Ranking Supply Chain Leaders, Small & Big

I've never forgotten what a supply chain manager once told me: “When you're number two, the view in front of you is always the same.” The context was a conversation about how supply chain leaders dictate the rules of the game, and how every other company that isn't number one basically has to fall in line and follow suit.

I also remember thinking: Maybe the supply chain leaders aren't always right. Maybe they are winging it as much as the next guy, but are just better at convincing everyone else about their best-in-class status. And, while it's good to compare how other companies shape their supply chain activities, maybe it's time to re-examine what has long been considered “best-practices” and come up with new ones.

So it was with a mix of curiosity and skepticism that I scanned through “The Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 for 2012” report, which I recently came across on the Web.

I'll kill the suspense. The list of “winners” is the typical cross-industry cream of the top Fortune 50 companies you'd expect to see — the ones that often get shuffled around these kinds of supply chain rankings, falling up or down a couple of positions every now and again. The top 25 companies are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon
  3. McDonald's
  4. Dell
  5. P&G
  6. The Coca-Cola Company
  7. Intel
  8. Cisco Systems
  9. Wal-Mart Stores
  10. Unilever
  11. Colgate-Palmolive
  12. PepsiCo
  13. Samsung
  14. Nike
  15. Inditex
  16. Starbucks
  17. H&M
  18. Nestle
  19. Research In Motion (RIM)
  20. Caterpillar
  21. 3M
  22. Johnson & Johnson
  23. Cummins
  24. HP
  25. Kimberly-Clark

Only four new companies elbowed their way onto the list this year, and even those aren't too surprising, given their global presence and heady track-record performance: H&M, Caterpillar, Cummins, and Kimberly-Clark. On the other hand, RIM's appearance on the list leads me to shrug my shoulders and ask: “Really? RIM — the company struggling intensely to keep up in the mobile phone war — is a supply chain leader others should admire?”

Gartner also points out that four key trends emerged among the leaders, and again they're nothing really innovative if you've been following supply chain issues for any amount of time. There's the always-present post-recession aim to return to growth; the ever illusive continued focus on supply chain resiliency; a push towards simplification and eliminating that bug called complexity; and the need to have multilocal operations. “Multilocal” was the buzzword that struck me. Is that a new, concise way of saying “We have diverse geographic locations for design, manufacturing, and supply chain support so we can be a global company and still respond to local, regional needs”?

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not criticizing Gartner for putting together a list like this. There is value in understanding how some of the world's biggest and richest companies match up on a supply chain basis and what steps they have taken to achieve that peer recognition.

But I like rooting for the underdogs, and I don't believe the view has to always be the same for anyone who isn't a widely proclaimed supply chain leader. What I'd like to see is a list of second-tier companies, those unsung heroes that don't have a gazillion dollars in profits and revenue and are implementing innovative supply chain practices that go completely unnoticed. They deserve to share the spotlight because without them pulling their weight further down the chain, these big guys arguably would not rank on these lists.

14 comments on “Ranking Supply Chain Leaders, Small & Big

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    September 13, 2012

    Hi Jenn: I've visited that report a lot lately, and I think Gartner does break out numbers 26 on down or possibly discusses companies that fell off or almost made the list. There are 2 or 3 documents that complement the main study. I'll search through my files and post the links in a future comment.


  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    September 13, 2012
  3. _hm
    September 13, 2012

    I tried to find small, but all of them are big!


    September 14, 2012

    It might also be good to briefly summarize the metrics used to rank the companies.

  5. Jennifer Baljko
    September 14, 2012

    Thanks, Barbara. I'll check out the link.

  6. Jennifer Baljko
    September 14, 2012

    _hm – big companies often get the most attention. Because they are so big and so well-known, they are the obvious places people look to for supply chain best practices. But, they shouldn't be the only ones.


  7. Jennifer Baljko
    September 14, 2012

    FlyingScot – You'll find an extensive section about methodolgy and metrics starting on page 19 of the report, too long to cut and paste and post here. 

    Report link:

  8. Ariella
    September 14, 2012

    @Jennifer you mention that you like rooting for the underdog. Some people also just have an antipathy toward really large companies, like Walmart, which they view as Goliaths that step over their competition and suppliers. What's interesting, though, is that some of the really large companies, like Apple, manage to surround themselves in some form of glamor that makes people believe that supporting them is a virtue, though they also engage in questionable practices.

  9. Taimoor Zubar
    September 15, 2012

    Yes, I agree it would be a good idea to list down the basis on which the evaluation was conducted so that other companies can learn from this. It may be interesting to see if scale plays an important factor in getting a rank because all these companies operate on a massive scale and have global operations. I wonder how much significance that has in the ranking.

  10. Houngbo_Hospice
    September 15, 2012

    Users like Apple because of its innovative products. The day the magic will dissappear from Apple's design facilities, then the company will certainly lose the esteem of its fans.

  11. Ariella
    September 16, 2012

    @Hospice, what of the fanboy effect? Someone in my G+ stream was having fun with that, especially in light of the introduction of the new iPhone. He posted pictures like this one: apple

  12. Houngbo_Hospice
    September 16, 2012

    Ariella, Is there anything like “unconditional love”? Apple's fan base is certainly not out of interest. iPhone is useful for something.

  13. Ariella
    September 16, 2012

    @Hospice that's an interesting way of looking at it. While we idealize the state of unconditional love, generally, there is a somewhat pejorative connotation in labeling someone a fan-boy, suggesting that the love may be misplacd.  Will that affection remain forever? According to Scott M Fulton we're in for “iPhone Fatigue.”

  14. Anand
    September 17, 2012

    Users like Apple because of its innovative products.

    @HH, no doubt Apple created some innovative products like iPod, iPads, iPhones but recently we see very less innovation in Apple products. Infact companies like Samsung/Nokia are releasing products which are far more innovative than Apple, but people still love Apple because it has become a fashion to own an Apple product.

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