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) last year launched its Emerging Leader Award.
This year's award recipients, Susan Conley and Mengxiao (Michelle) Zhang, were chosen because of their personal achievements and their record of accomplishment to date in the supply chain profession, as evidenced by awards, peer recognition, industry publications, and recommendations, according to John Bowersox, Young Professionals Committee chair and a member of CSCMP's board of directors. Conley and Zhang were presented with their awards at CSCMP's 2014 Annual Global Conference in San Antonio, Texas, USA.
CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly asked each of the award winners about her career goals and aspirations.
Susan Conley is in her second term of employment with the industrial equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. After receiving a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering with a minor in business administration from Bradley University in 2006, she worked for Caterpillar in logistics planning and engineering within the service parts group. In 2010 she left to earn a Master of Engineering in Logistics and Supply Chain Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Zaragoza International Logistics Program in Zaragoza, Spain. With that degree in hand, she returned to Caterpillar's logistics division, where she now works as a program specialist. Through working on two major initiatives—the integration of a major mining acquisition into Caterpillar's service-parts business, and increasing collaboration with the company's dealer network—she has developed her management skills and understanding of supply chain strategy.
What attracted you to the supply chain management profession?
In a lot of ways, I fell into the profession. There were so many things I could do with my engineering degree. I'm the sort of person who needs to be challenged. When I was hired by Caterpillar, it just happened that my first job was in their logistics division. It wasn't until after several years of working that things finally clicked, and I decided this was a profession I really wanted to pursue. Supply chain has been a great fit for me because it's a fairly specialized field, yet there's always so much more I can learn. I've also had the privilege of working and studying with a great group of very diverse supply chain professionals and mentors, which has been very enriching for me personally.
What was your biggest surprise about the supply chain field when you entered the work force?
How different it is from academic study. For my undergraduate degree, I took classes in operations planning, inventory management, network modeling, marketing, and finance, but they didn't excite me. In real life, supply chain is much more exciting ... and far more connected and challenging than what I learned in school. It's straightforward to build a linear program when you're given all the costs and variables, but it's much more difficult when you have to try to identify and estimate them yourself.
If you had to speak to a college class of supply chain majors, what advice would you give them?
Get hands-on experience with the operations side of the business. When I first graduated, I wanted a more corporate-feeling job where I would be working in an office on a computer. Luckily, I had the opportunity to spend several months at a distribution center working with hourly associates and learning about the challenges they face every day. When many of your activities are analyzing data, building spreadsheets, and answering e-mails, it's really easy to forget that you're doing all of that so that your operation keeps running efficiently and your customers get their products.
Is there any area of study where you wish you had more knowledge or preparation?
Transportation. I had no idea how complicated it could be to ship something commercially. Especially when crossing borders, the cost and legal implications can be tremendous. I still feel I have a lot to learn in this area, but at least now I have a better appreciation for the complexity.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I'd love to be in a position that lets me grow, diversify, and leverage my supply chain experience but also puts me more into a leadership and mentoring role. There's so much happening now that could change the industry. I'm excited to be a part of supply chain's evolution and to provide guidance and advice to the next generation as my mentors have for me.
MENGXIAO (MICHELLE) ZHANG
Mengxiao, or "Michelle," Zhang currently works as a team lead in lean logistics and operations for the consulting and third-party logistics company LeanCor Supply Chain Group. In 2009 she graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering in logistics management from Lanzhou Jiaotong University in China. She then earned a master's degree in business logistics engineering at The Ohio State University in 2010.
Following graduation from Ohio State, she worked briefly for Saint-Gobain Autover before joining the LeanCor Supply Chain Group in 2011. At LeanCor, she has been involved in such areas as data analysis, vendor management and implementation, transportation management, and Lean/Six Sigma project management and problem solving.
Why did you go into supply chain management?
My major in college was logistics management, and I earned my master's degree in the Master in Business Logistics Engineering program at Ohio State. So working at a logistics company upon graduation was kind of expected. But the company I am working for, LeanCor, is not just a third-party logistics company. This company emphasizes understanding total logistics cost from a "supply chain value stream" point of view. ... As a LeanCor associate, I have been given the opportunity to work very closely with our customers' purchasing/sourcing, demand planning, warehousing, cross docking, and plant shipping and receiving departments. Working with them on a daily operational basis has helped me understand supply chain management better and more clearly.
Based on your own experience, do you have any advice for young professionals about how to succeed in supply chain management?
Young professionals, for the most part, lack experience. I have found that working in the industry and talking to people "at the gemba" (a Lean Management term that means "where the work is being done") to be the perfect way to gain experience and knowledge. Supply chain is such a huge area. It requires one to always be humble, patient, and still so that learning can happen, which then leads to practical understanding. These experiences will surely help us on our future career paths when we have more analytical or managerial roles. In these future roles, we will need to solve real problems or even develop a strategic plan. Because we were at the gemba, we learned, we understand, and we respect those who taught us.
Do you see any differences between supply chain management in China and the United States?
China is heavily relying on railway transportation; about 60 percent [of freight transportation is by rail]. Infrastructure development plays a very important role there. In the United States, road transportation has a larger market share, and the infrastructure was completed decades ago. In China, there is also a need for more government regulation and industry cooperation to help the market and companies in these fields improve and grow. There are so many small logistics companies in China running their businesses their own way. This creates issues and problems in a less-than-mature and less-developed industry.
I would say that the term "supply chain" is still new in China. But more companies have started focusing on understanding supply chain and the value stream point of view, rather than breaking things down into silos as they used to. Lean and Six Sigma have become more noticeable in recent years as more and more foreign companies are pushing this philosophy in their China divisions. This is how U.S. supply chain professionals can really offer some help. There are definitely opportunities in China for U.S. supply chain companies in training, education, and consulting.
Do you have any predictions about where the profession is headed in the next decade?
I would say our profession will rely more and more on technology in the next decade. ... [T]his trend and change is unstoppable and will only get stronger. In the past decade we've seen how new technologies such as WMS (warehouse management systems), ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, MRP (manufacturing resource planning) systems, TMS (transportation management systems), and RFID (radio frequency identification) have changed the game. With the faster speed of new tech innovations, such as alternative fuels and 3-D printing, I am sure we will become even more dependent on technology. This, in turn, will help the whole industry to be more fast-paced and customer-centered, develop greater resiliency and flexibility, and be proactive in risk management.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Ten years from now, I hope to be a successful project manager and consultant who has a perfect understanding, solid knowledge, and sound hands-on experience of every aspect of the supply chain.
Additionally, I hope to develop in-depth knowledge of the six "Cornerstones," which is how CSCMP organizes and interprets these same concepts. With this knowledge and experience, I could be a great resource internally for my team and externally for my customers whenever they need advice or solutions for the challenges they're facing in their supply chain.