Supply chain

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2008, 12:00am

Multinationals turn to specialists to oversee the strategic management of their operations

When a multinational client raises the subject of global transport, Felinda Romano has a pretty shrewd idea where the discussion is heading. It will touch on the complexities of the modern supply chain, the need to keep a tight rein on costs, and the importance of understanding the means and methods of carriers offering air, sea, road, rail and related services in different parts of the world.

Each time, the facts and comments lead, with a certain degree of inevitability, to broadly the same conclusion. It is that major companies, ever more dependent on their worldwide sourcing and distribution networks, need high-ranking specialists to oversee the strategic management and long-term development of their supply chain operations. With mounting cost implications and the scale of potential risks, it no longer made good business sense to take a piecemeal approach, put everything in the hands of country managers or entrust key decisions to sub-contracted third-party logistics providers.

'Companies need someone at the top to see the bigger transport picture and to drive overall efficiencies and economies of scale,' said Ms Romano, a senior consultant with recruitment firm Connected Group. 'In the past couple of years, they have started to see the supply chain as an integral part of the business and that is why they are creating these roles.'

She noted that the trend towards appointing strategic transport managers with Asia-Pacific responsibilities started with Fortune 500 hi-tech companies. Now, though, demand for individuals handling such regional roles within specialist global teams was taking off, meaning that individuals with the requisite qualifications and background could practically write their own tickets.

The basic requirement was to have at least eight to 10 years' industry experience with, preferably, a degree or master's in logistics or a similar discipline. In addition, employers expected an in-depth understanding of routeing, pricing and capacity planning, good market knowledge and carrier contacts, and a proven track record of project management and cost savings. Ideally, candidates should also have worked on both sides of the supply chain industry, with a carrier or service provider and a shipper or 'client'.

'If hiring for a position, I'm quite particular in asking about the KPIs, deliverables and geographical coverage. I can then work backwards from there and narrow it down,' Ms Romano said. 'Some companies split the job into procurement and optimisation, but a lot want people with a good overview of what is happening in every country, who can go out and make decisions to improve the existing transportation.'

In theory, she said, certain skill sets were transferable between different industries or types of manufacturer. It was still common, though, for employers to lean towards people with a background in the same sector or, for example, in airfreight operations, which could translate quickly into new efficiencies and prospective cost savings.

For the foreseeable future, most such jobs in Asia would be based in Hong Kong or Singapore - the obvious logistics hubs - and perhaps Shanghai.

'This role will increase in importance for multinationals as they see the value it can bring,' Ms Romano said.