Brent E. Edmisten
January/February 2012, eSide Supply Management Vol. 5, No. 1
Advice From the C-Suite: A Career Is a Journey
In college, most people take classes to figure out what they want to do with their lives. I was no exception.
In my sophomore year, I took a purchasing class as an elective. It was taught by an adjunct professor who was also a purchasing practitioner. It only took two classes before I knew procurement was what I wanted to do as a career. At the time, it was the idea of spending someone else's money — and getting paid for it — that sounded great.
As I continued to pursue my business degree, I realized that procurement (now more commonly referred to as supply chain management) was becoming more and more strategic for companies as they competed in an increasingly global economy. Studying globalization and finance highlighted the fact that, to be competitive, most companies might need to change their cost structures.
Circa 1988, material and outside services represented more than 50 percent of the Cost of Goods Sold, or COGS, in many major companies. It was apparent, then, that outsourcing and the integration of the supply chain would be critical. Companies would require up-and-coming talent to manage their expanding supply bases, and to be catalysts for change. Even so, most boardrooms hadn't realized these facts yet.
I've been fortunate to work for Cessna Aircraft Company for more than 20 years and for Hawker Beechcraft Corporation for the last few years. As with many other industries, the aerospace supply chain has undergone significant changes with the pressures of global competition. These companies have realized the importance of a competitive supply chain, the creation of which has been heavily dependent on the organization's talent.
Looking back on my experiences, I believe 10 tenets can help guide you as you formulate a successful career path.
1) Own your career path and plan. Many people don't actively take charge of growth and opportunities. But, as with any other journey, you need to have a plan. Get started by taking a look at the presentation materials for the 96th Annual ISM International Supply Management Conference, which featured a learning track devoted to talent management.
2) Keep developing and improving yourself. Companies are looking for talented individuals who are constantly evolving. If you want to advance in an organization, a bachelor's degree isn't enough anymore; a master's or advanced degree separates you from the crowd and make you more valuable. Likewise, professional certifications provide additional expertise in the various skill sets critical to the supply chain specialty.
Education and certifications are something no one can take from you. Plus, they prepare you for future career opportunities.
3) Develop a personal brand. Be real about yourself: It's important to develop a personal brand — in real life and on-line — that reflects what you actually bring to the table.
In the Internet age, having a great electronic image is particularly critical. Because social networks can paint an unfavorable representation of people, you've got to be careful. Potential employers now patrol social media to determine if certain individuals would represent the company well. (Note: As a supply chain professional, I've found LinkedIn to be the most beneficial professional network.)
4) Work hard on your soft skills. Developing technical skills is only part of the success equation; the "soft stuff" is the hard stuff.
Possessing good people skills is vitally important, but it can also be the most challenging skill set for some. Facilitating and building relationships is critical because some of your toughest negotiations take place within your own organization. When they do, understanding the personalities you're working to influence will be critical.
For example, engineers tend to like data and analysis of a position, whereas marketing types like high-level concepts and minimal details. Don't forget to focus on this aspect of your personal development.
5) Be a strategic — not just tactical — thinker. Learn to be a forward-thinking employee and how to add value to the business beyond just doing the day-to-day work. While it's important to do your job, also look for ways to be a strategic thinker. Performing a tactical-only role will limit your opportunities to advance and learn. You don't want to be a one-trick pony. Broaden yourself and your capabilities.
For example, if the company places importance on sustainability, don't wait for direction in incorporating environmental or social responsibility criteria into RFPs. Or, use a spend diagnostic to identify value leakage from rogue spend if there is an emphasis on reducing supply chain costs.
6) Maximize mentors and coaching. As you network and meet other professionals inside and outside your industry, develop contacts that will provide opportunities for mentoring and coaching relationships. Depending on where you are in your career, make it a point to link up with people whose experiences you can learn from. Don't limit your options; some of the best mentors in my own experiences worked in other departments.
I've found that if you're willing to buy someone's lunch, they'll typically let you pick their brain on various subjects.
7) Be a transformation/change agent. Stretch yourself, and be ready for the next opportunity. Today, companies are looking for people who can make changes that will help the organization be more competitive. So, being thought of as a change agent — one known for making successful transformations — adds tremendous value to your career aspirations. Not only does it stretch and challenge you, it makes you a valued asset to any company.
8) Develop other people. It can be very rewarding to develop the people who work for you — to help them be successful. In fact, after you've reached a certain level in your career, it can be the most rewarding part of your job: knowing you had a part in those successes.
The daily activities that comprise your job will always be there, but it's the people side of leadership that holds the most potential benefits, both personally and for the organization. Growing and developing your people builds loyalty. And, when they're successful, you're successful.
9) Manage by data and metrics. Show results. Take the initiative to promote data-driven decisions by developing metrics that track progress or identify areas for improvement.
At the end of the day, it's all about getting results and making (or, if it's in the organization's best interest, exceeding) the plan. You need to understand how your work positively influences the company's bottom line and customer satisfaction. Data, metrics, linkage to the company's objectives, and results will demonstrate your value to the organization.
10) Don't be afraid to take risks — or even fail. It's easy to become comfortable in a career, but don't be afraid to take risks along the way. Many people in the twilight of their careers have told me they wished they'd pushed the envelope more. In short, they wish they had a few more regrets. Don't be afraid to take a calculated chance and trust your advisors.
It's very important you know yourself, the talents you possess and what types of activities you enjoy doing. To assess all of the above, I recommend the book Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. It includes an online assessment test that provides insight about you as a person. It focuses on what talents you possess and work activities you enjoy most.
Additionally, you might have noticed I didn't talk about compensation. That's because I believe money will come with success and the increasing value you bring to the table throughout your journey.
Supply management is a growing, exciting professional field that has shown great value in its transformation from traditional purchasing.
Take it from me: Life — and your career — go by fast. Make both the best they can be.
Brent E. Edmisten is vice president of supply chain operations for Hawker Beechcraft Corporation in Wichita, Kansas. The views espoused in this article are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Hawker Beechcraft Corporation. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more career strategy resources, visit the ISM articles database.
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