Supply Chain Career Hacks

Supply Chain Career Hacks

Supply chain management professors and practitioners share advice and strategies for leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to boost your skill set and supercharge your career trajectory.

Top Skills to Develop

AJ Wilhoit, Chief Product Officer, project44

Obsess over the customer. People who approach every problem with “what will make our customers’ lives better?” will always win in the long term. When you obsess over the customer, you are driven to deliver big, meaningful results for your customers and business.

Act like an owner. Your job is to define, advocate, and launch the right experience for your customers—which, in turn, will drive the right results for your company. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, find a way to make your voice heard so that you effectively guide your team to the right outcome.

Be a force multiplier. You can only get so far as a team of one. Be someone who motivates the people around you to bring their best work, grow, and have some fun doing it.

Dennis White, Vice President, Brokerage, Crowley

Adaptability, problem solving, and change management. All three center around the ever-changing nature of the supply chain industry. To thrive in such a dynamic environment, one must have a base level of adaptability. The inevitable challenges that arise in these fluid conditions require strong problem-solving skills, and the ability to lead a team through change management can be a true differentiator.

Heather Hoover-Salomon, CEO, uShip

Gain proficiency in data analytics. As data fuels the next wave of supply chain management, gaining an aptitude for how an organization creates more value from its data will be essential.

Be an ecosystem thinker. Take a collaborative approach with other partners in the industry to elevate the customer experience for all customers.

Maintain a human touch. B2B communications can often feel stilted, disengaged, and void of heart. Remember your buyers are humans, just like you. They love relatable stories and humanizing communications around how you can benefit their business.

Tony Harris, SVP & Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer, SAP Business Network

The most important skill for supply chain management is creative problem-solving. Constantly fluctuating geopolitical and market conditions, like the current crisis in the Red Sea, can create lags in delivery time, forcing companies to implement original solutions to transport products to customers.

These situations require imagination to source accurate responses, as unprecedented challenges require unprecedented resolutions.

Jeff Mahler, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Ambi Robotics

Emphasize empathy. Behind every data point, every shipment, and every transaction, there are people—customers, suppliers, partners, and employees—whose experiences need to be understood.

Empathy guides us to anticipate concerns, address challenges, and exceed expectations. It fosters resilience and collaboration in navigating disruptions and uncertainties. While technology optimizes operations, empathy drives success and fosters meaningful relationships in the dynamic supply chain.

Build a foundation in analytical and critical thinking. The future of the supply chain is data—the ability to get it, analyze it, and use it faster than anyone for competitive advantage. To do this takes good analytical skills and the ability to critically think through problems. This skill set will be important as you need to be able to break down problems and understand what the source of an issue is.

Many times supply chain issues wear a disguise, hiding the true problem and appearing as a completely different problem.

–Stephen Dombroski
Director, Consumer Products and Food and Beverage Vertical Markets
QAD Inc.

Three important skills to develop are 1) the ability to empower teams, 2) maintain a long-term focus, and 3) achieve work/life balance.

Efficient supply chain management requires seamless coordination across all links in the chain. A manager needs to provide their teams with the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs well, but they also need to trust their teams and allow them some room to make their own mistakes.

Second, a long-term focus is critical. I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, you need to keep your foot on the gas and keep building for the future. And last, no manager is useful to their company, customers, or teams if they are burnt out. By protecting some time for family and other personal priorities, a supply chain manager will be a more effective, productive, and balanced leader.

–Mark McCullough
Gebrüder Weiss North America

AI in Supply Chain Management:
Make it work for you

David Fisher, Executive Director, Transportation & Supply Chain Institute. University College, University of Denver

Remember AI is a tool and a methodology. Those who utilize it correctly will benefit from enhanced decision making and speed. The risk is not understanding how to use the tool correctly or worse, entrusting this technology to produce solutions that are not verified adequately. Like any new tool, AI will be most effectively utilized by those who get training.

If you plan to be a programmer or heavy contributor to the development and utilization of AI in the workplace then we would recommend that you get professional training to do so. If on the other hand, your intent is to be a user of AI-enhanced processes, you must think of AI as a new tool just as the calculator and the computer were once integrated in society in previous generations.

Lesley Veldstra Killingsworth​​​​, NMFTA Chairperson, Vice President of Pricing and Market Strategy, Polaris Transportation Group

First, get familiar with AI basics, machine learning, and data analytics. Embrace the data deluge and think strategically, not just tactically. Lastly, network, network, network. It’s important to talk with and learn from tech-savvy folks in the industry such as AI developers, data scientists, and other forward-thinking carriers. Stay ahead of the curve as AI is constantly evolving.

Dan Singer, Vice President, Dedicated Operations, Averitt

Be open-minded. We are in the early stages of determining all the applications of AI in supply chain management. Recognize that it can have a role in virtually any problem that must be solved repeatedly. It’s also important to stay abreast of each new application.

Christine Barnhart, Chief Marketing and Industry Officer, Nulogy

Foster a collaborative approach to AI implementation and involve cross-functional teams and stakeholders. This can facilitate seamless integration and maximize the benefits of AI across the supply chain. By embracing AI with a combination of technical expertise, adaptability, and collaborative spirit, supply chain professionals can then position themselves for success.

Sumit Vakil, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, Resilinc

Focus on rethinking processes to leverage AI’s potential to reduce manual work and enhance productivity. This means critically analyzing existing workflows to identify areas where AI can automate routine tasks, streamline operations, and optimize decision-making.

For example, look at how AI tools can be applied to forecast demand, manage inventory levels more efficiently, or improve logistics operations. Practitioners should start with small AI projects to gain practical experience and learn from both successes and failures, then slowly expand projects with the intent of developing people and processes. Embrace AI not only for its technological capabilities but also for its ability to transform business processes.

Identify and understand gaps AI can’t fill. This means that while AI is invaluable when it comes to getting a tailored approach to data (among many other benefits), supply chain managers should be the strategic, big-picture, and nuanced thinking that AI may not yet recognize in the process.

–Heather Hoover-Salomon
CEO, uShip

AI should be a tool for decision-makers and not the decision-maker itself. AI systems need a lot of data. To generate the data, a lot of processes must be digitized. It is supply chain professionals who will decide how this will be done.

The good news for humans is that their interactions have many nuances; and there are idiomatic differences across regions and countries. Can such variations be reflected in digital contracts and transportation bills of lading?

Will an AI system be able to “negotiate” contracts for two parties better than the parties themselves? If there were a legal dispute, would an AI system be able to replace judges and juries?

What is not surrendered to AI must be presided over by human decision-makers. Transportation, the most outsourced logistical activity, should be the best test-case for the promise of AI. Automating the process of transport, port entry/exit, and compliance should generate enough AI “hallucinations” to keep supply chain professionals gainfully employed for years to come.

–Dr. Darren Prokop
Professor Emeritus of Logistics, College of Business & Public Policy
University of Alaska Anchorage

Consider how AI can best advance your organizational goals. While AI is sexy, it is a tool. Take it as seriously as you do WMS, VMI, ERP, CRM. Don’t let it create blinders that prevent you from seeing other solutions.

Getting up to speed on blockchain and IoT for delivering greater transparency, traceability, optimization, and trust in the chain will put rocket boosters on your career trajectory.

–Lee Allison, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Engineering Technology & Industrial Distribution
Industrial Distribution Program, College of Engineering
Texas A&M University

Be an advocate for innovation. Those who remain fearful of AI run the risk of falling behind. By championing new ideas and demonstrating a commitment to staying at the forefront of industry trends, employees can secure their current roles and emerge as indispensable leaders shaping the future of supply chain management.

The rise of AI and automation, such as ChatGPT, offers supply chain professionals a prime opportunity to maximize the associated benefits and advance their careers. They should actively seek out training and learning opportunities to integrate these emerging technologies into their daily operations and, by doing so, they can significantly enhance their performance and productivity while positioning themselves as a strategic leader within their organization.

Continuous upskilling, adapting to evolving trends, and fostering a culture of agility are crucial components to long-term success in supply chain.

–Joe Galvin
Chief Research Officer

Leverage both narrow and generative AI to propel supply chain planning from a supportive role to a strategic function. Supply chain professionals are drowning in data, and precious hours are wasted in data collation and searching for answers from dashboards and reports that are quickly outdated.

With the assistance of generative AI, actionable insights will revolutionize how knowledge workers approach decision-making in the supply chain. Managing a supply chain involves a continuous chain of decisions and generative AI will significantly streamline the preparation for meetings by providing support with data that is considerably less effort-intensive, with reduced latency and heightened accuracy.

We’re entering a new era in supply chain management, where speed and precision are not just desired, they’re required. Organizations that embrace these novel concepts will gain a substantial competitive advantage.

Those at the forefront of integrating AI into their supply chain operations will not only navigate the complexities of supply chain management with confidence and strategic agility but will also position themselves as leaders in harnessing the transformative power of artificial intelligence.

–Piet Buyck
SVP Industry Principal

High-Impact Career Moves

Joe Adamski, Senior Director, ProcureAbility

Learn the broader aspects of a supply chain, and how it fits within the overall corporate strategic framework. Don’t just focus on a single area; someone with deep logistics, procurement, or warehouse expertise is important, but won’t progress as quickly as someone who understands the full spectrum of Plan – Source – Make – Deliver.

Identifying opportunities to get involved in the ideation phase of new projects to drive better decisions on designing for value can be essential in building the right network. Enable your success by learning the broader business skills that will set you above the pack.

Be curious about new innovations; you might be surprised by the opportunities this curiosity offers. Instead of feeling threatened by automation and AI, learn how these technologies work and how they can complement your skillset.

For example, individuals who can troubleshoot and repair automated equipment and operate AI analysis tools are in high demand. Networking with industry peers and colleagues is one of many ways to keep abreast of these new cutting-edge advancements.

–Yanitza Vega-Hughes, PMSM
Director of Human Resources
iGPS Logistics

Show you are a utility player. Not just sticking to what you are good at, but developing new skills will generate growth and advancement. Not being afraid to say “yes” when a new opportunity is offered.

Whether those skills are a stepping stone up or a lateral move, having a full scope of the supply chain and how it operates is an impactful way to advance your career. Through learning new or different skills, you can gain an understanding of the drivers, the customer/supplier, the employees, and the company, thus developing mastery of how the supply chain works as a whole.

–Taylor Rinehart
HR Specialist
Tri-National, Inc.

Develop leadership skills such as effective communication, strategic thinking, and adept problem-solving to inspire teams, navigate challenges, and drive organizational success.

Devote time to understanding best practices for supply chain risk management. Develop a nuanced understanding of the disruptive forces facing global supply chains, the role risk visibility plays in enabling proactive responses, and deep knowledge of risk mitigation strategies that build resilience into the end-to-end supply chain.

–John Donigian
Senior Director, Supply Chain Strategy
Moody’s Analytics

Continuously invest in one’s skills and knowledge. Ongoing education, certifications, and simply staying up to date on industry trends and best practices is a part of this. Furthermore, networking and building relationships in the industry is crucial as well, as it broadens the horizon and opens up new opportunities.

–Gabriele Langenmayr
Head of Human Resources Americas
DACHSER USA Air & Sea Logistics Inc.

Embrace a mindset of continuous learning, curiosity, and fearlessness. Successful practitioners in the field understand the importance of staying curious and being lifelong learners, constantly seeking new knowledge and insights to improve their practices.

Practitioners also need to try and look beyond their own industry, drawing inspiration from diverse sources and applying innovative solutions to their own environments. Those who make the most progress are fearless in their pursuit of improvement, learning from failures and using setbacks as opportunities for growth. Ultimately, supply chain professionals should not hesitate to ask questions, seek help, and collaborate with others to address challenges and drive positive change in the industry.

–Christine Barnhart
Chief Marketing and Industry Officer

Prioritize substance over flash as you work to understand and embrace new technology. Don’t be distracted by the new technologies of the moment. Instead, pay close attention to the problems they’re supposed to solve and consider their practical, sometimes-imperfect, applications in the real world.

We’ll take the rise of digital twins, for example. In reality, very few organizations will require hyper realistic digital models of warehouse floors or assembly lines. That said, the idea of digital twins might prompt a lagging organization to standardize its data, evaluate existing workflows, or consider changes to its procurement process.

Sometimes, abstractions are sufficient in generating quick insight and faster improvements to supply chain and manufacturing processes.

–Jason Hehman
Vertical Lead for Industry 4.0

Focus on innovation, collaboration/teamwork, sustainability, and social responsibility. Strategic partnerships—extending from suppliers to customers—and cooperation ignite creativity, enhance problem-solving, and ensure collective achievement in a tightly connected global market. Moreover, dedication to sustainable and ethical operations is vital.

Embracing eco-friendly logistics, ethical sourcing, and fair labor practices demonstrates a profound grasp of the industry’s broader implications. Aligning with the growing demands for corporate responsibility elevates a brand’s reputation and ensures its long-term sustainability.

–Ariella Azogui

Emphasize optimization. I rely on one principle that has guided my career: The only constant is change. A recent report from Amazon Business found that global procurement and supply chain organizations believe the same, as 95% of leaders said they will work to optimize their procurement and supply chain practices in 2024.

The dynamic nature of markets, supplier-principal relationships, and other macro trends will drive the need for supply chain leaders to optimize and adapt faster than ever. The unpredictable influence of technology changes, transformation (which I like to think of as evolution), geopolitical forces, governance, and compliance factors will require leaders to have agility built into their companies’ defined strategies.

Many questions surface as supply chain leaders contemplate future strategies. Are their organization’s current foundations strong and flexible enough to support future change and optimization? Does the optimization require a bit of a teardown and rebuild? How seamlessly can optimization be performed to reach both short-term and long-term goals? Did the organization set the best goals to guide these evolutionary changes?

Leaders who are diligent about building resilience in their supply chain with trusted partners will develop strategies that can carry them through any market fluctuation.

–Jeff Austin
Vice President of Supply Chain Services