A female C-suite executive stands in her office while on the phone to discuss supply chain personnel joining C-suite.

Supply Chain Leaders Move to the C-Suite


Companies are reevaluating their approach to supply chain management. Learn how supply chain is moving into the C-suite.

Almost all manufacturers are recovering from losses dealt them by COVID. Given the disruptions caused by the global pandemic, companies have reevaluated their approach to supply chain management. The strongest companies have moved key supply chain executives into the C-Suite in order to provide a longer term strategic view on how to deal with supply chain disruptions.

The Brookings Institution defines supply chain resiliency as:

  • The ability to “prepare for and adapt to unexpected events”
  • To quickly adjust to sudden disruptive changes that negatively affect supply chain performance
  • To continue functioning during a disruption (sometimes referred to as “robustness”)
  • To recover quickly to its pre-disruption state or a more desirable state.

While the CFO is often looked to as a “chief resilience officer,” global research and advisory firm Gartner notes that the route for optimizing resilience is building strong partnerships between two chief officers - finance and supply chain.

The Move from Support to a Strategic Function

Before the pandemic, business consultants advised companies to see the supply chain as pivotal to growth and critical to avoiding business disruption. While many companies have embraced digital transformation to boost their efficiency and planning muscle, many have failed to leveraged their Chief Supply Chain Officers to help reinvent the function and fuel growth.

In an Accenture report, “Drive Your Own Disruption: Is your supply chain in sleep mode?” 900 supply chain executives reported seeing their function as either a cost-efficiency driver (60%) or a support function (68%) rather than as a competitive differentiator (48%) or a growth enabler (53%).

The study’s conclusion: The keys to achieving growth lie in increased C-suite engagement with managing the supply chain function, along with agile and efficient adoption of technologies to enable a new way of working.

The bottom line points to organizations without a strategic C-Suite supply chain leader could be leaving significant value on the table.

The Case for Rethinking the Role

Management advisors at McKinsey & Company reviewed companies that are successfully emerging from pervasive business disruptions. The strongest companies have learned from the pandemic and embraced needed changes.

For many manufacturers who weathered supply chain failures, that reinvention and focus on resilience may include a place in the C-suite for supply chain professionals.

Shay Scott, Executive Director, Global Supply Chain Institute, University of Tennessee, says, “A decade ago, most supply chain leaders were focused on functional operational issues within their own areas of the supply chain such as procurement, logistics, or manufacturing operations. The C-suite was several managerial levels removed, making direct communication rare. Cost-cutting was often seen as the major value that supply chain could provide to the business.”

In Scott’s view, the supply chain profession is transforming functions that were relegated to silos into an integrated amalgam, raising its prominence in the minds of corporate boards and catching the attention of investors and analysts.

Supply chain and change management consultant and author Mike Morton sees supply chain as the strategic engine for every industry’s operations and for making the global economy run.

In summary, Morton says: “Supply Chain leaders now belong at the head of the Boardroom table like never before. The old, antiquated notion of Supply Chain as a necessary and unimportant back office function should now be dispelled. No longer can Supply Chain be viewed as the transactional function that just places purchase orders, arranges freight, and physically moves goods. Supply Chain is the strategic engine for making every industry operate and for making the global economy run.”

As evidence that boards and investors are placing a high value on supply chain leaders as never before, one only has to look at manufacturers who are now, or have been, headed by CEOs who came up through the ranks of supply chain management. These leaders include Mary Barra of GM, Apple’s Tim Cook and A.G. Lafley at Procter & Gamble (editor's note, A.G. Lafley retired from this role).

Making the Move

For companies considering adding strategic supply chain experts to their C-Suite, Gartner offers insights, advice and guidance to Chief Supply Chain Officers as they assume new or enhanced roles.

  • Boards of directors and their CEOs look for both competence and confidence
  • A Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO) must have both its own capabilities and a team adept at managing risk
  • Good communication and collaboration skills are a must to keep the board informed on potential risks and how they are being managed
  • An ability to inspire confidence evolves from these skills—and is key to success.

Many Supply Chain Officers are preparing for a place in the C-Suite by expanding their strategic skills through post-graduate education. And business schools have taken notice. MBA admissions consulting firm Aringo reports that supply chain is one of the most popular specialization areas among the nation’s graduate business programs. For supply chain officers preparing to make a move to enhanced roles and strong partnership with board members, CEOs and CFOs, U.S. News offers a list of the nation’s best supply chain-specific graduate business programs including those at the universities of Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Loyola Chicago, Marquette and Northwestern, as well as others.

Preparation: The Lynchpin of Resilience

While the nation’s manufacturers, their suppliers, and customers recover from what all hope will be a once-in-a-century crisis, experts in finance, medicine and climate tell us that indicators point to preparation as critical for success. Crafting strategies for a resilient supply chain program should include: a strategic C-Suite Supply Chain Officer, robust forecasting, scenario planning, contingency planning, and building a strong supply chain management function.

But that preparation also includes expecting the unexpected. Online magazine Financial Management offers advice to business leaders on how they should prepare for the next global upheaval: “A crisis may require a business to throw out its budget and pivot at short notice.”

At the heart of successful business resilience strategies—and preparing for crisis—is not only a supply chain management leader at the table, but it is also leveraging the right experts to guide you. Pivotal to making the most of those strategies—particularly when budgets are in question—will be your bank, banker, and organization’s supply chain finance experts who take a global view. "An integral component to stability and resiliency in a company’s supply chain includes prioritizing an ongoing supply chain finance strategy with their banking partner," states Emy Ruiz, Vice President, Head of Global Trade Sales Team, Fifth Third Bank. "Access to instant working capital for the majority of the company’s supplier base would minimize disruption, create funding options and strengthen key relationships." For additional information, contact your Relationship Manager or Find a Banker to learn more.

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