Executive Memo: Climbing Toward Success in Supply Chain Transformation

Five elements that comprise the keys to success in any enterprise

Back in mid-2004 I was fortunate enough to participate in a mountaineering seminar on Mount Rainier, outside Seattle. Led by a pair of crack guides, Craig and Liam, experienced mountaineers both, our small group of five client climbers went through several days of training in basic techniques before arising far too early on summit day to make the slog up the final three-thousand-some feet to the highest point in the state of Washington. We all made it up, we all made it down, mission accomplished.

The Rainier experience served to remind me of the extent to which five elements comprise the keys to success in any enterprise: the proper preparation, the appropriate tools, the right team members, the necessary leadership and a positive mental attitude. The proper mix of those five elements is what allows a team to overcome what mountaineers refer to, with clinical detachment, as objective hazards — the falling rock, the sudden whiteout, the sprained ankle at an inopportune time.

I was reminded of these five elements in the course of working on the cover feature for this issue of Supply & Demand Chain Executive ("Pros to Know"). Each year our Pros to Know issue highlights supply and demand chain practitioners who are leading the way in driving competitive advantage by implementing new processes and technologies in their companies' value chains, as well as thought-leaders from the solution provider and consulting sides. In reviewing the large number of submissions from candidates for this year's Pros to Know, it struck me that the success factors for supply chain transformation in a large, dynamic enterprise are not so different as one might imagine from the keys to success in reaching the top of a 14,411-foot dormant volcano. By doing the necessary planning and training, selecting the right solutions, assembling the best and the brightest team, ensuring executive sponsorship and bringing enthusiasm and a can-do attitude to the office every day, supply chain leaders have achieved significant results and continue to raise the bar ever higher in terms of what constitutes "best in class."

Of course, supply and demand chain executives do not typically set about transforming their company's supply chain simply "because it's there," to borrow a phrase from Everest pioneer George Mallory. But surely the prospect of implementing major changes within an organization represents, for many of these executives, the same sort of challenge, on a professional level, as the thought of scaling a demanding route up a mountain does for a committed climber. Much of the return on investment in effecting that transformation or in scaling that peak cannot be drawn from any business case but rather comes in the satisfaction of knowing that we found, within ourselves, the fortitude to carry through with our plans to the end. In the end, what mattered was not so much the last step that my climbing mates — Karin, Jorn, Brian and Tom — and I took to stand on top of the mountain, but all the hard-won steps that came before and that brought us to that moment of triumph.

As we move forward in 2005, Supply & Demand Chain Executive will continue to provide you, our readers, with the knowledge necessary to make each of the steps along your own path more rewarding. In the meantime, should you have any questions or comments about the magazine — or if you have a climbing story of your own to share — feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I'll look forward to hearing from you.