The modern business world is becoming more interconnected by the day, opening new markets for companies in nearly every commercial industry. The trend toward globalization and e-commerce has allowed businesses to connect with larger, more diverse audiences and grow their brand on the international stage. And while this new frontier has been positive for most enterprises, it has also created a pressing need for business professionals who understand how global supply chains operate.
Supply chain management isn’t a new concept, but the massive scale of contemporary business models has forced companies to pay closer attention to the full lifecycles of their products and services. In the past, this process of workflow optimization was largely intuitive, as data-collection tools and predictive analytics were not yet commercially available. However, thanks to recent developments in supply chain management platforms, companies have been able to analyze their operations from the earliest stages of product development to the point of purchase and beyond.
With IT management technologies rapidly growing in sophistication, companies are starting to realize that logistics and business savvy go hand-in-hand. The more data they can collect about their supply chains, the better prepared they are to adapt to changes in their market and exceed customer expectations. That said, optimizing a product’s lifecycle can be challenging without the right set of technical knowledge, management skills and supply chain expertise. This may account for why many aspiring students and mid-career professionals choose to pursue advanced business degrees, such as an MBA in Supply Chain Management. But to understand how a Master of Business Administration can prepare you for a career in supply chain management, it’s important to dive deeper into the field.
Why business savvy is essential to supply chain managers
When most people think about supply chain management, they tend to focus on the complexities of product and service lifecycles. While it’s true that logistics is at the core of nearly all supply chain professions, there’s a lot more to the field than operational planning and optimization.
A well-structured supply chain provides business leaders with increased visibility over all facets of their organization, from procurement of raw materials to transportation of consumer-ready goods. This, in turn, drives better decision-making at the micro- and macro-levels, enabling companies to eliminate inefficiencies and develop new, innovative processes. One study by the Logistics Bureau, a supply chain consulting firm, found that close to 79% of organizations with “high-performing supply chains” achieve greater-than-average revenue growth compared to their competitors. Of course, developing a truly efficient supply chain often takes a lot of time, investment and technical expertise.
To illustrate how supply chain managers add tangible value to their organizations, it may be useful to walk through a simple example: Imagine a large-scale retailer is just starting to embrace e-commerce and digital retail platforms, but to fulfill its online orders the company must first ramp up its inventory and warehousing operations. How much room is needed to store packages waiting to be shipped? How quickly can products be delivered to customers living outside the country? Which package delivery service best suits the company’s specific needs? Supply chain managers think through these and other logistical challenges to ensure the highest level of customer service at the lowest possible cost. While selecting the cheapest transportation company may help reduce overhead expenses, it could also lead to serious quality control issues that permanently damage the credibility of its products, services and/or brand.
In terms of specific business objectives, supply chain managers often work in tandem with executive teams to develop sustainable operating models, drive productivity and streamline back-end processes. According to the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, experts in this field play an essential role in their company’s overall success in three key areas:
- Reduce operating costs: Optimized supply chains are able to quickly move products from the warehouse floor to customers’ front steps, preventing companies from sitting on costly inventory. When products pile up, businesses are essentially paying for the space they occupy, which can significantly increase purchasing costs and impact their bottom line. Supply chain managers also help reduce production costs by ensuring all raw materials and manufactured goods are delivered to manufacturing facilities on time, mitigating expensive production delays and material shortages. Ultimately, efficient supply chains allow companies to offer more competitive prices and secure new business growth in their marketplace.
- Improving financial positions: By helping to reduce operating costs, supply chain managers drive profitability and increase their companies’ profit leverage. They also work to increase cash flow by speeding up product lifecycles and delivery estimates — the faster a product can be delivered, the sooner a company can invoice its customers. Another key financial benefit of supply chain optimization is that it allows companies to eliminate certain fixed assets, such as low-volume warehouses, unused transportation vehicles and outdated production equipment.
- Boosting customer service: Today’s consumers have come to expect a high level of convenience and customer service when making purchases online. Ecommerce giants like Amazon are able to meet or exceed these expectations by offering customers a litany of added features, such as real-time package tracking, same-day shipping, free return labels and more. Supply chain managers work to ensure all customers receive exactly what they ordered in a timely fashion, which requires the right products to be available at the right locations.
Keep in mind, every company has its own unique business model and operational challenges. As such, supply chain managers need to understand their employers’ exact business needs on a granular level before they can effect positive change. For example, reducing an industrial manufacturer’s material costs may require an operations manager to seek new suppliers, intermediaries and other third-party vendors. Selecting the wrong supplier can lead to back-end inefficiencies, from material shortages to quality control issues, which could end up causing more problems in the long run.
What do supply chain managers actually do?
First and foremost, supply chain managers work with internal and external partners to obtain production materials, manage their inventories and ensure products are seamlessly delivered to the consumer. They often direct the entire lifecycle of a product or service to ensure all quality guidelines are met and look for opportunities to improve workflows and decrease costs. Other common responsibilities include:
- Building relationships with suppliers and customers
- Reviewing supply chain performance and logistical data
- Developing strategies for minimizing production costs and time to market
- Identifying operational inefficiencies throughout the supply chain
- Collaborating with other departments, including finance, sales, marketing and IT
Supply chain managers must also have at least some experience with modern logistics applications, including cloud-based programs like Resilinc and SAP. These technologies allow professionals in the field to assess risks, monitor performance in real-time and leverage predictive analytics to create accurate production timetables. This type of end-to-end supply chain optimization helps remove the guesswork, providing companies with increased oversight and a competitive advantage.
The truth is, no two supply chain management roles are ever identical. Some industries have exceptionally short product lifecycles, while others contend with a complex network of suppliers, distribution partners and resellers. Retail companies in the fashion industry are a great example — supply chain managers have to ensure physical stores have a wide variety of clothing items in a range of different sizes to keep up with customer demand, but they must also consider what should happen to unsold products. Should they be returned to the manufacturer or sold to a third-party clothing outlet? How will unsold clothes be cycled out of the retail store’s stockroom? Generally speaking, the more complex the supply chain, the harder it is to adapt to everyday operational challenges.
Supply chain management: Career paths and job outlook
The supply chain management field offers diverse employment opportunities for those with the right skills, knowledge and experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of logisticians and other supply chain professionals is projected to grow 5% between 2018 and 2028, which is average compared to all other occupations. The job title “supply chain manager” is often used as an umbrella term, especially in small organizations that may only need a single logistics professional on staff. In contrast, large enterprises typically employ a range of supply chain experts with different specializations to help optimize their decision-making processes. Students pursuing a career in this field should understand all their employment options before committing to a single focus area, as each job title comes with its own responsibilities and career outlook. Some common roles in supply chain management include:
Purchasing managers focus on the early stages of a product’s lifecycle and are often responsible for planning, coordinating and negotiating the procurement of raw materials, product components and other important third-party services. They are responsible for purchasing items that their organizations can either use or resell and work in both wholesale and retail environments. In addition to arranging purchases, professionals in this role often perform comprehensive product and supplier evaluations to ensure all investments meet quality standards. When problems arise, purchasing managers may need to renegotiate their company’s contract or locate a new distributor. According to BLS data, the median annual wage for this occupation stands around $118,940, though entry-level positions tend to offer lower salaries. Purchasing manager roles are growing at a pace consistent with the supply chain management field.
Operations managers take on a wide variety of administrative responsibilities, most of which center on the middle stages of a product’s lifecycle. They are typically responsible for directing daily supply chain operations, managing human and information resources, guiding large-scale reoptimization projects and a whole lot more. Ultimately, the duties operations managers perform can vary drastically depending on their organization. For example, some professionals in this line of work oversee their organization’s quality control programs, while others are responsible for hiring, training and supervising new employees in their department. One of the primary goals of operations managers is to evaluate, monitor and improve existing policies that impact their organization’s supply chain. When problems are located, these professionals develop comprehensive strategies to boost productivity and eliminate inefficient workflows. According to O*Net Online, operations managers earn a median salary of $100,930, though most have several years of work experience. This supply chain management role is expected to grow in demand by 7% to 10% over the next 10 years, which is much faster than the average for other occupations in the field.
Transportation and distribution managers
Focusing on the later stages of a product’s life-cycle, transportation and distribution managers are in charge of coordinating all storage and delivery activities once the production phase has been completed. This logistics-heavy position is well suited to professionals with exceptional problem-solving skills, as transportation and distribution managers must account for traffic delays, inclement weather and other issues that might impact product delivery estimates. They must also monitor the quality, quantity and cost of transporting goods between storage facilities and customer locations. When working for companies that do not own or operate their own fleet of vehicles, professionals in this role closely collaborate with third-party shipping companies and negotiate rates that conform to their company’s budget. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for transportation and distribution managers stands at $92,460. Job growth for this profession is expected to reach as high as 5% over the next decade.
One of the more interesting roles in the supply chain management field is that of cost estimators, as they are responsible for determining whether their organization is overpaying on raw materials, products and/or third-party services. Using historical data and industry trends, these math-minded professionals formulate cost estimates that touch on every link in their company’s supply chain. They also consult with clients, vendors and industry leaders to help calculate overhead expenses and resolve pricing disputes with suppliers. The financial reports that cost estimators create are used by executives to plan, organize and restructure internal operations, bid on products and services, and locate opportunities to cut costs. According to O*Net Online, the median annual wage for cost estimators falls around $64,040, though higher-level positions typically come with more competitive salaries. Demand for this supply chain management role is projected to grow 7% to 10% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the national average.
If you’re interested in pursuing a supply chain management career, it may be beneficial to seek an MBA degree tailored to today’s complex business world. But with so many options, it can be difficult to find a program that aligns with your personal and professional interests.
What to look for in an MBA in Supply Chain Management program
There’s a lot you should consider before enrolling in an MBA in Supply Chain Management program, including the average cost, the amount of time it will take to graduate and the curriculum itself. Selecting an MBA degree that only offers a single supply chain manager course won’t set you up for success, which is why it’s important to review the program details before applying. To help save you some time, let’s explore some of the key differentiators that every MBA student should consider:
Online vs. in-person
One of the first things prospective MBA students and mid-career professionals need to decide is whether to enroll in an online or on-campus program. Pursuing an online education offers extraordinary flexibility, allowing you to study when and where you want. Online MBA programs are often well-suited to those who are already part of the supply chain field and students who may be working full time, as classes are designed to fall outside of normal work hours. Most digital-only MBA programs also provide networking opportunities through live sessions, virtual office hours and group projects, allowing students to actively collaborate with faculty and peers.
Selecting an AACSB-accredited school
Another important consideration is whether the MBA degree meets the highest standards of academic rigor and business excellence. Higher education can be expensive, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your education. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accredits institutions that demonstrate their commitment to advancing the quality of their programs. Even after a university has received AACSB accreditation, it continues to undergo comprehensive performance reviews to ensure it upholds high academic and professional standards.
Foundational and specialized coursework
In terms of curriculum, students with an interest in supply chain management should look for MBA degrees that offer both foundational business courses and specialized learning opportunities. Programs that solely focus on supply chain management may not provide the well-rounded education you’ll need to pursue high-level roles in the field. Depending on your desired career path, courses in finance, accounting, information systems and business analytics may be extremely valuable for your professional development. That said, it’s important to look through the course catalog for any MBA Supply Chain Management program to get a stronger sense of the overall learning objectives. If the MBA degree you’re interested in offers a supply chain management concentration, keep an eye out for useful courses on the following subjects:
- Supply chain risk management
- Data mining and predictive analytics
- Global trade logistics
- Strategic information systems
- Operations management
These are only a few examples of the core courses you may encounter with a specialization in supply chain management, so be sure to do plenty of research before making a final decision. Ultimately, the MBA degree you choose should align with your personal interests, long-term career goals and outside commitments. As such, you might want to prioritize programs that offer real-world insights that you can leverage in your current or future supply chain manager positions.
Prepare to advance your career with an MBA Supply Chain Management degree from Maryland Smith
Whether you’re an aspiring student or a mid-career professional, an advanced degree in supply chain management can help you develop the skills, knowledge and experience you need to pursue a range of lucrative employment opportunities. That’s why the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, is proud to offer an Online Master of Business Administration in Supply Chain Management specifically designed for today’s fast-paced workforce. This MBA degree benefits from world-class faculty with real business experience and is AACSB accredited. Students also gain access to a network of over 66,000 alumni worldwide and hands-on career development services that can give you a competitive advantage post-graduation.
Enjoy the flexibility offered by an Online MBA without sacrificing the academic rigor of an on-campus program. Students specializing in supply chain management will learn how to identify and mitigate risks, eliminate inefficiencies and leverage cutting-edge technologies that are at the core of modern business practices.
Reach out to an advisor to learn more about this Online MBA program and the supply chain management specialization offered at Maryland Smith.