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:
- The Coca-Cola Company
- Cisco Systems
- Wal-Mart Stores
- Research In Motion (RIM)
- Johnson & Johnson
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.