The metamorphosis of supply chain from a humble collection of support functions like purchasing, shipping and production to true business leadership is huge. Chief Supply Chain Officers (CSCOs) increasingly control 50% or more of a company’s annual spending, with two thirds of all employees directly reporting to the role. More importantly, CSCOs have begun to play a vital role in strategy development, product and service innovation, and even sales.

Why the change? For one thing, globalization blew up the traditional factory-centric model of most product businesses while adding huge complexity to network design. For another, digitization has upended the merchant-driven operating model of most retailers and forced a radical rethink of how planning works across all industries. Finally, a rise in platforming strategies that bake complexity into core product designs and manufacturing process technologies call for supply network decisions that can take years to pay off.

The net effect is that the modern CSCO approximates the thought process of the CEO, balancing risk and opportunity, fighting the near-term battle with an eye on long term strategy, and focusing above all on profitable growth.

Who’s Making the Move?

Among the more prominent supply chain leaders who’ve made it to the top slot we can count Tim Cook of Apple, Mary Barra of General Motors and Brian Krzanich of Intel. More recently we’ve seen Fabian Garcia, formerly of Colgate Palmolive, tapped to take over at Revlon. Promotions within company for CSCOs include some who have taken over business unit leadership roles, including Beth Ford at Land O’Lakes, Pier Luigi Sigismondi at Unilever, Sonia Syngal at Gap and Gerry Smith at Lenovo.

The common thread in all these cases is an executive who is multi-talented. They think like engineers (most are trained as such), but they also think like salespeople. They’re able to communicate and influence to get the job done. They get their money’s worth, but not at the expense of long-term partnership. They lead by example and don’t wilt in the face of challenge or even conflict.

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