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Student Session: Your Career in Supply Management

Proceedings — Session: CC-2
2011 ISM Diversity Summits
February 9-11, 2011
Boca Raton, Florida

Presenter: Joseph L. Cavinato, Ph.D., Thunderbird School of Global Management and Center for Strategic Supply Leadership at ISM

For his interactive student session, "Your Career in Supply Management," Joseph L. Cavinato, Ph.D., highlighted the commonalities among nearly 5,600 personal interviews he has conducted within 900 companies and organizations worldwide since 1999. To ensure accuracy, he met with at least two or three people in each company, representing a variety of departments, not just supply chain.

In the end, these meetings enabled Cavinato to identify a handful of "power capabilities" that will separate future supply management leaders from their peers. These include:

Understanding and supporting the company's business model. As Cavinato explained to the students, this means going beyond working with suppliers, to working with the suppliers' suppliers.

For students just entering the work force, this is especially important, he added. "You've got to consider the business model of the company you're interviewing with," he added.

Marketplace intelligence. As Cavinato explained, this capability goes beyond researching a supplier's financials; it requires supply managers to ask questions like, 'Who's reducing their R&D budget?' and 'Who's in danger of being bought out?'"

As an example, Cavinato cited a former employer — an oil company — where the procurement culture was price-focused. "All the buyers beat up their suppliers on price, as low as US$10 a barrel," he recalled. After awhile, this approach pushed enough of the suppliers out of business to drive up prices. "The challenge then became identifying the suppliers who could endure this kind of price pressure."

Innovation. To clearly illustrate what he means by this broad capability, Cavinato used the diversity summits' student case competition as an example. Teams of supply management students were asked, among other things, to identify expansion opportunities in China for a commercial laundry equipment manufacturer.

"In China, people don't have a lot of room for personal washers and dryers, and they don't have a lot of Laundromats. So, coin-operated Laundromats would be a great opportunity," Cavinato explained. "The next generation of supply management leaders will not only recognize opportunities like these, they'll also promote them. They'll get the ball rolling."

Leading categories of products, services, resources and processes. The key word here is "leading," Cavinato pointed out. "In the future, a successful supply management team will think like entrepreneurs, not just managers of their categories."

Knowing how to lead and manage across the business — and across chains. "You either manage people or you lead them, but you don't do both," Cavinato asserted.

Establishing collaborative relationships (internally and externally). As Cavinato pointed out, supply management professionals are the first people in their organizations to work outside their departments — not finance people, nor IT people, nor human resources.

"We understand where stuff comes from, how it's made and how it's delivered," he explained. "We know how the process works, form supplier to consumer."

"We're the most elegant thinkers in our organizations," Cavinato concluded. "The person we have the most in common with is the CEO."

Questions and Answers

Cavinato led an insightful question-and-answer session with the student attendees following his session.

Q: When I interview for a supply management position, what three skills should I spotlight?

Cavinato: First, a continuing record of accomplishments, regardless of the industries you've worked in. It shows energy, and it shows problem-solving ability.

Second, present a record of developing solutions to problems, both ongoing and new. It shows innovation.

Finally, highlight your ability to transfer skills from role to role and from organization to organization. For the interviewer, it's a game changer if one of the candidates is a predictor — if that person knows to ask questions like, 'What will we do if the product life cycle accelerates?' That ideal candidate looks outside the business and asks, 'Do we know what to do if X happens?'

I'd also recommend researching not only the company you're interviewing with, but its competitors, too.

Q: Beyond the power capabilities you outlined in your session, what's expected of us in the work force?

Cavinato: Don't become an expert in a task. Ask the questions no one has bothered to ask. Be able to converse intelligently with people in all departments. Work on your soft skills.

Q: Besides researching financials, what can I do to increase my market intelligence capabilities?

Cavinato: Talk to consultants, if you know any. Think outside the industry you're in. Read Wired. Form your own conclusions and speculations.

— Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

About ISM Diversity Summits

Every year since 2009, ISM's Black Executive Supply Management Summit (BESMS), Hispanic Supply Management Summit (HSMS) and Women Executive Supply Management Summit (WESMS) have been co-located. Collectively, these events represent the annual ISM Diversity Summits experience hosted by Tempe, Arizona-based Institute for Supply Management™.

All three summits were developed as forums for diverse executives in supply management to come together and share their unique perspectives. Summit attendees learn from thought-leaders and change agents within their fields and representing leading organizations.