I hate to say this, and absolutely do not doubt that my former colleagues at Gartner know what they're talking about, but I almost fell asleep upon seeing the 10th anniversary Supply Chain Top 25.
Forget about any criticisms of the methodology, pretty much all of which I have heard. Ignore also the annual “What the ****?!” cries about McDonald's being ahead of Amazon or supply chain solutions company Flextronics and manufacturing partner Jabil not being on the list at all. The issue this year is far graver: The Top 25 is failing to stir the pot.
The more things change…
…The more they stay the same. Or so goes the old saying. Not only is Apple No. 1 again (seven years running), but the top four are all identical in rank order to last year. The top 10 have seen a grand total of only eight place changes between 2013 and 2014.
I thought I was looking at the 2013 list when I first saw this year's ranking unveiled. I'm sorry, but that is simply not enough movement to get anyone excited — not even the winners!
This year's list features only one completely new name (data storage company Seagate) and one that had slipped off and returned from the oblivion of 26-and-beyond (personal care firm Kimberly-Clark). There were also eight moves of only one place up or down.
I went through the entire history of the Top 25 and tried to measure how little change 2014 brought to an audience hungry for new ideas. The chart below shows the aggregate absolute value of all place changes (up or down) plus 10 points for each new name added to the list in any given year.
Someone has stopped rocking the boat.
Keeping supply chain cool
Having long been a cheerleader for the discipline, I don't need convincing that supply chain is cool. However, the same is not true for colleagues in sales, R&D and finance, nor for young people considering careers in the field.
The Top 25 has been a fantastic tool to raise awareness about supply chain, particularly on campus. Professors use the list to teach and students use it to shortlist where they'll apply for work. I have personally presented the list to at least a dozen student audiences and they eat it up. Without some changes to drive debate though, I'm afraid the lecture will get stale.
Possibly worse is the creation of a group of companies that dismiss the entire process simply because they perceive no chance of ever making the Top 25. Chemicals, for instance, never gets anywhere on the main list despite concerted efforts by some to demonstrate leadership and scare up a few votes. Automotive, as I highlighted in this blog two weeks ago, suffers similarly.
Even more problematic is the lack of engagement globally. No German company, for instance, has ever made the Top 25, and the only Chinese company to do so is the hybrid US-Chinese PC maker Lenovo. I know about the barriers of language and culture, but still worry that the universe of companies considered for the list has a very different composition from the universe of companies that make it.
What can be done?
It used to be my job to worry about this. Back then, I proposed something that still makes sense. Why not create a Supply Chain Hall of Fame and induct companies that have made the list for five years running? We could start right off by declaring Apple, P&G, Walmart, Nike, and Samsung permanent Top 25 inductees and clear five spaces for new blood.
We could also recognize early pioneers that have fallen out of favour with voters but deserve credit for game-changing innovations. IBM, Toyota, Dell, and perhaps Tesco merit such recognition.
Finally, as I've often argued, enablers like contract manufacturers and logistics providers need some airtime. How many casual observers, for instance, know that Havi Global Solutions belongs on the podium next to McDonald's? Our new report on logistics providers might be a good place to look for dark horse candidates.