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6th September
2011
written by Sarah Lafferty

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Image representing Tim Cook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

This is completely speculative because I’m not sure yet what I think of Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO.  But as someone working with keen interest in the supply chain industry, I like the idea of his appointment and I hope it is part of a nascent, positive trend to promote supply chain professionals into to the director’s chair.

More traditionally in the tech industry, we witness either ruthless sales guys like Larry Ellison and Tom Siebel as CEO or visionary engineers like Steve Jobs and Diane Greene.   Tech industry CFOs rarely get promoted into CEO roles unless the company is struggling financially or operationally (think Iris Software) or there’s recently been a catastrophic breach of governance.

I can understand why first stage CEOs come from sales or engineering.   These are the more natural evangelists, driven either by the prospect of making lots of money or their passionate convictions about technology innovation and design.  But people in these roles can become less capable of continuing the journey when their companies mature unless they actively work to widen their fields of vision.  Relentless emphasis on recognizing revenue can lead to customer satisfaction disasters, product recalls and class action lawsuits, all of which have taken huge chunks out of many an enterprise technology vendor in the boom years including my old company i2 Technologies.  Emphasis on engineering excellence at the expense of usability can result in very cool, sophisticated products that have no practical use in society or yield low or non profit margins.  This discontinued fabric peripheral keyboard by erstwhile British tech start-up Eleksen is an example of the former and was once the company’s flagship product.

The most talented supply chain professionals must, by nature of their roles, view their companies in a joined-up way and therefore cannot make decisions that rob Peter in customer service to pay Paul in sales, if that doesn’t benefit the company as a whole.  They are much more likely to explore ‘what if’ scenarios like: “if we reduce our inventory at the Omaha warehouse to save money this quarter, what will be the impact on our ability to fulfil customer demand over the Christmas holiday?” or “If we source raw materials for our handsets from the Congo, will enough women in Australia still want to buy them?”  The ability to answer these types of questions in order to minimize operational risk and maximize profits is exactly what the modern, organization with all its inherent complexity needs in order to thrive and sustain.

That and enough personal charisma to be able to move people on from the occasional ‘bad hair day‘.

I will be following Tim Cook’s progress with great interest to see how his supply chain expertise contributes to the next stage of the company’s growth.

As ever, I welcome your comments on this topic and would particularly like to hear anecdotes and examples of supply chain professionals in positions of executive leadership.

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