Supply Chain Management

What Is a Supply Chain Manager?

What Is a Supply Chain Manager?
Supply chain manager is often the highest role of its kind in the company, though you may report to a VP of supply chain management or (less commonly) the chief supply chain officer. It can take years to reach this position. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella April 17, 2020

Supply chain managers are a little bit like Santa Claus—they ensure that products get made and delivered (sometimes in one night).

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Have you ever seen that commercial that shows the life of a strawberry? First, you see the strawberry growing; then, it’s lovingly picked. Next, it’s packaged and flown to another part of the country, where it’s unloaded and placed on a supermarket shelf. A happy child grabs the box, which the mother pays for and brings home. Finally, the strawberries sit in the back of the refrigerator until they grow moldy and get thrown away. This is not only a bleak picture of the way Americans treat fresh food; it also serves as a fine illustration of the supply chain in action.

Every product, no matter how big or small, moves along the supply chain, a catchall term for the production and distribution of goods. The supply chain carries products from raw materials to the consumer. Supply chain managers oversee the entire end-to-end supply chain. However, these professionals are more than just stewards of products like fruit and windshield wipers; they constantly look for ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Supply chain management (sometimes abbreviated as SCM) plays a huge role in our daily lives because it allows us to get the products we want and need at a fair price.

So, what is a supply chain manager? In this article, we discuss that by reviewing:

  • What makes a good supply chain manager?
  • Preparing for a role in supply chain management
  • How does supply chain management differ from similar careers?
  • Supply chain manager education requirements
  • Do supply chain managers need graduate degrees?
  • How much do supply chain managers earn?

What makes a good supply chain manager?

Supply chain management requires excellent communication and problem-solving skills. Modern managers cannot only specialize in one area, like procurement or inventory management. Their numerous responsibilities might include talking to suppliers as well as customers.

According to an interview with Roger Zetter, which appears in Supply Chain Quarterly, good supply chain managers are:

  • Bilingual (if they need to work globally)
  • Excellent presenters
  • Graduate degree-holders
  • Team-oriented

Additionally: “Twenty-first-century companies are looking for candidates who can improve processes, not only along the supply chain but also within the organization as a whole,” according to Zetter. The best supply chain strategy also includes machine learning, as well as things like inventory control and third-party logistics.

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Experienced supply chain professionals often enroll in graduate programs to advance to senior roles, while professionals in other fields may enroll to transition into SCM careers. (source)

You'll have the business chops to transition out of SCM if you decide this field isn't for you and the knowledge and skills to work in management roles in the various areas of supply chain management. (source)

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Preparing for a role in supply chain management

Supply chain manager is often the highest role of its kind in the company, though you may report to a VP of supply chain management or (less commonly) the chief supply chain officer. It can take years to reach this position.

You will likely hold one or more of these jobs first:

  • Planning manager
  • Purchasing manager
  • Strategic sourcing manager
  • Supply chain analyst
  • Supply chain specialist

These lower-level occupations allow professionals to hone their skills in one area of the supply chain. For instance, purchasing managers focus on procurement—often buying raw materials from suppliers to turn into sellable goods. They are also frequently the ones in charge of supervising deals and contract negotiations. Supply chain analysts focus more specifically on ensuring that products reach their intended destination as safely and efficiently as possible.

So, how do you climb the ranks to a supply chain management position? Good companies will have a development system in place for young supply chain professionals. Some methods include:

  • Focusing on business competencies
  • Job rotations
  • Training seminars

It is easy—frankly, a cop-out—to say that working hard will get you the job you want. What working hard actually does is to make good candidates identifiable to employers. Companies put time and resources into grooming high potential workers. Being competent, easy to work with, and driven is not only the best way to get invited on a managerial camping trip. It’s also how you get on the shortlist for company-funded developmental programs. Of course, not every supply chain manager stays with one company for their entire career, but fortunately, the skills you will develop are transferable.

How does supply chain management differ from similar careers?

It is easy to confuse different roles in supply chain management since the field is so massive. Understanding how other careers, like logistics and operations management, fit into the chain can provide a big picture view of what a supply chain manager does. Excelling in these jobs can build your skillset and help further your management career.

According to Kettering University, “Operations has a more internal company focus relative to supply chain.” Operations managers oversee the creation of products that get distributed. They have a lot of input on pricing, distribution operations, and inventory control, but probably don’t interact as much with suppliers. Operations management is a single part of the supply chain.

Some people believe logistics and supply chain management are interchangeable functions, but logistics is, in fact, a part—a significant part, for sure—of chain management. According to Michigan State University, “The objective behind logistics is to make sure the customer receives the desired product at the right time and place with the right quality and price.” Logisticians make customers happy while supply chain management takes this productivity and turns it into a competitive advantage.

Supply chain manager education requirements

Most employers require at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in supply chain management or a related field, from applicants to entry-level supply chain management positions. Other acceptable majors include business administration, process engineering, logistics, and even sales.

Still, having a supply chain management degree is the most direct path to this career. Well-regarded supply chain management programs can be found at:

The Rutgers supply chain management degree prepares graduates to enter the workforce with knowledge of:

  • Channel coordination
  • Global procurement
  • Pricing analysis
  • Six sigma
  • Strategic sourcing
  • Supply chain alignment

In addition to classes, most students complete an internship. This is a valuable experience. Not only will it provide hands-on learning in this profession, but it can also turn into a full-time job. Internships enable you to make connections and bolster your resume, one of the primary benefits of attending a top undergraduate program in supply chain management.

Do supply chain managers need graduate degrees?

You don’t need a graduate degree to begin your supply chain management career, but it can certainly help you advance it. Most graduate programs are designed for professionals with at least some work experience. They generally take two years to complete, three if you study part-time. Some outlier programs take as little as ten months.

There are a few kinds of graduate degrees that you can earn in supply chain management, depending on your desired career outcome. For example, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in supply chain and operations can prepare you to take on a more business-centric role than a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management (MSSCM), which provides more of a technical understanding. However, most graduate programs in supply chain management offer similar core courses.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers two supply chain management graduate degrees, a Master of Engineering (MEng) in Supply Chain Management and a Master of Applied Science (MASc) in Supply Chain Management. The MEng is designed for those who want to earn a PhD. In contrast, the MASc is preferred by those who want to become consultants.

Nearly 40 percent of graduates of the Michigan State University supply chain management MBA program work in chain management, with other top outcomes including general management and consulting. Students complete required courses in management, economics, and financial accounting.

According to the US News and World Report, some of the top MBA programs producing supply chain managers can be found at:

There are also a number of well-regarded online master’s programs available. Some of the best can be found at:

How much do supply chain managers earn?

Supply chain management is a great career field, but your earnings will depend greatly on your education level and job title. The average supply chain manager earns a yearly salary of $82,304, according to PayScale. In contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the median pay for logisticians was $74,600 in 2018.

Where you work can be a huge influence on how much money you take home. Top executives for a large, multinational corporation command a much higher salary than those at a mid-sized company. The average global supply chain manager earns more than $120,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.

Another contributing factor to your pay is your level of education and where you receive it. Graduates of Michigan State University’s MBA program, which is ranked as one of the best in the country, earn an average income of $105,969. These graduates are qualified for high-level management positions. They can command a greater salary than somebody with just a bachelor’s degree, who likely earns around $60,000 as a supply chain analyst.

Whatever your education, being a supply chain manager is a great job. Supply chain managers are paid so well because your favorite foods and products quite literally wouldn’t be able to get from point A to point B without them.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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