It’s hard to find an upside amid more than a year of mounting tariff and trade uncertainty, but Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of the Association for Supply Chain Management, is happy with at least one consequence of the current business environment — supply chain professionals have rarely been more valued.
"When the president starts talking about supply chain, I think we’ve reached an inflection point in terms of the concept being understood in the market and from consumers," Eshkenazi told Supply Chain Dive at the ASCM 2019 conference in Las Vegas last week.
Though he wasn’t necessarily pleased with the context of President Trump’s tweets regarding U.S. companies changing their sourcing to manufacture in the U.S. amid tariffs, Eshkenazi said Trump’s tweets call attention to the supply chain in a previously rare way.
He equated the shift in trade policy and mounting tariffs to the upset of a natural disaster — albeit a long one — which supply chains have been dealing with since the origin of the words.
"The source of [the disruption] is not operational; it is external," said Eshkenazi. "But the response is no different than anything you would see with the tsunami in Japan or the hurricanes in the Southeast. Organizations are finding solutions and planning appropriately to respond to these challenges."
Major CEOs have been bringing supply chain executives to greater prominence too, inviting them onto earnings calls in recent months to tout their efforts to mitigate tariffs or underline new supply chain efficiencies that make companies more resilient and competitive.
Anecdotal evidence abounds, but the objective proof of the growth of supply chains as a strategic advantage in business is the slow rise of the position of chief supply chain officer (CSCO).
Macy’s and Walgreens appointed their first CSCOs this year citing a need to bring the end-to-end supply chain into one single portfolio — reflecting the modern view of the supply chain as serving the consumer.
Eshkenazi said based on some informal "back of the envelope" math, there are likely 200 to 300 CSCOs in the world. He’d like to see a few hundred more.
The role of the supply chain professional is likely to grow at least as long as the trade war persists, but Eshkenazi said there are plenty of disruptions left to contend with, even if tariffs went away tomorrow.
“[The trade war] really doesn’t change the job of the supply chain professional," he said. "This is part and parcel of their responsibility. How to ensure sustainability of their production and their operations irrespective of political, economic, geopolitical, terrorism and environmental risk. This is another risk profile. Is it more insidious? In some cases yes. Are they able to control it? No.”