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The Most Innovative Supply Chain Executives of 2018

The beginning of the new year is a natural time for reflecting on the old one. Nowhere is this idea more prevalent than at the end of the business year, when everyone has the same, single goal: to end the next year in a better place than the previous one. Everyone is looking to improve, to engage, and to innovate. Now is the time to be looking forward — but there is still great value in glancing back, and learning from the successful innovators of 2018.

In a global trade perspective, the future is always difficult to predict, so it makes sense to take a step back, and perhaps consider different perspectives. Between such global phenomena as Brexit, climate change, and the increasing influence of e-commerce, supply chains are uniquely poised to innovate and influence the global market. Of course, much of this idea was true in the early weeks of 2018 as well, but since then, a number of supply chain executives have gone above and beyond expectations by creatively or cleverly adding value to their own operations.

Larry Megan: A Culture of Productivity

Praxair is a global company specializing in industrial gases that stands among the most profitable and influential brands in its field. The company has been around for over a century and has exercised immense passion and creativity in innovating new products, techniques, and approaches to its industry. At its helm, Larry Megan, the company director, is challenged with maintaining and improving the company’s position in the global market.

To achieve this, Megan employs what he refers to as a “culture of productivity,”  focusing on a state of constant improvement across the business as a whole. Of particular interest is his focus on the localities surrounding his production sites. In his industry, products are rarely shipped over distances exceeding a couple hundred miles, so it makes sense to focus the efforts of each company branch on its surrounding social and economic climate. In this way, understanding the overarching trends that drive Megan’s industry allows him to fine-tune the operations on the ground to excel. His corporate team includes analytics teams, supply chain optimization efforts, and other data collection and analytics experts that enable local managers to keep up with the trends that matter most for their branch of the business.

Wolfgang Lehmacher: Logistics and Transport

At the head of Supply Chain and Transport Industries at the World Economic Forum, Wolfgang Lehmacher is uniquely suited to understand and adapt to the trends that shape supply chain industries. His experience includes a variety of Fortune 500 companies, startups, not-for-profits, and various other enterprises.

In 2018, Lehmacher traveled to Aqaba, Jordan, to speak at the Fifteenth Trans Middle East Conference, where he discussed the crucial nature of logistics and cooperation between organizations. Manufacturing and distributing markets, he noted, were born from cooperation, rather than competition, between groups. Lehmacher also cited the importance of digital platforms to the industry. By digitizing and automating processes, and then integrating those processes in a single platform, the executive gains an incredible insight into areas of potential for growth. Digital linking is a crucial element of the global trade and supply industries, and Lehmacher’s observations here are a significant element of his own success. Networking is commonly cited as being one of the most important engagements for any businessperson or entrepreneur, and with good reason. The nature of networking, however, is constantly in flux in a world where its importance cannot be overstated. Innovations in the logistics side of supply chain operations have propelled countries and businesses alike out of obscurity and into the global market.

Steve Beamer: Vision, Direction, and Leadership

Steve Beamer is an industry executive who works as the VP of Continuous Improvement at British Petroleum (BP). He has worked in the oil and gas industry for over thirty years. His portfolio includes accomplishments such as heading up the first Reliability Program at a Mobil refinery, from which point he explored a variety of leadership positions, eventually leading to his current position, where innovation is crucial.

When discussing his leadership position in a plant setting, Beamer points out that one of the most important things a leader can do in their organization is to “send the right messages” — that is, to set examples and influence others in a way that resonates positively with values such as productivity or efficiency. In this paradigm, perception is key. Beamer is someone who is always conscious of how he is being perceived by his employees. He understands that a manager who asks when something is going to get done can easily sound like they are demanding it finished as soon as possible. A leader who instead makes an honest attempt at understanding what went wrong and how to fix it is going to be much more successful in encouraging efficiency.

Mary Barra: Collaboration and Supplier Relations

Marry Barra is the CEO of General Motors and came to her current position after working as the company’s Vice President of Global Product Development, Purchasing, and Supply Chain. Her experience with General Motors is expansive, beginning as an engineering student at the very beginning of her career. Her priority has been innovation since the moment she became the company’s CEO.

According to Barra, running a successful business comes down to good people working with a good strategy. Considering her past experience, this makes sense. As CEO, Barra quickly focused on improving the company’s Working Relations Index Score, and the results were significant. Barra focused heavily on innovating the company’s products by investing in self-driving vehicles, electric vehicles, and also in other companies that make use of these products. By improving her own company’s relationship with other businesses that have the use for their services, Barra effectively increased its global relevance and desirability. By focusing on innovation not only in her company but in her company’s field, Barra is making a huge impact on the automotive industry.

Innovation is at the heart of all business. Executives like Barra, Beamer, Lehmacher, and Megan are proven leaders in their respective fields. The future is difficult to predict for anyone. What 2019 brings for the global supply chain world is difficult to guess — which is exactly why these leaders are working hard to ensure that their answers are the ones that stick. When the future remains as vague as it is now, forging your own path is undoubtedly the best way forward.

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