October 2010 | Commentary | Smart Moves

Getting a Seat at the Leadership Table

Tags: Education & Careers, Supply Chain Management

Leo Espinoza is a client partner in Korn/Ferry International’s Houston office, 713-374-1359.

Supply chain management’s evolution from a purely tactical to a critical strategic function has earned logistics executives a seat at the leadership table. What attributes do you need to earn that chair — and keep it?

According to Korn/Ferry International studies of best-in-class executives, success is about 50 percent attributable to leadership characteristics, 40 percent to job and technical skills, and just 10 percent to motivation and experience. In other words, experience and skill only get you halfway there.

Granted, it is a challenge to find executives who understand the breadth of supply chain issues. And demand for jobs in the function is expected to grow in the years to come. But those who will rise to the very top of the profession must be able to effectively implement cost, quality, and timeliness improvements while mitigating business risks. They must be able to lead.

Companies know this. When they begin the process of looking for a new executive to improve business operations, among the first things they discuss with a recruiting consultant are the required leadership characteristics. Candidates should have the ability to effect change. They must inspire not only supply chain staff, but also key stakeholders, including the executive committee, senior management, business units, suppliers, and customers.

Once you recognize and understand a firm’s leadership needs, it gets easier to identify your own gaps or weaknesses — and start to address them.

Seasoned Executives Worth Their Salt

Companies also want to hire candidates with demonstrated results across multiple supply chain operations structures. They expect seasoned executives to recognize the value of models and standards such as lean, Six Sigma, and kaizen, and know when to implement each one. Successful supply chain executives understand business operations and can implement programs to meet both on-time and just-in-time scenarios for customers, while maintaining profitability for their own firms.

Experience establishing infrastructure is also a sought-after competency for supply chain executives. This includes instituting governance, policies, procedures, and appropriate technology — whether setting up a new system or changing existing processes.

Knowing the three things companies want — leadership, demonstrated results, and facility with infrastructure — you can tailor your résumé accordingly. Rather than a long-winded list of previous positions, your résumé should cite specific, outstanding examples of how you’ve excelled at these core competencies.

It’s also valuable to cultivate a relationship with an executive recruiter who specializes in supply chain management. The keys to staying connected with a recruiter are communication, honesty, and reciprocity. When contacted about a job opportunity, assess it — and yourself — realistically. Do not feign interest in a job that you do not intend to pursue. That wastes everyone’s time, and harms your image as a serious candidate.

Also, a willingness to refer other executives can be a powerful way to set yourself apart. By being a reliable resource, you will stay top-of-mind for the recruiter, and have a reason to reconnect periodically.

Opportunity is out there. To capitalize on it, you must take inventory, source possibilities, and leverage relationships — skills all top-notch supply chain executives already possess.