Conference Season Coda

AMR Research's Supply Chain Executive Conference, held annually at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the end of May/beginning of June, remains one of my favorite supply chain gatherings. Not just because I live in the Phoenix area, such that attending the conference involves nothing more than a 40-minute foray through the horrendous traffic on the 101N across Scottsdale. And not just because the AMR event falls at the end of the protracted conference season each year, by which time I'm ready to sit back and be talked at just one last time.

It is true that the keynote speakers have varied in terms of their relevance to the supply chain executives attending the event — Colin Powell's speech a few years back offered lessons in leadership applicable to any executive aspiring to a C-level suite, while Michael Eisner's story of Disney's transformation was entertaining, to be sure, but seemed far-removed from the concerns of the practitioners in the audience.

However, the AMR event continues to appear at the top of my "favorite supply chain conferences" list because the content is consistently top-notch, the analyst-led classroom sessions always cover the current laundry list of top supply chain "hot topics" and trends, and the conversation with the gathered senior executives is always insightful and occasionally piquant — particularly when fueled by cerveza and vino at the evening events.

The theme of this year's conference, "The Economy of Abundance: Rebuilding the Infrastructure of the Global Supply Chain for Sustainable Growth," seemed to reflect the general mood of the attendees. I had more conversations that focused on how companies were moving forward than on how companies had suffered through the "Great Recession." I wouldn't call it optimism just yet, but perhaps more of an encouraging focus on the tasks at hand combined with a willingness to consider where a given company's supply chain needs to be headed now that we're more out of the woods than in.

The conference also is notable as the forum in which AMR releases its annual Supply Chain Top 25, a list of top performing companies drawn primarily from the ranks of the Fortune Global 500 and rated based on public financial data — return on assets, inventory turns and revenue growth — and votes tallied from among AMR analysts and practitioners who participate in AMR's supply chain peer group.

The list, in its sixth iteration, is admittedly tilted toward large public companies, and toward North American-based enterprises, and it has tended to include the same "usual suspects" time and again. This year's Top 25, for example, was led — for the third year in a row — by Apple (an iPad was a giveaway at the awards dinner, but that seemed more of a happy coincidence, as the prize was provided by the dinner's sponsor, Kinaxis), followed by Procter & Gamble and Cisco Systems. Wal-Mart stores ranked fourth, and Dell rounded out the top five. Perhaps the only surprise on the manufacturer- and retailer-centric list was McDonald's, which was included because the "productized nature of its offerings makes it operate like a manufacturing supply chain."

AMR's stated goal in producing the list is to provide a benchmark against which other enterprises can rate their progress toward supply chain excellence. And Kevin O'Marah, group vice president at AMR, suggested a few lessons that could be taken away from those on the list. "In designing your own supply chain strategy, take a cue from the leaders," O'Marah said. "Work outside-in, starting with your customers and working your way back and around your network of trading partners to design a profitable response. Remember that one size does not fit all, define how many supply chain types you have, and design a customized response for each."

What conferences did you attend this season, and which proved most useful for you in your job? And which events will you be looking forward to attending next year? Drop me a line at areese@sdcexec.com to share your thoughts — or, if you're planning to attend AMR's event next year (assuming that AMR's new owner, Gartner, continues the conference), let me know and I'll point you to the best cowboy steak in town. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

— Andrew K. Reese
Editor, Supply & Demand Chain Executive

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