Current Events Show Need for Supply Chain Talent

Nov 26, 2021

  • ON supply chain and consumer experts weigh in on the state of the supply chain crisis and senior executives organizations need to hire to navigate through it.

  • Automation has accelerated dramatically in the past year, and adding AI/ML talent who understands its power and potential is key.

  • Companies are also focused on replacing weak links exposed during the pandemic with functional experts who bring deep long-standing relationships to the table.

  • Retailers who will win understand the importance of aligning customer expectations with what they can deliver so there are no surprises.

This year has been intense in the supply chain talent space, as companies are reeling to recover from pandemic shutdowns and post-pandemic demand spikes. While people sat at home for months last year, the way they thought about their needs changed. No need to go to the grocery store, Instacart will deliver! No need to go to the mall, Amazon has everything! Now, on top of the pandemic, the holiday retail season is testing the supply chain as never before.

ON Partners executive search consultants weighed in on what they are seeing in terms of changing demand in supply chain and customer experience talent based on the current environment. Following are perspectives from Heidi Hoffman, who leads the firm’s supply chain practice and is considered a pioneer in the recruitment of senior supply chain executives; partner Kevin Burns, a 20-year veteran of the supply chain and manufacturing space; and Lynda Robey, a partner in ON’s growing consumer practice with two decades of consumer and digital services experience.

The evolution of the digital supply chain was already in progress, but the pandemic forced companies to move there more quickly.

So for B2C companies, “traditional” supply chain talent had to pivot and come up to speed quickly on the interconnectivity of supply chains, the intersection of the supply chain, new product development, sales and finance, and the use of new technologies and new partners.

Automation is Key


The big question this year was what can be automated and how we can use AI and machine learning (ML) to replace, augment and accelerate human decision-making to more quickly serve customers. Adding these skills to the supply chain team was paramount. We even saw companies add AI/ML talent to their board, showing that this is a strategic imperative going forward.

The ease of buying what we want, where we want, and how we want has driven shifts not only in B2C supply chains but also in B2B supply chains. Businesses expect the same type of service they receive as consumers. Self-service portals, transparency in billing and shipment tracking, rapid delivery, ease of returns – automation from supplier to manufacturer also accelerated this year.

Tying together the end-to-end supply chain – inclusive of customer demand, new product introduction, supply (not only manufacturing but backwards up the chain to suppliers and suppliers of suppliers), delivery and service – is the key to the future.

Talent with this E2E ability is rare, so companies are trying to piece it together. There is intense demand for executives experienced in technology advances in planning and product allocation, as well as a strategic approach to flexible manufacturing capacity, container management, and transportation management.

The pandemic has exposed weak leaders across the supply chain as well as many other functions, and many organizations are now focused on replacing those weak links. Leaders who are poised for success in the current environment, who can run toward the fire and not away from it and face ambiguity with energy, optimism, and inspiration, will continue to be in high demand.  

They must be functional experts who have built careers on relationships.   Ideally, they have worked abroad and understood how Asian-based manufacturers work.  They are familiar with current supply chain issues there and can anticipate future challenges ahead. 

Because we’re now seeing just how much relationships really matter in the supply chain, there is also high demand for executive-level transportation executives that can cut across all facets of logistics. Executives that know air, ocean, and parcel, and have deep relationships with all of those players will be able to deliver solutions faster.  When COVID hit, one Fortune 10 client that had been beating up its suppliers for the past 10 years lost key capacity to a much smaller company that had a strong positive relationship.

Getting the Customer Experience Right


Beyond getting supply chain focus right, retailers that are poised to win are those focused on delivering on an outstanding customer experience from dream and shop to delivery.

This means creating a dialogue with clients throughout the shopping and delivery process to ensure that customers’ expectations are aligned with what the retailer can deliver so there are no surprises.

A comprehensive effort across marketing, sales, product and customer service will ensure customers know what to expect. From “shop early favorite customer” messages via email to delivery times being clearly communicated in the checkout path for an online purchase, winning retailers will find multiple touchpoints for communication along the customer journey.

And even with best-laid plans, we know some things will go differently than planned. Getting it right in the way retailers empower customer service agents to address customer issues and remedy a less than ideal circumstance can create moments that lead to loyal lifetime customers.

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About ON Partners

Since 2006, ON Partners is the only pure-play executive search firm building diverse C-level and board leadership teams. We rebuilt the institution of executive search for the way you work. Our approach includes present partners who engage with their clients from the first brief to the final decision, individually crafted solutions that are unique to each client, and an easier experience all around. Named by Forbes as one of America’s Best Executive Recruiting Firms and to the Inc. 500/5000 Lists nine times, ON Partners is consistently ranked among the top 20 retained executive search firms in the U.S.

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