SCEF Focuses on Leading Supply Chains Through Uncertainty

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In response to the continuing global economic recession, the Spring 2009 Supply Chain Executive Forum (SCEF) focused on an issue that is at the forefront of most of our minds: How do we mitigate uncertainly during times of recession, and develop strategies and practices to facilitate reemergence going forward?

Held on April 22nd and 23rd and hosted by the Georgia Tech Supply Chain & Logistics Institute (SCL), the biannual Forum unites executives from manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, transportation providers, third-party logistics providers, and IT firms to foster supply chain integration and to respond to current supply chain challenges such as this one.

Dr. C. John Langley, Director of Supply Chain Executive Forum and SCL Professor of Supply Chain Management, welcomed the group to campus and encouraged the participants to consider these six key questions during the day long discussions:

* What types of "uncertainty" are being faced by supply chain managers today?
* What are the leadership needs and challenges that relate to the management of supply chain uncertainty?
* Of what importance is "flexibility" to understanding and solving supply chain problems?
* How can supply chain flexibility be measured and valued?
* Once appropriate initiatives have been identified to help lead supply chains through uncertainty, what barriers or challenges do you see gaining support from companies in getting started with a recovery agenda?
* To what extent should supply chain management be viewed as a key resource to mitigating or eliminating major types of uncertainty faced by business organizations?

Dr. James Tompkins, President and CEO of the consulting firm Tompkins Associates, provided the opening keynote on "Transforming Economic Adversity to Opportunity." In his discussion of "How Companies Should Prepare for the Return to Profitable Growth," Tompkins celebrated the Great Recession as the "foundation for the Great Comeback." He reminded the audience of the cyclical nature of the economy and urged companies to retain their talent and to develop their comeback plans in preparation for the forthcoming period of regrowth.

Dr. David Simchi-Levi, Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chief Science Officer of the IBM Company ILOG, discussed "Managing Uncertainty through Increased Supply Chain Flexibility." Simchi-Levi introduced flexibility as the solution to rising energy costs, rising labor costs, and rising customer expectations. He enumerated methods to achieve flexibility by standardizing product parts, by training a flexible work force, by employing Lean manufacturing techniques, and by designing for capacity redundancy.

The Forum then divided into smaller groups for executive break-out sessions that sought to target specific areas of supply chain uncertainty with strategies of integration and flexibility. Panels examined the difficulty of quantifying flexibility and the ability to overcome organizational barriers. The executive panels reported back to the group anticipated obstacles and proposed solutions to incorporating early recovery agendas.

Bringing in an international perspective, the SCEF concluded with a presentation about the Georgia Tech Executive Masters in International Logistics (EMIL) Program's 2009 residence in the Asia-Pacific region. Dr. John Vande Vate, Professor and Faculty Director of EMIL, and Mr. Greg Andrews, EMIL Managing Director, conveyed the "Impact on Current Economic Turmoil on Supply Chains." Their observations examined the role of China as an emerging world power as the country continues to invest aggressively abroad and as the RMB becomes an increasingly dominant regional currency. The EMIL directors reinforced Dr. Tompkins' message, contrasting short-term responses to recession to long-term strategies that are "careful not to sacrifice long-term viability at the alter of short-term profitability."

The Spring 2009 Supply Chain Executive Forum marked the second year in a row that SCL and the SCEF cosponsored the event with the Atlanta Chapter of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP). The jointly-sponsored portion of the meeting was held on the first day of the SCEF, concentrating on the issue of "Getting Green from Green: Bottom Line Results and the Sustainable Supply Chain."

On the first day, Dr. Peter Klaus, Professor at Fraunhofer Institute in Nurnberg, Germany, dictated the "Greening Logistics in Europe: A 30-Years Tale of Success and Failures." Lang Herndon, Vice President of Allied Waste, then introduced the idea of "The Triple Bottom Line: Economics/Environment/Corporate Responsibility."

Janet Flores, Senior Vice President of NFI Industries, spoke of "Inside the Box: How Green Buildings and Operations Are Transforming the Supply Chain."

Also, an insightful executive panel session included Jim Butts from C.H. Robinson, Dennis Flynn fromCoca-Cola North America, Tom Sanderson of Transplace, and Ben Cubitt of Rock-Tenn. Finally, Elizabeth Fretheim, Director of Business Strategy and Sustainability for Logistics at Wal-Mart Stores, discussed "Supply Chain Efficiencies and Sustainability - It's Not Just the Right Thing to Do."

The next meeting of the Supply Chain Executive Forum is scheduled for October 7-8, 2009. For more information on how to become a member and participate in the Supply Chain Executive Forum, please call the Supply Chain and Logistics Institute at 404-894-2343, or visit


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    Barbara Christopher
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