understanding or studying supply chain is a very good thing. Traditional business education is fine, but if you are a supply chain major you are immersed in the idea that many business activities are interrelated and interdependent and you don’t want to suboptimize. It is a good area to get well educated in.
You mentioned Sysco. I know you helped the company revamp their inbound transportation operations. What advice would you give to professionals who are looking to lead major change initiatives, supply chain initiatives, within their organizations?
Yes. I was involved in a significant transformation initiative at Sysco. One thing is that it is very difficult—not impossible but difficult—for insiders to transform their own business. In my case, I was from outside the company. I did not have 20 years with Sysco before I was given the responsibility to do this transformation. I didn’t know all the people all around the country at Sysco doing the work that we were about to transform, inbound transportation. We centralized a function that had been managed at 100 locations. It is much easier for somebody coming from the outside who doesn’t have the history. I didn’t have a deep understanding of everything that they were doing and why. If you haven’t lived the history, it’s easier to take a step back and try to make objective decisions. If you know too much, you get all tangled up with that. It is helpful to have someone from the outside. But if you are an insider, I think it is important to recognize the potential problems and understand that transformation is not about consensus.
It makes sense because you don’t have all of the baggage per se to weigh you down. You are just looking at the problem objectively.
The other piece of this is that someone at the very top—the CEO or the chief operating officer—has to absolutely be an advocate and 100% supportive. If you bring in an outsider to do something big and you only give them halfway support, that person is absolutely doomed to fail. The outsider would be gone.
The senior executives have to buy into what it is that is going to have to happen. That is key. In my case, the chief operating officer was a strong advocate (not that he didn’t provide strong guidance when I needed it). He was a strong supporter and gave me cover when that was needed. If you are making a big change, you are affecting a lot of people. Necessarily, some people are not going to be happy about it, and there will be complaints, some fair, some unfair. You need someone at the top who will only listen to a point and then shut them down.
Copyright ©2023. All Rights ReservedDesign, CMS, Hosting & Web Development :: ePublishing