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Inside Supply Management Magazine Masthead


The Sky's the Limit


Roberta J. Duffy

March 2006, Inside Supply Management® Vol. 17, No. 3, page 4

Go on. Stretch yourself. You never know what you'll find and what kind of experience you'll reap when you venture out beyond supply management.

The question of the day is: What does Pluto have to do with supply management? This past January, NASA launched New Horizons from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The 1,054-pound spacecraft will reach speeds of more than 47,000 miles per hour, travel about 3 billion miles and then conduct a close-up, in-depth study of Pluto and its moons in 2015.

Talk about seeing the big picture.

When I hear supply management executives talk about their best practices, I constantly hear that this same "big picture" mentality is important — to not only understand the company as a whole, but to have a real appreciation for what is going on in other areas. And not unlike New Horizons, one way today's CPOs accomplish this is through a little exploration.

Sometimes it's on an informal basis, like the hotel supply executive who has taken on special projects with his firm's facilities inspection team, just to see another side of the industry he loves. Sometimes it's on a more formal basis, like the executive who spent some time during his career on the sales side, knowing that he could probably do well at the negotiating table when he could empathize with purchasing professionals at customer companies. Even if it's just developing camaraderie with peers in other business units, the casual conversations that you instigate can go a long way in building rapport that will help when you later approach them with a critical business discussion. Furthermore, it helps you learn a little bit about your place in the universe and spreads a bit of goodwill. (The New Horizons spacecraft carries with it, among other items, the names of 43,000 global citizens.)

The point is that you never know what you're going to find out. NASA officials have certain mission objectives, but admit that, "The most exciting discoveries will likely be the ones we don't anticipate." Talking with finance, human resources, manufacturing, sales and marketing or any other business unit could yield some pleasant surprises for you as well — new supply opportunities, a brief glimpse into a project coming down the pike. Most importantly, you'll be ready when anyone else, such as your CEO, wants to talk about the big picture. Joseph L. Cavinato, Ph.D., CSSL professor of supply management at ISM, has done research surveying CEOs and their perception of supply executives. He says that most CEOs want a CPO who is a business person first and a supply person second. Furthermore, supply metrics will shift to those of the firm as a whole, such as cash generation, economic value add and shareholder value. All of this takes a bit of valor. One executive who moved from leading procurement to be president of a manufacturing division has cited the need for "courageous leadership." This will be your universe.

Hopefully, we'll know a great deal more about Pluto and its moon Charon in about nine years. What progress can you make through exploration in the next nine months or nine weeks? What project team would enlarge your view? What about the next nine days? Who can you meet with and learn from? I challenge you to follow the example of New Horizons and expand yours.

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