- As 2022 fades, the question is what lessons supply chain pros will take with them into the future.
- The weak points in our supply chains are now clear at the macro level.
- The fixes, however, will be piecemeal and harder to put together.
- 100 People Transforming Business is an annual list highlighting people across industries who are changing the way the world does business. Check out the full list for 2022.
There were plenty of supply chain disruptions before 2020, but in hindsight, they all pale in comparison to the coronavirus pandemic and its many ongoing aftershocks.
Seeing disruptions to everything from toilet paper to cars to microchips, investors, executives, and consumers gained a new appreciation for supply chains and the people that work to keep them moving.
As 2022 fades, the question has become: What will those supply chain professionals take with them into the future as stresses ease?
The weak points in our supply chains are now clear at the macro level. The fixes, however, will be piecemeal, since every product's supply chain is a constellation of individual businesses, often subject to market forces and government regulation all over the world.
See the full chain
Early in the pandemic, retailers desperate to fill the shelves quickly realized how little visibility they had into their supply chains. From making and buying goods to shipping and delivering finished products, supply chains are made up of dozens if not hundreds of businesses. Getting eyes on all of that complexity is a big priority moving forward.
Altana CEO Evan Smith is attempting to draw a map suppliers of raw materials — worldwide — to make changes in supply chains a lot faster and easier.
"The problem is almost never that your direct supplier is using forced labor, or belching greenhouse gasses, or isn't delivering on time. It's their suppliers and their suppliers' suppliers," Smith told Insider. "That's all in a fog today."
It's not just suppliers. Dave Clark, Flexport's new CEO, wants to provide so much visibility and certainty when it comes to moving freight, that the firm can dramatically cut the wasted dollars and emissions spent on moving excess stuff around.
"If we are successful, we will have removed tremendous waste from the world – wasted time, inventory, natural resources and money – freeing that capital for other more value-added activities, while reducing consumer impact on the planet," Clark said.
Responsiveness is the aim of many supply chain innovators as we move past the worst pandemic shocks.
"I've gone from thinking, let's be really good about forecasting the future and predicting what's going to happen, to, let's build a system and a company that's just extremely responsive to whatever is happening and is super transparent about what is happening," trucking tech startup Convoy's CEO Dan Lewis told Insider.
Ask the big questions
While businesses are trying to make sure they have a clear picture of their supply chains to gain agility and cut waste, the companies that run the trucks and ships at the heart of their operations have emerged from the pandemic asking big questions.
Teamsters President Sean O'Brien is pushing hard for reforms at UPS and beyond. Federal Maritime Commission chairman Daniel Maffei is pushing for change from the giant ocean shipping companies he regulates. He thinks taking on these companies' long-standing policies and practices could improve flow way beyond US ports.
Maffei told Insider that "supply chain" is something of a misnomer. "Chain implies a one-dimensionalism that isn't there," he said. Huge lines of cargo ships on US shores made people think there were problems with the ports, but ports were clogged because of problems further inland.
It's an ecosystem that needs a holistic view, Maffei said. "Everything affects everything else."
It's that systemic view of supply chains that gained ground in the last two years. And it's leaders like these that will try to make it stick. One place where that work has already succeeded is Best Buy, according to Becca Meinz, the retailer's VP end-to-end supply chain strategy.
"We built a new muscle in the middle of the pandemic," Meinz told Insider. "The happy outcome of that is that we got to be very good at responding to where the market was."
Meinz, the first to hold her position, not only heads Best Buy's strategy for consumer returns, she has influence over the products and sales operations so that the entire company can optimize to reduce returns.
"We really feel like we've cracked the code on how to pull this together as an organization," she said.