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Guest Post: An MBA student’s perspective on the ISM Meeting 2019

This week’s guest post is from my MBA student, Nikhil Singh, who accompanied me to the recent Institute for Supply Management conference in Houston.  I enjoyed hearing his perspectives on the sessions, and invited him to post to my blog.  So here it is!


One of the many perks an MBA student has, is highly subsidized or even better, free entry to conferences and events! I got twice lucky as an MBA student at NC State, getting to attend two supply chain events. The first was the CSCMP Edge Conference in Nashville last year, and more recently the ISM Conference in Houston. I was self-motivated to attend, as I felt these meetings provide a great platform to meet people and share ideas and perspective. The second reason was motivated by my mentor and supply chain professor Dr. Robert Handfield to attend. I’m glad I took his advice, as the meeting was an awe-inspiring experience, the icing on the cake was that I would get to listen to his talk on combating counterfeiting in the supply chain, an issue I care about passionately.

What were memorable moments from this year?

One of my memorable moments had to be Carly Fiorina’s keynote speech, the most inspiring was her perspective on leadership: “To be a leader we need character, be able to collaborate, display humility and empathy, and above all, courage”. I thought it was a beautiful way to sum up the meaning of leadership.

Another highlight was a presentation by Dr. Robert Handfield from NC State and Dr. Thomas Choi from Arizona State University, taking an in-depth look at counterfeiting in the supply chain. Over 1 trillion dollars’ worth of counterfeit goods was traded in 2013, and that number will double by 2022. Dr. Handfield advocated a process driven approach, applicable across all industries, to identify, address and prevent this growing pain in the chain. It is very important to ensure chain of custody and work with suppliers to develop innovative technologies to track and trace products as they move through the supply chain.

I enjoyed Charlotte de Brabandt’s presentation Digitizing the Human Touch: Transforming Talent and Impact of Young Professionals. Charlotte explained how younger generations who are just entering the workforce would result in companies having to adapt to the working conditions by adopting a flexible mentality. She predicted that millennials will change their job twenty-five times in their lives! It would be an understatement to say that this figure wasn’t eye-opening, even to a millennial like me.

Lastly, but certainly not least, has to be the people whom I have met at the conference. I found that the conference this year encompassed exciting energy, which was also filled with hope, curiosity, and eagerness of all those involved to prepare for the road ahead.

What were the key takeaways from this year? 

The Skill Gap:  A common underlying theme of the conference was that companies were struggling to find the right talent to build the next generation of supply chain personnel. Many roles will be automated and/or no longer needed in the future, and there will be a need to build a robust talent strategy to enable teams to be successful. This automation will impact recruiting strategies, job descriptions, KPIs/metrics, operating models, roles that we have/don’t have any longer, training programs, etc. According to a recent Hackett study, 83% of the critical skills will need to be business skills vs. technical skills. One of the reasons I went back to school was to upgrade my skills to be ready for this change, however I did not realize how acute this issue was.

Digital Transformation: This year, the focus moved from introducing the possibilities of new digital technologies, to how one can go about accomplishing this transformation. The conference had a strong focus on operating models, strategies, processes and talent management It was nice to hear from industry experts on the lessons learned, successes and failures as well. The procurement function has experienced much growth over the past 15 years and is viewed as an enabler of driving innovation and change.

Supplier Capability & Trust: Technology has enabled a closer association to suppliers and their role in becoming a innovation enabler. Suppliers have enabled organizations to create sustainable, secure supply chains, which are agile, flexible, and tech-enabled to help create sustainable and secure solutions. The difference between the top-performing suppliers and the bottom, was their inability to shift from a “us vs. them” approach. Dr. Handfield`s presentation for example, focused on collaboration and transparency as the key components of success in combating counterfeiting in the supply chain. The focus should be on learning from each other, co-invest in ideas and experiments and mitigate risk by failing forward.

As an MBA student at NC State, I am delighted and honored to be part of such a passionate, innovative and driven function. The conference has opened my eyes to many things, as well as learning invaluable lessons, which I can harness not only in my MBA but as a professional. So, a big thank you to NC State and my professor, for encouraging me to attend this meeting.