Supply Chain

From Point A to Point B: Careers in Supply Chain

An interview with Marva Bailer, Board Member at Women in Technology

Q: Tell us about career opportunities in supply chain and what that might look like today.

A supply chain involves every step of getting a product to the customer. Supply chains are often very big and complex, and they’re now being automated. When we’re talking about supply chains, we’re including fields such as legal, engineering, manufacturing, and tech. In addition, we find people with expertise in marketing, negotiations, finance, and global business working in supply chains. All of these occupations and expertise come together under a general umbrella of supply chain management. 

Let’s talk for a moment about the state of Georgia, for example, where I live. In Georgia alone, we have over 140 technology associations, each focusing on a different area like cloud computing, diversity, and supply chain. 

UPS is headquartered here, creating a big ecosystem in Atlanta. While most people know UPS for package delivery, many don't realize that they own a fleet of airplanes, also making them an airline. 

Separately, think about medical surgery and supply chains. Suppose a surgeon in Atlanta has to do an organ transplant, but the organ is in California. In that case, UPS plays a crucial role in the supply chain, making sure medical items reach their destination in perfect condition.

Another aspect of the supply chain is loading transportation. Companies like Norfolk Southern use math and science to optimize how cargo is loaded. Working with Norfolk Southern taught me that crossing certain materials across different borders requires legal intervention. 

In other words, there are many different ways to work within the overall Supply Chain space.

Q: How does AI impact supply chain?

AI is all about data, which is foundational to every industry, including supply chain. What AI excels at is connecting diverse data sources and enabling them to communicate. For instance, consider an assembly line for cars. You're not just building cars. With modern technology like the Internet of Things (IoT), you're collecting data from the car about the driver's experience. This data can influence the manufacturing process and product improvements, such as a new braking system based on drivers' braking patterns.

Before AI, we were making progress, but we weren't fast. Now, AI accelerates the process, allowing businesspeople with the right algorithms to manage what once required hard-to-find and expensive data scientists.

Q: How do international trade policies affect the supply chain?

One area to look at is patents. Patents are a great way to track where the market is going. Currently, there's a sharp rise in AI-related patents, making it a promising area for careers, especially for those who want to travel and get experience in other countries.

The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain. Many businesses had preferred or isolated suppliers from specific countries. If, for any reason, a supplier became inaccessible, it disrupted the entire supply chain. Additionally, with rising costs of goods, companies like Tesco in the UK faced challenges. Known for having great prices and great value, they had to find ways to cut costs in their supply chain.

It's essential to approach supply chains with innovative thinking. What may seem low-cost might actually be high-risk. Assessing these risks and establishing new partnerships becomes a task for professionals like lawyers, actuaries, and partnership creators.

Q: What advice would you give to someone with a degree in business, engineering, or any other field looking to explore a career in supply chain?

The good news is because of the pandemic, supply chains have been recognized as crucial for economic growth. This wasn't necessarily the case five years ago. While you could type “supply chain” on job boards and do your search that way, here are a few other words that might lead to interesting career options within this growing field: 

  1. Procurement: This means buying goods and services.
  2. Sourcing: This is about finding those goods and services.
  3. Diversity Suppliers: If you're passionate about equity and supporting underserved communities or small businesses, this is a niche you might want to consider. It is often a joint role with finance and HR.
  4. Category Management: It’s a good space if you're interested in a specific category like real estate or sustainability. 

Q: What overall career exploration advice would you give someone just starting out?

I always tell people to cast a wide net across various companies and talk to a lot of different people.

When you set up your LinkedIn account, it's not like you create your profile, put your picture there, and then leave it. This is your resource, and think of it as a discovery tool. 

You should immediately follow at least four business publications. It could be the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, or India Times. Whatever it is, pick four. Otherwise, the subscriptions for those publications could cost $500 a year, but on LinkedIn, following them is free. You're going to get the top news, and you'll start seeing what's interesting.

Next, pick five people to follow. These could be CEOs of companies, thought leaders, or movie stars. 

Once you get an idea of what sounds interesting to you, follow professional associations. You are going to find a ton of them on LinkedIn. Pick three associations; don't kill yourself. That way, you're going to start seeing the talk and the articles. 

Some of those people and organizations have Instagram accounts. That's also a great way to get information. Only after following them for a while can you start thinking about careers.

When it comes to careers, don't put yourself in a box. A lot of careers are not degree-dependent. Even if you go to school for finance, you could still be in supply chain because, in reality, supply chain rolls into finance.

Don't think finance means I need to do accounting and close the books. You just need to think of it as a skill and then think of the application of that skill as a career.

Q: Looking at your background, you've done a lot within the grand umbrella of tech. How did you get into cybersecurity?

People, especially the current generation, often put labels on themselves. Someone might say, "I'm not a finance major," but then they've done a project with Pivot tables. Or they'll claim, "I'm not in tech," but they're using Zoom, web software, analytics, and video tools. That's tech, even if you aren't coding or building tech products.

Technology is everywhere, touching almost every industry. But sometimes, our universities can be a bit narrow in their mindset. They organize things in the College of X or the College of Y. As a result, during job fairs, business schools don't invite non-business students, and psychology majors don't invite business students.

Even though I've never coded, I got into cybersecurity when I was at IBM. We were using data to figure out what we called "the hay in the haystack" because it's not always obvious what you're trying to find.

I got into cybersecurity by asking a lot of questions and meeting a lot of people.

Q: What are you involved in today?

For my day job, I work for a company called Globality, where we use AI for procurement and sourcing, enabling Global 2000 companies to find the right supplier at the best price, quickly and easily.

For my fun hobby, I'm a media consultant for the news, where I do writing and on air for MSN, News Nation, and NBC. I also prioritize continuous learning. Right now, I'm part of an executive program at Harvard University.

The other area I'm super passionate about is nonprofit boards. I serve on the board for Women in Technology and was previously on the board for TechBridge, which offers tech support to nonprofits.

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