Last week, we held our annual Supply Chain Leaders Forum in Orlando. It was an exciting in-person reunion for our community of COOs and heads of large global supply chains.
The theme of this year’s conference was Our Supply Chain Renaissance. If you are wondering why we should look back hundreds of years for inspiration, there are more parallels than you might realize between today’s world and the middle of the last millennium.
Of course, there was the large health pandemic that significantly disrupted global society and dramatically changed social and work models. But there’s also the flood of new ideas and innovations coming from across humanity. The technical innovations of that earlier time — the compass and the printing press — are today’s control towers and generative AI tools.
And just as in the Middle Ages, a renaissance has emerged today from a period of destructive chaos. This has unlocked an opportunity for us to rethink our partnerships, businesses and organizations.
Looking across the community we see a tremendous opportunity for both individual and collective progress, particularly in ESG. Ecosystem partnerships require scale to be effective and it is gatherings like Leaders Forum where our community can come together to learn from one another and redefine “precompetitive.”
This year’s event also highlighted best practices for driving future growth alongside the business in a heightened risk environment. Finally, we explored the rich intersection between digital transformation and people, answering questions such as:
- How are leading supply chains redefining the skills, roles, relationships and structures required for next level engagement and performance in their organizations?
- And how are leaders accelerating cultural change and innovation through the creative use of technology?
What Did We Learn?
We had a stellar line up of executive speakers at this year’s event from Schneider Electric, Microsoft, Unilever, Intel, Shell, Reckitt and Ecolab.
We were privileged to be joined by Alan Jope, Unilever’s CEO, whose keynote drove home the message that being purpose-driven is also good for business — driving growth, lowering long-term costs and attracting and retaining the best talent. Operating in this way is also imperative to address the concurrent climate emergency, loss of nature and rampant social inequality that impact us personally and professionally.
Reggie Ecclissato, Unilever’s chief business operations and supply chain officer, joined us on stage for a fireside chat. Reggie’s remit, spanning customer service, supply chain capabilities and IT, made for a fascinating Q&A with the audience.
Here are some key takeaways from keynotes and group discussions at this year’s event:
On driving collective progress through extended ecosystems:
- Several executives spoke to the power of financial incentives and disincentives in driving ESG goals such as net zero Scope 3 carbon emissions. This includes internal accounting to bake the cost of carbon into P&L decisions and the award of additional business to suppliers who are leading on emissions reduction.
- A large group of players from across the high-tech value chain stood up a not-for-profit coalition focused on leveraging the data of individual suppliers, partners, customers and industry analysts to provide more accurate and reliable information on “true demand” for key components. The goal is to improve everyone’s forecast and ultimately mitigate the bullwhip effect in the ecosystem.
- Several food and beverage companies are partnering to incentivize regenerative agricultural practices and greater use of renewable power sources in localities where they commonly source.
On partnering for growth in a risky environment:
- A consumer product company is taking a “one-team” approach with its commercial, engineering and finance partners. Together they have created an options mindset for rapid decision making in the face of supply constraints. It also launched a cross-functional effort to reformulate products and packaging to unlock capacity and agility, and to eliminate material and packaging waste.
- Many spoke about the rising geopolitical tensions between the West and China and their diversification strategies — “China Plus X” or regional build-outs in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Mexico.
- In my opening keynote, I shared some provocative research from Gartner highlighting the benefits of supply chain “antifragility.” That is, not just building the ability to recover quickly, but investing in being stronger and more profitable than competitors in turbulent times to exploit opportunities for growth.
On the intersection of talent and digital:
- Many leaders shared how they have moved toward greater regional and local empowerment for innovation and operational decision making, based on global process and technology platforms.
- Several companies described making massive investments to strew sensors across their operations and then building AI platforms on top to better monitor and manage local and E2E product flows.
- An apparel retailer is thinking about Generation Alpha as its next customers and observing that while Gen Zs will be vocal on social media when they disapprove of your company’s actions and positions, Gen As will simply disengage and disappear.
It was an inspiring two days together at Leaders Forum. We are excited to reconvene this esteemed group of leaders at our co-hosted North American (Nike: July 12-13, BAE Systems: Oct. 26) and European (Diageo: Oct. 4-5) Leaders in Action events.
VP Distinguished Advisor
Gartner Supply Chain
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