Dialogues

Leaders Of Tomorrow: Understanding The Softer Side Of People Management

In 2004, only eight per cent of Fortune 200 companies had a Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO). Today, the percentage of organisations having someone responsible for overseeing a combination of end-to-end supply-chain functions have increased to 68 per cent. Several prominent companies have even considered tapping leaders with specific global supply chain experience for the CEO role. Due to this phenomenon, Russell Reynolds Associates finds out what traits make CSCOs different from other executives, and how the CSCO role is evolving today.

“One key differentiator amongst other senior executives, is the ability for CSCO to orchestrate strategic partnerships across the whole ecosystem, both internally and externally. CSCOs must exhibit strong influential and communication skills – to understand the business, formulate strategies, and work with stakeholders from the shop floor to the boards,” says Mr Pascal Becotte, Global Leader for the Operations & Supply Chain Officers Practice at Russell Reynolds Associates.

In this issue of Supply Chain Asia magazine, Pascal shares the importance of culture fit, the impact female leaders have on the industry and what millennials can do to develop their leadership skills.

What would you say is the single, most important thing you’ve learnt in your 16 years of search experience?

Leadership is complex, and people are not always who they appear to be. I have learnt in my years of search to never judge a book by its cover. Leadership qualities that worked in the past and today, may no longer be relevant in the future or for the hiring organisation.

It is vital to seriously consider the culture fit and the quiet or softer side of the leaders, instead of just their loud characteristics. Many a time, leaders are hired for having all the right competencies but fired for being unable to fit in with the organisation’s culture. For instance, a confident leader may shut down others’ point of views, or a charismatic leader may veer towards manipulative behaviour under a distress or challenging period.

I believe in over-investing upfront to ensure that the process and the understanding of the leadership role are clear. In the search process, apart from the interviews, deep learning and scientific psychometric analyses should also be applied to better understand and profile the executives on both their loud and quiet attributes; their bright and dark sides.

Future leaders need to understand the importance of humility, and the need to be self-aware in order to lead and thrive in the face of disruptive and transformational changes.

Additionally, with digitalisation impacting across all industries, CSCOs need to understand how they can use technology to their benefit and be comfortable with digital innovation. They need to innovate and rethink business models and understand the interoperability and the business implications.

In your opinion, is there a difference between developing leaders in APAC and the US/Europe? Why or why not?

Development of the leaders is no longer about APAC or US/Europe, especially for CSCO. The role of a CSCO starts with viewing the world as one market, and less about the region.

The development of leaders across the world should be based on openness to innovation and gain multi-geography and multi-cultural experiences. Inclusiveness and humility are the anchor to ensure sustainable leadership to thrive in the long run.

In our studies, almost all global supply chain CEOs (90 per cent), have held senior management positions across two or more business areas. Furthermore, a majority of those executives have experience working abroad (65 per cent), often in two or more countries outside their home country.

Do you see more Asian leaders heading the region’s supply chain and logistics operations in the near future? Why or why not?

In 2004, only eight per cent of Fortune 200 companies employed a CSCO. Today, the percentage of organisations having someone responsible for overseeing a combination of end-to-end supply-chain functions has increased to 68 per cent. With the market’s growth in China and across ASEAN, there are more Asian leaders taking on the leadership opportunity in the supply chain and logistics operations.

There are very distinct dynamics working with multinationals versus chief executive officers and private owned equities in China driving supply chain behaviours and to that extent, we need to ascertain fundamental distinctions in organisational structures, power flows, and market access when considering this question.

In the end, regardless of nationality, the person must be able to head the region’s supply chain efficiently. As the world is getting flatter, more leaders are conversant in multiple languages. The need for them to step up to gain exposure to managing a different country is a good start.

Can you share some of the specific traits that differentiate CSCOs from other senior executives?

The traits of the ideal CSCO 10 years ago are vastly different today. The old CSCO was a cost controller, a procurement expert, and a supply chain driver focused on the upstream supply costs.

Now a CSCO is someone with a true end-to-end business mindset that evolves into a value chain driver.

One key differentiator amongst other senior executives is the ability for CSCO to orchestrate strategic partnerships across the whole ecosystem, both internally and externally. CSCOs must exhibit strong influential and communication skills – to understand the business, formulate strategies, and work with stakeholders from the shop floor to the boards.

Perhaps more than other potential candidates, CSCOs need to be skilled at seeing the bigger picture. They must be comfortable in cutting through bureaucracy to make things happen and confidently lead change when needed.

With multi-geography, multi-cultural experience, CSCOs must be equipped with unique attributes to help them flourish in a general management role. They will benefit from adopting entrepreneurial spirit, strategic long-term focus, and being able to search for innovative solutions in order to thrive in a general-management role in the long-run.

In your opinion, what do women leaders offer to the industry that their men counterparts generally do not?

Balancing diversity with meritocracy and trust seems to be the battle that we are in.

Diversity and inclusiveness will bring along differences of opinion and experiences that can lead to new ideas and value creation. With increased complexities and unpredictability in the markets, it is imperative to bring gender diversity into the industry to consider the perspectives of all constituencies, to have the courage for difficult conversations, to ask the right questions and to enable effective corporate governance and business breakthrough.

How should a young talent today quickly develop his or her leadership skills?

Today, millennials are an easily bored workforce. There is a need to provide diversity in their career track to develop them.

For example, a great engineer can be rotated to take on a human capital role or project, and minimally go through three internal functions, prior to gaining experience in his or her first profit and loss function. This will build a strong foundation to groom the individual. Cross-functional and cross geographical experiences are key to success.

The other key element, which is always missing out, is the guidance on how to best develop them as team leaders. They should learn how to coach, mentor and lead their teams effectively.

As such, apart from fulfilling financial key performance indicators (KPIs) and other success metrics, leadership skills should be assessed and incorporated as a core KPI.

With more of supply chain operations being managed autonomously, what must the next generation of supply chain talent offer to remain relevant?

With the digitalisation impacting across all industries, CSCO needs to understand how they can use technology to their benefit and be comfortable with digital innovation. They need to innovate and rethink the business models and understand the interoperability and the business implications.

As part of a global, interconnected supply-and-demand network with profound interdependencies, CSCOs need to risk manage and plan for business continuity in times of network outage, cyberattacks or natural disasters. Their roles are crucial. For example, if you are in the healthcare industry, how can you send the life-saving supplies to the desired destination even when your IT system is down? Connecting the dots with and without digitalisation needs to be thought through, and this job lies with the CSCO.

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