Leading supply chains: the five attributes you’ll need

Date : 16 April 2019

We’ve just published our first report in IGD’s Supply Chain Leaders series, reflecting the views of over 100 senior figures from more than 60 businesses around the world.  

The survey was run to help us get a better understanding of food and consumer goods supply chains from those who know them best: the people who actually run them. Our respondents reflected a wide range of job titles, including Chief Operating Officer, Global Supply Director, Customer Logistics Director and Head of Supply Chain. 

In gathering such a variety of ideas and experiences, we have been able to map out the challenges and opportunities facing our industry and so find the capabilities needed to remain competitive in an ever-changing world. However, the survey has also revealed an array of achievements across the supply chain that will, we hope, inspire others in the industry with new ideas for future success.  

The growing demand for leaders and leadership skills  

We know from previous engagement that challenges exist in both recruiting supply chain leaders and in providing leadership training for prospective leaders. To succeed, businesses need to secure skills and talent for mid-upper level supply chain roles. Equally, they must develop those they already have, because leadership is the number one area in which individuals request training1. So, effective leadership is absolutely crucial to delivering an effective supply chain: both now and in future.  

To create and maintain a leading supply chain, a supply chain leader must create an environment that delivers success over the long term; supporting the leaders of the future to emerge, develop and thrive.  

The lay of the land  

Our survey demonstrated clearly the growing scale and breadth of the challenge facing supply chain leaders, and the increasing demand on their time and skills. One respondent reflected that “just ‘keeping up' takes far more effort than 'winning' did five years ago.” 

Before responding to challenges however, you need to know what you are dealing with. So where better to start than by describing the current food and consumer goods supply chain environment as seen through the eyes of leaders?  

To flourish, you’ll need to: 

  1. Reduce your operating cost: 30% say driving out operating cost is the top current challenge food and consumer goods supply chains face.  
  2. Make sense of complexity: 85% say complexity has increased over the last five years with 29% identifying complexity with range and routes to market as their top current challenge. Complexity is here to stay. 
  3. Do more with less: 71% say their responsibility is broader compared with five years ago. Over the same period, one third have seen their people resource decrease. In these conditions, those who innovate win. 
  4. Be more commercially minded: 62% say the role of a supply chain leader has become more commercial compared with five years ago.  
  5. Be part of a network, not a sequence: 83% say there is more emphasis on collaborative and cross-functional leadership. Developing partnerships is the number one capability needed.  

A plan to win  

Success against this backdrop can be achieved by developing specific attributes. We asked supply chain leaders how their capability needs are changing: what are their strengths, and what do they need, both as an individual and as a supply chain more broadly? 

Their responses led us to develop the ‘Five Es’. These are the five must-have attributes that embody both a supply chain leader and a leading supply chain. So, if you’re part of a supply chain or happen to lead one, you’ll need to be: 

  1. Empirical: analytical and evidence-based 
  2. Entrepreneurial: seeking commercial opportunities 
  3. End-to-end: part of a supply network 
  4. Evolved: not constrained by one vision of the future 
  5. Enterprising: doing more with less 

We’ve summarised the five attributes below, and the report provides more detail and context for their selection. 

Next up 

Over the coming weeks we’ll be looking at the things you can do to accelerate progress in each of the five areas: exploring suggestions from survey participants and reviewing cutting-edge examples that you can use to guide you on your journey. In the meantime, read part one in our Supply Chain Leaders series, if you haven’t already, and look out for part two! 

Our acknowledgements to those companies who participated in our survey, some of which are shown below: 


1 Mind the Skills Gaps, Supply Chain Analysis, IGD 
2,3 Supply Chain Leaders: a view from the top on leading food and consumer goods supply chains – part 1, Supply Chain Analysis, IGD

Chris Irish

Chris Irish

Supply Chain Insight Manager

This is the first in a series of reports detailing the key findings from IGD’s supply chain leaders global survey.

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