50th Episode Special – Best of Supply Chain Careers!
In This Episode:
Supply Chain Careers podcast hosts, Mike Ogle, Chris Gaffney, and Rodney Apple are excited to present a 50th special – “Best of Episode” that includes best practices from some of Supply Chain’s most influential thought leaders!
Our hosts highlight key supply chain career insights across all of their previously released podcast episodes. A few topics covered in this episode are career paths, mentorship, leadership, hard/soft skills, career advice, and much more!
We have enjoyed recording each episode and providing the supply chain community with actionable and insightful resources from some of supply chain’s best minds. Here’s to another 50 episodes as we strive to get to 100!
Some of it’s aptitude based, and as he said, he looked at the highest salaries, but halfway through his coursework he said, I’m not sure this is what I enjoy and I’m gonna switch. And he switched to industrial engineering. And as soon as he got in there, he said, I’ve found like-minded people and the work makes sense. So he was able to course correct in school. So I think that is one lesson for our academics, whether that be students and or professors, is helping students make that decision of the field of study can have a big impact in terms of where they head from a supply chain field.
And I think second, early in career, I think there’s some big choices. In episode 32, Angela Jones talked about the fact that she recognized that coming into industry, she had a choice of specializing. A lot of people in supply chain are engineers, and you can take that engineering focus and go deep into it, if you are a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer, but there is a point early in your career where you have the flexibility to branch out, and I think that’s a key decision point for those who want a broader supply chain career. So I think that’s a second key point.
And then really the first job you choose can also have a big influence in that career path. And we had a number of guests who were involved in management training programs early in their career. And one in particular, Brett Frankenberg in episode 40 talked about the fact that he went into a management training program with Pepsi Cola. And that was really where he got to see some diversity. So before he could navigate or had the opportunity to navigate, he was able to see different ways to build a career path.
And then there are places where you just get to either an opportunity or revelation mid-career where you can take your career in a different path. And in episode 39, Jeff Markey talked about that fact. He literally said careers aren’t done in a box. There are a lot of things that come into play that may be work related or not work related. But Jeff is an example of somebody who started in a manufacturing facility in operations management. Thought he was going down that career path, and then somewhere along the way he realized that he loved the whole idea of business transformation, likely having been exposed to it in an operational role and made a fundamental pivot in their career. There’s so many nuggets in here and I think this is why we constantly reinforce to folks that these episodes are evergreen. And if you’re not sure about your path, you could just go back and listen to some of these and get some ideas.
So, Rodney, as we think about paths, obviously you’re building skills as you go. We’ve talked a lot about that concept of hard and soft skills. What are some of the key messages that you think came out of in the first 50 episodes around the importance of hard and soft skills and maybe some nuggets there?[00:05:30] Rodney Apple: Absolutely. Chris, this was an amazing exercise for me just to go back through all 50 and looking through the transcripts and keyword searching. Hard skills, soft skills, and not too surprising, the overwhelming emphasis was on the soft skills versus the hard skills. In general, most of our audience felt that the hard skills are important, but they’re skills that can be learned. Soft skills can be a lot more challenging to learn and to develop a strong acumen in, so I curated some quotes here and some statements, I think some of these are very powerful.
So, Amie McAsey, thinking about supply chain overall. And you know what you need to understand is business acumen. So understanding the broader business, connecting the dots there, and then the financial acumen. You need to understand what your company does, not just what’s in front of you, who your customers are, who you serve, both internally and externally. Key drivers to business and how does the business make money. Getting that business acumen and understanding the financial levers, how the company makes profit, cuz supply chain drives a lot of that and enables a lot of that growth and value creation.
The, uh, obvious, hard skills are gonna be the analytics. Annette Danek had a really good summary of this. It’s not just the analytical skills, the process mapping, being a very curious learner. She says, obviously the Excel, you wanna understand the tools part of it, but today it’s all about the visualization. The visualization software, whether it’s Power BI or related tools. You take that data and present it so it’s visual. Take a problem, make a model out of it. Here’s the inputs, the assumptions, productivity, cost of whatever it is. Develop that model. If you can create a model and get people to understand their assumptions in the model, you’re gonna be very successful in wherever you go and whatever you do.
Ben Cook expanded upon that. Understanding basic statistics and mathematics was very important. Problem solving was a recurring thing over and over, getting clear on what you’re trying to solve. If you can’t explain the problem you’re trying to solve in one or two sentences, you probably don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish. So I thought that was very powerful.
Russ Meller, same thing. Math. The software, the tools, technology and the engineering, take as many courses as you can when you’re a student in that field. Get very comfortable analyzing and think about things, from different perspectives is very important.
And there were a lot more, but these were the most recurring themes that we the hard skills side of the coin.
On the other side of the coin was the soft skills. I put these in order, to make the point to the audience here that you can have the greatest hard skills, analytical skills, financial cost analysis, but if you don’t have the soft skills, it is absolutely gonna hold you back in your career, and I’ll start out with Steve Harrington. Soft skills are more important to employers than ever before. If there’s a shortage of workers like we’re seeing now and we have been seeing for years, employers are gonna err on the side of hiring people with the soft skills, the most important soft skills, and then teach or upskill some of the hard skills, some of the stuff you learn on the job with hands-on training .Ben Cook echoed the same thing. I think people still undervalue the soft skills. Hard skills are important, but I’ll be honest with you, those soft skills can make or break your career and deals in terms of negotiations. He expanded into having empathy, seeking to understand people. He’s a big fan of Stephen Covey. One of the big seven habits that jumped out for him was seek to understand and then to be understood. And that’s been a big part of his success is just take, simply taking the time to listen to people. A lot of folks talked about understanding different cultures and the differences from a communication perspective and those nuances.
Kate Vitasek. She talked about as people advance their careers, it’s the soft skills that tend to trip them up. You need the hard skills. Those are more easier to develop on the job, but the soft skills is where the magic comes in. It’s the soft skills that lead to innovation and better communication. The courage to change, to be able to challenge the status quo and to push back, navigate through the various corporate waves using strong communication. How do you get this idea championed to those people who can drive change? Those are the real leaders of the future.
Michael Meeth over at Tesla, I think hard skills are sometimes overvalued in education and academics, so you can learn these things. Every company will have a different way of doing things. You’re gonna learn all that stuff when you jump into a company. In essence, supply chain is a giant communication network. The more effectively you can communicate, the more effective your supply chain is gonna be. So I think more focus on soft skills in universities would go a very long way. Wanted to start there and hone in on the importance of the soft skills. Here are a few more though.
Brad Taylor suggests being curious, heard the word curious quite a bit, and maintain the strong problem solving mentality. Ammie McAsey, have the courage. This is a leadership trait, but she was big on having the courage to exit people from your team when they’re no longer bringing value. Holding on to them too long will only bring the rest of your team down.
On the communication side, which a lot of folks chimed in on, it’s critical. I love the way Angela Jones, who started in supply chain and landed in HR the second half of her career, she breaks it down into three areas. The first is being able to get your point across verbally and written. I see so many folks coming out of younger generations these days that grew up texting is their main form of communication have struggles with putting proper grammar together. So focus on that early on and it will absolutely help you advance your career. The second, being able to modify your message depending on the audience you rise higher in the ranks, that your organization, that’s gonna become more and more important, being able to communicate effectively on the shop floor all the way up to the boardroom. And the last one around communication is being redundant. It’s better to overcommunicate than to under communicate. And she sees that being a big challenge in companies, especially as they’re going through transformations, is overcommunicating, make people really understand what the business is doing, understanding the vision, the roadmap, how we’re gonna get there, et cetera. She also echoed being able to connect and collaborate across differences is the term she used. Our work environments have increasingly gotten diverse from a gender ethnicity perspective. There’s more global, more cultures to work with different experiences, different ways of thinking. The more you’re able to see things from other people’s point of views, the better decisions you’re gonna be able to make, the better you’re gonna be able to engage a diverse team and a diverse organization. And that includes the customer base, which has gotten more diverse as well. So connect and collaborate across the difference.
Annette Danek. Curiosity, again, not being afraid to ask questions. Having that hunger to continue to learn a little bit more at a time. Jeff Holcomb exuding passion. He looks for people that are coachable, teachable team player, a person that’s willing to challenge the status quo. Ask questions. He tries to create an environment where they can feel safe to ask those questions. And it’s all about feeling like it’s okay to fail as long as they don’t repeat the same mistakes. And he used the term failing forward, which I thought was a very powerful term.
Jeff Zeigler, people that are proactive, people that are self-starters. If you’re the person that needs to have a boss to tell you what to do every day, that is the very first thing you need to seek out to change.
Collaboration was brought up quite a bit. Being able to give advice, help people out, willing to do the same in reverse. Being open to that feedback, understanding what your blind spots are, which I know we’ve talked about quite a bit in the leadership podcast series. Stretching yourself outta your comfort zone, learning things beyond what you already know. Empathetic. Being empathetic is critical. Understand the person on the other end of the phone or Zoom call, my employees around the world, they have things going on in their lives. Getting to understand what those things are, the importance they are to their lives that makes them an individual, is important from a leadership perspective.
Jody Gornstein. Self-awareness is incredibly important. Ability to empathize, understand, listen, appreciate where a group has come from with their journey involved and really listening. Having a high EQ, high degree of self-awareness and being open to feedback is important.
Trey Anderson, being hungry to grow. And wanting to learn, continuously learn, intellectually curious. Again, there’s the word curious. I love his quote here. It’s 50% of what you know, and then it’s 50% of what you’re going to learn. So always focus on growing.
Robert Martichenko. Love what he said. Ability to collaborate, communicate, work on a team. The recurring theme throughout our podcast. Again, emotional intelligence is high on the list, of people today, seeing what they’re learning. The essence of building cultures around respect and building meaningful employment environments. That is the focus of his new company Trail Paths. And a lot of the research they’re doing is suggesting that, there’s gonna be a different set of soft skills in the future that are gonna be critical for success. And a lot of this involves around empathy, treating people with dignity. And treating people with respect and kindness. And I think that’s important. It goes back to the overarching leadership style, which is that servant leadership. So those were the highlight reels, and I just wanted to, again, emphasize that, yeah, sure, people talked about the typical common hard skills, analytics, understanding the finances, you know, negotiation, thing like that. But, the soft skills, as you heard, was stressed as something that’s more and more important today to be successful and to advance your career.
So Chris, these are the core skills that we have heard in terms of recurring themes. What are some of the things you heard around how people can develop themselves?[00:15:53] Chris Gaffney: Rodney and Mike, like you, this was an opportunity to, to reflect back. And we are fortunate that we’ve got the transcripts from all of these, and there’s just so much gold in them.
And when it comes to self-development, again, back to our audience of students, young professionals, and folks mid and even later in career, most of the folks we work with, are used to learning in a traditional structured setting, whether that be a classroom, whether that be a training class. And I think what we realize, and we’ve talked about this I in a number of episodes, is that that is a way to learn and that’s probably the best way to learn the hard skills. You can learn those analytical skills if we’re talking about various software tools that may help you digest large pieces of data that works well in that structured setting. But, when I look at the feedback that we heard in a lot of these episodes, the self-development that I think is most critical actually dovetails really well with a lot of what you heard about soft skills, and so it really requires a different approach to learning. Because the soft skills require you to be a bit more introspective. It’s easy to say, I don’t know calculus, so I’m gonna take this class, and at the end of a term or two, I’ll be better. But the journey on soft skills requires self-awareness.
And episode 22, Jodi Gornstein talked about that first. The first thing you’ve gotta do to really be focused on your own development is to have some humility, and that humility is in many cases enabled by self-awareness and the willingness to say they’re things I need to work on. And that’s really hard for people who may have been high performers academically. So you have confidence that’s embedded in those hard skills, but the self-awareness becomes really important when you get into your career.
A quote from Jodi is that that self-awareness in the context of career development is knowing what your personal brand is, and getting enough input that you understand how people perceive you. And I think that’s important because in so many cases, that’s not been the intent of a lot of the leaders I know and me personally, is that you land on people in a different way than you want to, but you have to deal with that perception because that’s all other people have, so that becomes really important. Both as an individual on a team and working with peers. How do people perceive me? Because it impacts how effective I can be working along peers. But it becomes incredibly important when you’re a leader because people like to follow great leaders. And if you’ve got, as you said, these huge blind spots that are limiting. That really can hurt your effectiveness. So I think the first thing around self-development that is a common theme for us is getting to that self-awareness. And I think Jodi talked about this also then in the context of, hey, it’s one thing to learn to develop yourself when you’re an individual contributor, but then there’s a whole nother level when you’ve gotta lead other people, because in the essence, you’re trying to lead people through change. And that gets to the classic emotional intelligence that we hear people talk about is being aware in the moment when you’re trying to influence others. It’s gonna have an impact on people personally and learning how to put that aside and still drive for change for the greater good either for the organization or for that person over time is a really hard skill, but an important skill for leaders. And I think she also said people who are self-aware are respectful of others because they know other people are working through that in their own learning journey.
Jeff Markey also talked about this in the context of self-development and leading others. He recognized that this whole idea of applied change management is really what a lot of leaders are doing in industry today. You have to constantly realize that an enterprise needs to change and transform that’s fundamentally different from others. And if you’re going to get good at that, you have to build some skills. Jeff said, I really started to realize that I needed a really formal structure around the soft components, just as we had for the hard components. And he put a lot of structure in place. And I think in many cases, self-development requires growing in an area where you don’t have a natural ability. Much easier to apply something that you’re naturally good at. But if you’re not naturally good at it and you still require it to be successful, you’ve gotta put structure in place because it doesn’t come naturally to you and you can be very effective with structure. And he talked about it in the context of leading a large change. He said I needed to put resources and people around me who made sure we were doing the right things in leading through that change.
And then a bit of a pivot from that back to how you learn in episode 36. Julie Ryan talked about the fact that I recognized that in my career as a leader, that for the business to succeed, we had to have continuous improvement in the way we run our business, but we also had to support and bring in constant innovation. And so, she espouses a critical message for our audience in self-development is how to learn through peers and how to be humble enough again, humility to take successful practices that you see in others and from others and how to do that. And she talked about industry sharing groups as a great way to catalyze that. And so I think that overall theme of learning from others is a key message, and as she said, it’s not just the new thing that others are doing, but it’s hearing about their challenges. And if you could hear about challenges from others, in particular, other industries or other parts of your industries, you can take away nuggets from that and apply, and build your own capability that will help you not only be more innovative, but think of different ways that you can approach and apply what you hear and put them into your own tool bag and apply in your own world. So I think there’s so much in there from a self-development standpoint.
Mike, obviously in the academic side then we’re dealing with the professionals who are in the business of helping others grow and learn. So what have we heard from our guests regarding the questions we’ve asked and that perspective around advice to younger selves or people who they are charged with, just getting started in supply chain and setting them on their way to a successful career path.[00:23:04] Mike Ogle: Well, Chris and Rodney, for this area of the advice that people said they would give to their younger selves or the kind of advice they’d give to students learning about supply chain, I’d say early on we made this a point in our first 10 or 20 episodes, we had that kind of question. So we got some really good responses.
And I think for instance, if you go all the way to some of tho those first episodes, which are still just as relevant today. If you look at episode one or listen to episode one, Eric Wachendorf had two recommendations. He advised people to understand that your view of where you’re going is going to change, it’s gonna be dynamic. You have to find things that interest you, that you’re passionate about, that you enjoy doing. Your major primarily teaches you how to think, really think about it that way. It exposes you to ideas. It’s gonna give you a soft skillset, it’s gonna teach you logic. And his second piece of advice was about the power of relationships and networks. How important the people are that you associate with even starting in school. You’re building a reputation from day one, and it’s always important to keep in the back of your mind and ask yourself, what kind of reputation are you building? That could be through your actions to the people you associate with the decisions that you make. And sometimes early on when you’re young, you don’t realize how important that is, but that’s a component that he would stress greatly to anybody he talks to that’s in school or has recently come outta school.
And then in episode two, Debbie Haseley had wished that she’d been more exposed to different types of careers. Even if there’s something that’s an interest early on for you, take advantage of the opportunity to learn about other things, go to different kinds of internships and get hands-on experience and look for a broad range of things rather than just the area you get assigned to. Cuz supply chain is an exciting and interesting career. She said, regardless of the industry you’re in, you get those experiences in supply chain, but also in different industries she thinks is invaluable.
And then if we step straight into the next episode, in episode three, that same question, the way that we asked it was giving advice to someone starting out in their career is don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is the one time in your career that people expect you to ask a lot of questions. You’ll learn as much as you can about business and leadership and everything you can possibly do while you’re new, because you don’t have those preconceived notions, take that opportunity to ask questions. Don’t be in a hurry to get promoted or climb the ladder right away. Take advantage to learn the position you’re in within your current role. So that was one of the things that she pushed pretty heavily.
Then there were several pieces of advice in episode five with Rich Thompson. His first piece of advice was, find a company that supports your efforts to learn and grow. Make that a priority when you’re thinking about what you want to be able to do and what job you’re going to take. There are different paths to get you there, and we actually had recurring advice on this later on talking about the same kind of issue. It could be a startup that lets you do a lot of different things and you’re forced to take on a lot of roles that you learn quickly. Or it could be a large corporation that might put you in a functional area, but will help you grow and provide training that may be difficult to get at a smaller company. So either way, he also cautions, don’t try to jump too fast. He wanted to be a strategic consultant at age twenty-three. But he said that shouldn’t happen for a good reason. You have to build a track record. You have to grow and be able to build upon things that it takes time to absorb. So be methodical about your career, but don’t be in too much of a rush. You need to be well-rounded. He also wants students to be and early career professionals to understand there are two areas of the business that work across the entire business. Learn as much as you can about all aspects of supply chain, but also finance. Follow the money, follow the flow. Being able to connect the dots is very important to him. And then finally, he emphasized that supply chain is a very analytical field, but it’s also a people business. And supply chain is about collaboration between companies and functional areas. You have to learn those connections.
And then we got a little bit different kind of advice that came from Kathy Fulton, who was talking in episode six about encouraging people to really get involved in a lot of different interests early on. Don’t just focus on supply chain. Her undergrad was in math, she also participated in a lot of extracurricular activities and it’s important to have a wide variety, not just to find out what you want, but you help grow, you meet, you interact with a variety of people, and that’s what you’re going to do in a supply chain career. So you need to be able to think about it in that way.
And then finally I’m gonna talk about a little bit of advice that was provided by Kate Vitasek. Rodney had mentioned her previously in an episode nine, her first tip. And these are some different tips that she talked about in this case. Her first tip came from an executive in residence that was at Tennessee while she was in school, and she said this literally changed everything she does says everything you do is either a pilot or a draft because it gives you permission to not be perfect. She said she wrote it down and used it from day one. You know, here’s a draft. What do you think? If you’re implementing something, the first phase is a pilot. And by having that permission to not be perfect, but to try things, it gives you permission to challenge the status quo.
So her second tip was the power of career surfing. You come up with your goal, you look at someone you admire, you go see their LinkedIn career path and say, well, how did they get there? And what she noticed was that people didn’t have necessarily a career path that was linear. They career surfed. She herself left jobs because it was an opportunity to get some skills she couldn’t have in her existing career path. So think about the endgame. You can reverse engineer things a little bit, but you may have to career surf and even go lateral or backwards. So she said it paid dividends for her and it was absolutely worth going backwards. One step backwards to take three steps forwards.
So Chris, I talked about students and early career professionals, they got some great viewpoints from experienced professionals, but we’ve also had some great advice about mentorship. What have you seen in that area?[00:29:31] Chris Gaffney: Mike, I think the first message, and it really is embodied by the fact that we’ve had 50 people willing and excited to do these podcasts with us, is that people are willing to help others. It’s just as simple as that. So for those who say, I need help, those people are out there. In some respects it’s how you cultivate them, but it was very clear, as I reflected back on these podcasts, that mentorship is important and it’s available to you.
So a couple different thoughts on that. One from Martha Buffington in episode 47, she mentioned the idea of business resource groups and mentoring. And in large companies, these would be groups, some people call them affinity groups, where people can get together. And in her case in particular, she looked for women’s groups because she said being a woman in industry is a challenge. And I felt like I could learn early in my career from other women who had been a bit further down the path from me. And that proved itself out for her. And mid to later in her career, she said I was able to return that favor. So if you can find those groups. So it’s not always going to be a one-to-one mentoring relationship. It may be an environment where you can find like-minded people who are willing to share with you. And I think for those who don’t work for large companies, there are many of these type of groups that are available broadly so you don’t have to work for a particular company to get access to a group to kind of start your mentoring journey.
Mike, you mentioned Debbie Haseley in episode 2. You her big learning on mentoring was, I think a big theme for her across her podcast was Start Early. So I think this whole summary podcast is what I call a hack for our audience, looking to jumpstart their own development. Starting early is a big message. It created access to opportunities. It created a different voice beyond a manager. In many cases, early in career, if you’re young, you may be working for a young manager, and so they may be working on their own skills as they lead you, and that may be a challenge for you and that manager employee relationship. If you’ve got a mentor earlier in career, you could get a bit of a different perspective that may help you with that. Debbie also talked about later in career, being on the other side of the coin as a mentor versus a mentee, it’s a huge obligation and the good news is most people take it very seriously, but also recognize that it’s not your job to simply provide a mentee an answer. You’re at your best when you’re giving them guidance and giving them additional perspective that just actively supports their development.
Now, Ammie McAsey had in episode three a bit of a different take on it. So instead of having a single mentor, she advocates the idea of a personal board of directors. So it’s almost a group of people who collectively mentor you. And that’s a popular topic. I know folks who are mid to late career who would say, I make no significant decisions in my career without consulting my personal board of directors. It’s a group I’ve cultivated over time. It may include trusted family or friends, but essentially a group of people who know me well enough and are in my corner, but are willing to provide me both supportive and challenging feedback. So that’s a, that’s an idea for folks who are thinking about doing this. But Ammie also talked about the fact that mentorships usually come out of an existing working relationship. You don’t just walk up to somebody on the street or the hall and say, will you be my mentor? So be thoughtful younger in career, if you’re looking for mentorship, if you’re working in a cross-functional environment, say a project team, there may be more senior people there or people who you believe have something to offer you. Do well in that environment and it may create the avenue for you to create a mentoring relationship.
And then Andy Bass in episode 33, I thought, had a very insightful thought about m entors, he said it’s perfectly appropriate to have peer mentors. And I’ve seen this in teams that you may be with over a longer period of time where you work through that type of relationship. But he also said peer mentors for life, particularly my friends who’ve done really well because I have that bond with them as a prior peer. But if they’ve done exceptionally well, as their career has progressed, I wanna stay with them so I can understand how they did that and get some coaching and guidance from them.
So there’s so much in our episodes around mentorship. So Mike, you mentioned advice to students from professionals, but what about the academics themselves? What kind of observations or advice did they have for our audience.[00:34:52] Mike Ogle: Well, Chris, on the academic side, we had seven episodes with guests from universities, but there were more than just teachers. We had an M I T center director, a department chair at a business school, an associate dean who was also previously a department chair in engineering. We had a faculty member from American Public University. We had an executive director of a career management center, and we also had a tag team from Michigan State. One that was on the faculty side and one that was with corporate relations with industry side. So it was quite a variety of guests that showed a diversity of perspectives, even just within academia.
And for instance, Sunderesh Heragu from in episode 41, he’s an associate dean in engineering at Oklahoma State University. He emphasized the influence of advisory boards, not just on expanded coursework that might be focused on supply chain or offering case studies, maybe data analytics, but also the growth of new programs like certificate programs for continuing education as well as undergraduate and graduate students, anybody that wants to add to their credentials beyond just a degree. They highly encourage professionals to get involved in boards as well. So if they wanna make a difference in curricula plus programs, you get to hear students, you hear how they think, and they get to hear how you think. So most people don’t really appreciate that two-way street and how easy it is to get involved with the universities.
And then that tag team that I mentioned from Michigan State of Dr. Judy Whipple and Kelly Lynch, they were in episode 30. And Kelly in his role as Director of Corporate and Student Relations, he connects students with employers and employers with students. So with the students, he says it’s his job to help them make informed decisions and make them aware of all the resources that are at the school, but also for employers. This is a point he wanted to emphasize for most of the people that listen to our podcast, is to help them brand and position themselves with the faculty, the staff, and the students. . He encourages companies to find the people in positions like his and emphasize you can’t just show up at things like career fairs and expect people to be lined up to see you these days cuz there’s a lot of competition for talent. He said companies need to be willing to start working even earlier, with freshmen and sophomores, rather than just focusing on seniors, juniors and grad students.
And then Dr. Whipple pointed out that employers underestimate the power of the word of mouth in schools and how much students talk with each other, especially with social media these days. So she strongly encourages industry to get into her classes, talk with the students, set up projects for teams, provide cases, and again, it’s that familiarity with an interest in your company that’s going to be valuable to you. And then Kelly had emphasized the importance of social media to the people that you’re hiring right now. And LinkedIn is primarily what they use in the business world, but when you think about the students and that whole word of mouth side of things, it may be Instagram for example, put a post out there that so-and-so just started work here today. You know, welcome to the A b ABC company. And whoever follows them or their parents or whoever sees that and they found that that’s been a really important way to grow your brand.
Now, if we jump to episode 37 that we had Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth, he’s a professor at American Public University, and American Military University. He’s taught over 7,000 people in the past 10 years or so. He advises a really strong emphasis on communication skills. Reading and writing and speaking. Learn to talk, learn to write, but also join organizations. You’re gonna be far more successful if you do that. Now his work primarily deals with a lot of military students, and he said that companies are not just willing to hire the military. They want to hire the military. They’ve found that they’re well schooled in how to follow rules and regulations. They also know how to deal with people, and the companies today are hiring more military he thinks than he’s seen in the past 30 years.
And then in another episode we talked with Dr. Sime Kurkovic and that was in episode 45. He’s a professor of operations and sourcing management at Western Michigan. So employers are telling them that the field has gone from tactical, right stuff at the right place at the right time, which still matters of course, but they want more strategic skillsets. They want people to be able to make connections across supply chain. He said some employers have told them that they basically want a jack of all trades. You don’t have to be in anything too specific. They want them to be really good at a bunch of different things, but not really having to be great at one specific thing. He says that some students and employers think that a major in supply chain management looks like a specialized, concentrated area, but in his view, he thinks it’s actually the opposite. If you asked him what’s the most well-rounded education a person could get, and where they could develop a strong general business acumen overall, he’d argue that it’s in supply chain management. Now, of course he has a bias and we have a bias, but, we would tend to agree with him and we see that emphasized in other podcasts as well, even the non academics.
So one of the biggest trends that he’s seen so far, with a lot of larger companies, they’re getting more and more job rotations with their students. So some students might be able to pick some of the positions or the employer might pick some or all of the positions that they would go to, but that cross-functional exposure has been incredibly valuable. Not just the work experiences, but the exposure to high levels of management in such a short period of time, and it’s really helped their networking and being able to answer questions. I think that actually connects to something that Chris has mentioned previously as well.
Sime wasn’t a huge fan of these job rotations in the beginning, but the feedback he’s gotten from the students is that these have been amazing experiences. And then if you think about the students that start off in small to medium firms, they’re already in somewhat of a glorified job rotation, cuz you work at a smaller company, you have to wear many hats and work in a lot of different parts of the organization. So they’re seeing that that also has a a pretty valuable work experience.
So one thing that did surprise him was the staying power of the M B A. It still has a great ROI. He wondered whether that thing still worked, but there’s tons of data that says if you take those 12 classes, you have more job security and you have more advancement opportunities. There’s a time where he thought at some point this whole M B A thing is overrated and it’s gonna go away, but it’s evolved. It’s become more specialized, it’s become more student friendly for working professionals. So it’s become more current and leading edge.
And then if we move on to Dr. Brian Fugate. So he is the chair of the Department of S C M at the University of Arkansas, and he talked about the fact that they have more data and more tools and more ways of being able to make their points with data and visualize data. But he also pointed out that they try to get them to be able to deal with ambiguity and adopt agile thinking. Now, one of the reasons in episode four that we talked with Dr. Fugate, being department chair at Arkansas, was when they received Gartner’s number one ranking, they weren’t trying to impress Gartner. Their main focus was on trying to align their program with what industry needs. So long, deep relationship with industry. And it was relational, not transactional.
And then if we move down to episode 34, Tony Rohrer, wanted to point this one out because she is the executive director of the Business School’s Career Management Center at uc, San Diego. So she’s someone who they actively listen to students and they want students and employers to understand that in their roles, they have a really, really broad understanding of different industries and different functions. Get involved with the career management people because they can help share your story. She knows how to ask the right questions in a certain way and listen well, so they have enough people in their lives already telling them what to do. They try to be a guide through the industry. She said students are really looking for a more individualized approach from companies, even more so with gen Z students, really wanting companies to invest some more time in them and develop them. And she says one of the strategies that’s great for companies is to make sure that you come in early on. This has been somewhat of a recurring theme in some of these episodes. Get in there earlier. Meet the students, be able to help with some of their development, whether you’re helping them understand how to interview, how to do things to work on job experiences and what’s happening in your industry, and you’re going to have a more educated student that you can try to get into positions later on.
As we move a a little bit further, she talks about the fact that she loves LinkedIn, but students and professionals both have to be more intentional with what they’re doing there. You have a brand, whether you know it, whether you want it. So why not be the person that’s in charge of that? So she likes to, to make sure that people understand what they’re doing on there and the things that you follow, the things that you post, you’re constantly building that brand and she really likes it because LinkedIn is more like a 3D version of your resume. You can have multimedia in there as well. So a resume tends to be just that one dimensional or two-dimensional piece of paper, whereas LinkedIn is this dynamic live version of who you are and your values, what you believe in, and what you wanna be.
And then to wrap up my section here, we wanted to talk about episode 48, where we talked with Chris Caplice, who’s a senior research scientist and executive director for the Center of Transportation Logistics at M I T. In his episode, Chris said they do three big things, graduate education, industry driven and sponsored research programs, and they have outreach and engagement directly with 50 companies to be able to work on various issues. Mostly large, international or multinational companies. So, although M I T has some highly technical programs and skills, he is seeing that the companies have been increasingly asking for more soft skills, and think about it in terms of being able to get them to understand how to change people’s minds, how to make a convincing argument, and how to present and communicate. They see those as being some of the most important things that are being asked for.
So a lot of people come out straight outta school, he says, and they start wanting to work in very strategic roles and be higher up in supply chain. But he said if you’re going to try to advance and lead others in supply chains, you really need some frontline operational experience. There is a dual path. I mean, you can be very highly technical and focus on analytics, for instance, and be somebody that helps other people. But if you wanna be able to dive in, think about being able to get that operational experience.
He mentioned that corporate relations are an area that’s become very important to supply chain departments and programs. And if you wanna look at engagement, whether you’re the school looking at industry or industry, looking at the school, he’s found it’s very valuable to establish basically a nine box, a three by three box where the horizontal axis is how well are you engaged now with that company or university and on the vertical, then what is the potential to be able to get engaged and keep revisiting that and make sure that you manage that well.
And then the very last thing that he mentioned was that there are plenty of students who have resisted learning databases and data management and those kinds of aspects while they were in school, but they come back and they almost always say, thank you for making me learn that stuff.
So that’s a few of the observations from a variety of the academic guests.
Chris, one of the common questions was focused on what it takes to become a better leader and was one of the inspirations for your leadership series. What have you heard from our guests about leadership?[00:47:00] Chris Gaffney: Mike, all the people who come on the podcast are clearly focused on giving back and sharing from their experience. And I think we’ve heard through the episodes and as we’ve reflected through this episode, most of them are pretty self-aware as leaders and most of them have traveled a good way. So I think we’ve gotten some know, really compelling leadership lessons in listening to the audience.
So I definitely want to highlight a number of the things that we’ve heard. I will say, I was actually a guest on the podcast before I joined the team and started assisting. So I actually recall the comment that I made, and I attribute that to Ron Lewis, who I worked with at Coke, and he taught me the concept of tough-minded people leadership. And that means, if you’re doing well, you know it and you hear it from your leader. But if you’ve got something you need to improve on, you’re also hearing that from your leader. And you get guidance on how to go about doing that. But you’re held accountable for improvement. And I think most employees really value that. And I think that one is so strong for young leaders when they have to provide constructive feedback or performance feedback for employees when they’re first learning to lead other teams.
There’s always the tendency to say, well, this’ll get better on its own, or let’s give it some time. And I think that tough-minded people leadership space basically says, the learning from these experienced leaders is when there’s a performance challenge or a need to improve or a gap, the sooner you can get in front of that employee, have that constructive discussion, get them to hear that, move them down the process of owning that and then acting on it. It’s actually in that employee’s best interest. So I think that one is really compelling because we’ve heard it from many people.
Another one that Elizabeth Maxted mentioned in episode 38 that the essence of leadership is not only what you say, but it’s how you say it, and it’s also making sure that when you say it, your message is absorbed and it really can make the difference in your career. You are clearly trying to provide direction to people and you’ve gotta make sure that direction is translated and understood and people can act on it. So you’ve gotta validate that. Another thing that she mentioned that I think that is really relevant in really good leaders is the simple concept that you’ve gotta measure what matters. And if it’s not measured and there’s no goal, you have no idea whether something’s working, you have no idea where you can make further improvement. So measuring and setting a course as well as a goal is so critical for leadership. And you gotta help people understand the goal, not just a number, but the why behind it. Because that’s what gets people motivated to go work against that goal.
Another thing that she said that kind of connects to this idea with measuring what matters is the idea that relying on willpower is really hard. And that really isn’t what get things done. It’s actually discipline. And discipline and process and routines that really sets you apart as a leader. And she actually made the connection to my concept of being a runner and, just going out there and running a race on race day isn’t gonna work, but if you’re disciplined, you’ve had a schedule, you’ve practiced, that discipline is what sets you free. And then you can go about making a big difference both in work and your other aspirations. So when you’re disciplined about what you’re measuring and you produce a consistent report, your meetings are predictable. People know what they’re gonna be doing when they sit down, and work through things with you. Content is expected. Delivering that type of consistency, especially in the supply chain, is really important. Because without discipline in supply chain, you can get pretty chaotic and employees and teams don’t function well. So most people actually really value this idea of being disciplined and measuring what matters.
In episode 21, Gonzalez Cordova, he shared that really good leaders wanna share what they’ve learned. And that’s common for many of our guests. But Gonzalo, he took it even further. He wrote a book and he’s created a website to share his learnings.
And then in episode 23, Jack Boss mentioned something that I think is huge once you’ve led a small team and you start leading a bigger team and you’ve got people on your direct report list who are leading other teams, leading through others becomes so critical. It’s that whole evolution of can you lead yourself, can you lead a team? But to lead a large team, it really is important as you move up in supply chain leadership, you know that you can get good at leading through others. The most important thing in doing that is getting the right people in those team leadership spots. So hiring good people to work for you is really, really a differentiator when you lead large teams. When you get into those big roles, he said you’ve gotta force yourself to stay above the day-to-day, have that good talent that can take direction from you and go out there and work with an extended organization.
So Rodney, we tend to end our episodes with a question about some of the best career advice people have been given. And then the advice that they give to others. When you dug in there, what are some of the really exceptional things that you were reminded of?[00:52:48] Rodney Apple: Sure. Chris. Lots of great nuggets were provided at the end of our episodes. We first heard from Debbie Haseley, and she said some of the best advice she received was to learn the different aspects of supply chain early on, become versed in how each of the functions work. Create that diversity, you have to go out and proactively make this happen. Volunteer for projects. And try to spread that experience around the supply chain. Even if you’re planning to work in one functional area, let’s call it transportation, you still need to understand how the system operates at your company and that extends externally from suppliers through customers as well.
Ammie McAsey, she provided a couple of quotes. These are hanging up in her office and one of the big ones is from Ralph Waldo Emerson. It reads, do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. There’s always a different way of doing something. Don’t settle for the way things have always been done in the past. In supply chain, it’s important to challenge the status quo, explore the different opportunities and paths, and sometimes take a risk by trying something new.
Another quote was, perfection is the enemy of progress. A lot of times we wait, and wait, until the presentation is perfect you miss out on opportunities early on because you’re waiting for perfection. So don’t sacrifice perfection for progress. And Trey Anderson, who we had on our pod as well, echoed, he said it a different way. Don’t let perfect or perfection be the enemy of good. So many people get caught up in the word optimal. But what we really want and need is incremental improvement. Optimal should be the goal, but incremental is something that we can do today. 80% is not ideal. Let’s say for example, meeting your lead time requirements, but a whole lot better than 60%. We’d love to get to that 99. 9%. But what if we can just get from 60 to 80, that’s gonna give us incremental improvement and it will provide keyword here, the roadmap to improve that metric into the high nineties. So focus on incremental improvement because incremental improvements add up to the really big improvements.
Ben Cook, talked about the customer is always right. And he referenced Sam Walton, who founded Walmart of course, and it’s always thinking about, starting with the customer in mind. And he also talked about prioritizing. This is on the leadership side with your team. If you try to bowl the ocean and do too many things at once, you’re gonna run your team into the ground and they’re gonna get burned out. So one of the quotes that a former boss told him that he really embraced was that, life is a marathon and you don’t win it running a sprinter’s race. Make sure you understand your team’s bandwidth. Make sure you’re prioritizing those A items that have to get done to drive the business results. And then when there’s extra bandwidth, that’s when you can focus on, on some other items that might not be on the B list. And the last thing Ben pointed out was strive to learn from everyone. He made it a habit of his to listen to those folks that are coming into the workforce, and try to learn from them by listening and understanding their different perspectives. Cuz they’re gonna be a lot different than those that have worked in this field for quite some time. So make sure you’re constantly working with people throughout the organization, including the ground floor associates, cuz that’s sometimes where you get the best ideas.
Kathy Fulton, Loved one of her quotes. Don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast and learn from those mistakes. Don’t make mistake twice. She said that’s really critical. Embracing failure. It’s really sometimes the only way that we can innovate, break through those walls, is through a lot of trial and error. And then, love this one. Own your awesome. That’s a quote that she had. Own your awesome. Don’t be afraid to represent what you know. And showcasing your expertise. And then we back that up though, not through, explaining the how or the why, but by getting things done. I thought that was a great analogy as well.
Steve Szilagyi mentioned that the best career advice that he’s been given is to do the job you’re in the best. Knock it out of the park, and that will in itself attract attention. Part of that is being curious. It’s going beyond your job and understanding the whole, understanding how the system of supply chain works. It’s all interconnected from the flow of information, the financials, the data, et cetera.
Jeff Holcomb had piece of advice. Do the jobs that no one else wants to do. This shows passion and it also shows commitment, and at the same time, it helps keep you humble and grounded. So be willing to do what no one else wants to do. Had a quote from Jerry Rice that I think this is also hanging on his wall. I do the things I don’t want to do today so I can do the things that I want to do tomorrow. So sometimes that refers to, getting those most challenging things in your day out of the way first. Jeff also had a quote from Grover Cleveland, talks about persistence and determination. The quote is, nothing in the world will take the place of persistence. Talent won’t genius will not, education will not.
Bob Ryan, who started out his career in supply chain and operations and moved into executive coaching, do great things wherever you are. People are always looking for what’s my future? What’s my pinnacle of my career and what’s that going to look like? But the reality is, is to reach whatever pinnacle you have to be exceptional where you stand today. You can only live by the day that you have today. So you can only make the most of this day, this week, this month. In this job. So even if you’re uncertain of where you’re headed in the future and what your greater good is, if you do the great things where you are today, you will typically be well served over time.
He talks about folks coming into supply chain that is to focus on explaining what they do not want to do. You may not know what you want to do, but you should have an idea of the type of work that you either are not good at or you’re not passionate about. You don’t have those capabilities or you don’t have the interest in developing them. So it’s be very methodical about the things you don’t want to do. And then that from there you can kind of subtract and figure out what’s left to do, improving the likelihood of finding something, some type of work or task that, that makes good sense for you.
Kate sek. And I’m gonna close here. Have fun in your job, and if you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time that you change jobs. That doesn’t mean you need to change employers, but you should be thinking about what’s next. Always look at the culture of the organization that you’re going to work for. Make sure that you’re a good fit, that there’s a good cultural fit. It’s absolutely essential that you can be in a job where you have fun.
Turn the tables on the interviewers and start asking them what do they like about their job? If they only have three words to describe the culture, what are those three words? What would that look like? And are those the words you like? If they’re not, then it’s probably not a place that you should go to work for.
And with that, those were some of the more insightful and more powerful nuggets of career advice that were shared by several of our guests. So this closes out our 50th episode and the key learnings that we had from so many of our guests. We certainly appreciate you listening to the podcast. We hope you’re getting a lot of great information and great advice and perspectives that can benefit your career. Whether you’re a student, whether you’re a professional, whether you’re a leader or employer trying to get better at hiring and retaining supply chain talent, we encourage you to subscribe to our podcast. Love to have you give us a review. And share your personal ratings with us. And if you know anybody that could benefit from this advice, we do encourage you to share the podcast with them as well. We’re looking forward to bringing you the next 50 podcast episodes. Again, thank you for listening. We wish you the best with your supply chain career journey