There is a shortage of skilled executives entering supply chain management (SCM), and this is costing businesses in loss of annual earnings. To address the leadership gap in SCM, a growing number of executives advocate the importance of a formal education in SCM and operations. Finding the right program can lead to a fulfilling career, as well as lucrative job opportunities.

“All programs are not created equal,” explains Sara Jones, program director of the Master of Supply Chain Management program at University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. “You should give careful consideration to the reputation and caliber of the school and choose a program that fits your lifestyle, schedule and career goals during and after the program.”

“Finding the right program can lead to a fulfilling career.”

Getting started

Jones was first exposed to supply chain and operations management in a course she took during her MBA program. Not only did she find the topic fascinating, but it made her realize the important role the supply chain plays in the success of a business. Since joining the Foster School’s SCM program, Jones has developed a real passion for the supply chain field, a passion she now gets to share with students and future SCM executives.

By contrast, Dave Clark, senior vice president of worldwide operations and customer service at Amazon, learned the importance of SCM through a more hands-on approach. “I grew up in a family business and actually learned to drive on an old, beat-up yellow fork lift in the warehouse of my parents carpet store,” he explains. “I loaded and unloaded trucks in the mornings when I wasn’t in school and had spent some of my formative years, as a result, in a warehouse environment.” As he worked through his undergraduate days at Auburn University, his role as the logistical coordinator for the university’s band taught him the value of back-of-house supply chain. “Ensuring the right stuff gets to the right place at the right time has always been a large part of my life,” he added.

Importance of a formal education

A formal education in supply chain and logistics provides professionals with the technical and analytical skills required to design, coordinate and manage supply chains. Furthering one’s education also provides a solid business foundation while developing crucial strategic thinking and leadership skills. As supply chains increase in speed, complexity and geographic reach the value of smart, passionate supply chain professionals continues to rise.

“Developing successful technology-driven supply chains capable of the performance customers now expect is a requirement for organizations — and the people who have those skills and can deliver results are in high demand,” Clark says. “Recent graduates looking into supply chain roles can find leadership opportunities and make a direct impact on customer experiences all while solving interesting and complex problems.”

Developing management skills

SCM is a career path with plenty of job opportunities available, but both Jones and Clark say organizations are looking for specific skills. “Strong technical and analytical skills come up almost every time. But these skills alone are not enough,” says Jones. “Equally important to companies are leadership, communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to solve complex, unstructured problems.” This means that supply chain professionals need to be able to dive deep into the data and do the analysis, develop feasible business solutions, and work effectively across the organization to implement them.

“Impacting the day-to-day and moment-by-moment operations to create value for customers is a rewarding experience for any supply chain leader,” Clark says. “Future-looking companies depend on individuals with supply chain and logistics expertise.”