A career at the heart of business
Whilst “the supply chain” is a handy expression which represents as the links in a chain all those businesses and processes through which goods pass on their way from their point of origin to their eventual end consumer, it’s really a bit of a simplification. Take for example a company that makes cans of soup. Such a company won’t deal directly with the end consumers of its products but will supply customers such as supermarkets who in turn make them available for sale in their stores. One supermarket chain will have many stores, each of which having many customers. These end consumers are people like you and me, who may shop in a variety of outlets for their tin of soup – we make our own minds up! Each supermarket chain will also have several suppliers of canned soup. Each soup manufacturer will deal with many supermarket chains and will also have a range of companies providing it with the ingredients for its products, for example, various meats, vegetables, cereals, flavorings and of course empty cans and lids. A company manufacturing cans will be supplied by metal producers who in turn will be supplied by mining companies, and so on. Most of the companies in such a chain operate independently of one another.
So you can see, “supply chain” doesn’t really describe what is in effect a complex web of relationships where one party’s suppliers may be another's customers, where several suppliers may all share a common customer and several customers share common suppliers. Now, if you think that this is already getting complicated, think about what is going on around these webs of relationships and their flows of goods. Each consists of a set of inter-connected parts such as: the materials and goods supplied; the network infrastructure across which they will be moved - roads, railways, waterways, etc.; the physical facilities such as warehouses, ports, railheads, airports, etc. through which they must pass; the transport mechanisms used – trucks, trains, ships, etc.; supply flows and routes - from supply source to point of consumption, with intermediate storage locations to aid transport efficiency and buffer supply and demand differences; manufacturing and conversion processes, management and administrative processes and systems - how are items ordered, replenished and accounted for; commercial arrangements – are these processes carried out “in-house” or contracted out to third parties? Well – that’s business – without getting all this sorted out businesses can’t work.
You might be thinking my brain hurts, this is so complicated, it must be impossible for anyone to sort it out – but you’d be wrong. You don’t think twice about how your breakfast cornflakes got on the table or about how an internet retailer was able to supply your latest electronic gizmo the day after you ordered it, even though it was made in the Far East. These supply chains do work and it’s people like you who make them work.
Fulfilling burgeoning consumer needs is fuelling the need for longer and more diverse but faster, more flexible and responsive supply chains. The problem is that the need for these supply chains is growing more quickly than the availability of qualified and talented staff to plan, develop and run them. The strange fact is that careers in supply chain and logistics management offer an unmatched range of rewarding challenges - from strategic planning of factory and logistics infrastructure and the management of their development projects, through the buzz of planning and running complex, carefully-timed operations with large elements of people management, the satisfaction of striking the best commercial deals, the thrill of using the latest information and communications technology to bring about new and better ways of working, to the sheer intellectual stimulation of complex problem solving in fast-changing business environments.
Managing supply chains is about managing complexity, unpredictability and detail while retaining the ability to take a ‘helicopter’ view of situations to determine the most appropriate course of action. If you think you are equal to this sort of challenge, then a career in the supply chain sector will certainly offer the variety, stimulation and opportunity you are seeking. We need bright people who can think clearly under pressure and who are not afraid of a challenge.
The NOVUS degree courses provide a guaranteed route to such a career, which will truly be at the heart of business.