Supply Chain Management is a “cradle-to-grave” or “cradle-to-cradle” business concept that is changing the way organizations structure themselves, serve their customers, focus their employees, and interact with their suppliers and customers. It calls for focus on the internal and external processes and activities that deliver what customers want plus it demands collaboration within functional areas of the organization, and across multiple tiers of suppliers, transportation providers, and customers. “Cradle-to-grave” includes all of the organization’s physical, information, and financial transactions from the very beginning of a product or service to its disposal. “Cradle-to-cradle” is the same but substitutes reuse or recycling of product or materials in place of disposal.

A company may have many different supply chains and networks of material and transportation providers. Some organizations are moving internally from a silo or functional focus to a cross-functional initiative that maps out existing processes, re-engineers them to meet customers’ requirements, applies various models to improve their supply chains, and then manages those supply chains to consistently deliver on promises to customers. However, many organizations still think supply chain management is the same as logistics or supply management. While these are both critical components, true supply chains include far more. A supply chain’s cross-functional reach may also include representation from marketing, sales, legal, finance, regulatory, information technology, and engineering. And all of the areas that fall under traditional materials management and logistics, such as forecasting, production planning and scheduling, inventory management and control, transportation management, warehousing, receiving, distribution, and shipping, are also important links in the chain.

A recent article in Fortune magazine which stated: “Wanted: 1.4 Million New Supply Chain Workers by 2018” focused on the logistics area, which employs approximately 6 million people, but there are many other opportunities as well for those who understand the supply chain concept and are skilled and knowledgeable in one or more areas of supply chain management. Many colleges and universities offer degrees and certificate programs in supply chain management and are working to provide students with not only textbook information but also hands-on experience. Those already working in a logistics discipline need to prepare to meet the demands of future supply chains because the skills, knowledge, and personal qualities of today will not be enough to meet tomorrow’s needs.

Many organizations have not yet educated their employees in the principles of supply chain management, so it is important that those employees, on their own initiative, begin to prepare themselves so they can stay marketable and ensure career growth. Here is a proposed personal checklist for developing tomorrow’s Supply Chain Professional’s key skill sets:

- Experience in multiple supply chain functions
- The ability to lead the design, implementation, and management of cross-functional teams
- A collaborative mindset
- The ability to work across organizational boundaries
- An end-to-end focus
- An understanding of the import/export process and its challenges
- The ability to apply financial principles to supply chain management
- An understanding of Total Cost of Ownership principles
- Skills in analyzing and making trade-off decisions that support the entire supply chain and balance customer service with supply chain total costs
- Strong interpersonal, coordination, change management, innovation, communication, decision making, problem solving, project management, and time management skills
- An appreciation of cultural differences
- An understanding of your organization’s competitive environment, core competencies, critical success factors, and business model(s)
- Special areas of expertise that could include:
      o Product/service development and launch
      o Supplier relationship management and collaboration 
      o Service provider relationship management and collaboration
      o Customer relationship management and collaboration
      o Manufacturing customization
      o Demand planning
      o Order fulfillment and service delivery
      o Life cycle product and service management
      o Reverse logistics

To sum up, all of today’s and tomorrow’s supply chain professionals need to be sure they have the right combination of: functional knowledge, experience, technical skills, leadership ability, global management capabilities, and personal credibility to succeed in the supply chain world.

This article is part of the monthly series authored by ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, trainers, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain topics.

Marilyn Gettinger is the owner of New Directions Consulting Group, which offers customized workshops and a team-oriented consulting method to assist organizations in being successful in their global supply chain management efforts. She can be reached at, or (908) 709-0656, or