Last week, Andrew Bartolini and I had the great pleasure of attending the Institute for Supply Management’s 102nd annual conference in sunny (and muggy) Orlando, Florida. The four-day event featured renowned procurement leaders, industry practitioners, and prestigious public figures from around the world who descended upon Disney World to learn from each other, be inspired by each other, and reaffirm supply management’s rightful position as one of the primary drivers of innovation and business value. There were literally hundreds of sessions from the conference, and we couldn’t possibly cover them all. But there were a few notable moments worth highlighting – whether you were at the conference or not. Thus, today we present Ardent Partners’ Top Five Highlights from ISM 2017, in no particular order.

1. Media Roundtable with Tom Derry, ISM CEO: Unlike in previous years, media members at the conference gathered before a panel of procurement and supply management experts led by Tom Derry, ISM’s CEO. With him was Hans Melotte, Starbucks’ Executive Vice President and ISM Board Member, and Kristopher Pinnow, Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer at B/E Aerospace. Tom Derry addressed how geopolitical tensions and instability have created business uncertainty; and how procurement and supply management teams have become hubs of insight and actionable intelligence that allow business leaders to make informed and rational decisions. They also discussed the rise of technological innovation occurring within many supply management teams, even as many organizations struggle to automate the source-to-settle spectrum. Artificial intelligence (AI), predictive analytics, predictive purchasing, and blockchain technologies are just some of the innovative business solutions that are on the horizon for procurement and have already made their way into some progressive procurement shops. Finally, the panel addressed the shifting talent landscape and how, with the current and continuing retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, Generations X, Y, and even Z will need to fill this immense talent gap – especially the latter two, who are digital natives and best poised to hit the ground running in the future of work. Ultimately, it will be a blended workforce with industry veterans, digital natives, and data analysts / scientists rounding out the prototypical procurement organization.

2. Third-Annual ISM / ThomasNet 30-under-30 Panel Discussion: For the third year in a row, ISM, in partnership with ThomasNet, the New York-based provider of cloud-based supplier discovery and eSourcing solutions, held its 30-under-30 program. It aims to recognize rising procurement and supply management stars that are under the age of 30 in order to draw more awareness of and talent to the supply management industry. At this year’s conference, “the best of the best” were joined by M.L. Peck, Chief Content and Engagement Officer at ISM, and Donna Cicale, Director of Audience Development at ThomasNet. Like their predecessors, this year’s class is made up largely of young professionals that sort of stumbled into the career. One finalist was drawn to it with the promise of free pizza by his university’s supply management program. Another came to it from an engineering background wanting to apply his knowledge of how things work with how they are purchased and drive business value. Although their backgrounds are diverse, their poise and professionalism, particularly while being “on display” to the media, was uniform; and it stood in stark contrast to the Millennial stereotypes that are bandied about (they need not be repeated). When asked whether or how they are able to make a difference in today’s turbulent and uncertain times, one finalist paused and thoughtfully recounted how, having graduated from college a few months before the start of the Great Recession, he chose to work in the North American auto industry because he saw an opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact. Year after year, it’s the kind of ambition, confidence, and drive that pervade ISM’s 30-under-30 finalists, and signal that, indeed, the Millennials have shown up to work.

3. General Colin Powell – Day 1 Keynote: On the first full day of the ISM Conference, former National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell gave a wide-ranging speech on supply chain, logistics, free trade, and other topics germane to sourcing and procurement pros. Tracing the arc of supply chain/logistics from World War Two to present day, Gen. Powell stated that “an army travels on its stomach,” underscoring the importance of supply management. He also addressed the rise of populism in the West and warned against withdrawing from trade deals, like the Trans Pacific Partnership, and adopting protectionist trade policies, like placing tariffs on imported goods. “Withdrawal is not a strategy — withdrawal is you’re mad at somebody,” he said. China figured prominently in his speech. Although many Americans are mad at China over trade deficits and lost manufacturing jobs, “war with China is not in their business plan,” at least not for China. Like South Korea, the Philippines, and Japan, free trade and has elevated China to become one of the world’s largest economies. And as Gen. Powell pointed out, China is reliant on the US and other markets in which to sell affordable goods. Placing tariffs on imported goods will only hurt working-class consumers (who will incur the costs) and ultimately strain diplomatic relations between the nations. While the US economy has lost unskilled or manufacturing jobs to low-cost countries, it has also lost jobs to AI, machine learning, and robotic process automation. But as Tom Derry pointed out, these technologies are also creating jobs in the form of software engineers and other technical jobs. “They always have,” said Gen. Powell, adding that “we need to train and retrain folks for these jobs.”

4. David Cameron Delivers Day 2 Keynote Address: On Day 2 of the conference, the Rt. honourable David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, gave an impassioned speech to more than 2,500 procurement and supply management leaders and practitioners on geopolitics and supply management. ISM leaders invited Mr. Cameron to speak at this year’s event because of his prominence in the international political world; but also because under his leadership, Mr. Cameron led Parliament during heightened economic and political uncertainty at home and abroad — uncertainties that continue today. As Mr. Cameron said, supply management teams make a deep and lasting impact on global business and commerce. They establish and maintain supply chains, reduce costs, increase savings, and deliver goods and services to organizations and people world wide. “It may seem that politicians make the world go ’round, but it’s actually supply management,” said Mr. Cameron, echoing the words of General Colin Powell who, a day earlier, said that “an army travels on its stomach.” Truly, an organization cannot sustain itself or move forward without adequate supply and reliable resupply. Mr. Cameron gave a long and insightful speech to a captivated audience, which we covered last week. To read the unabridged version, click here.

5. Thomas H. Slaight Wins J. Shipman Award: Also on Day 2 of the conference, Tom Derry introduced the 2017 recipient of the J. Shipman award, an award given to one industry veteran each year who has contributed to the advancement of the supply management industry as well as his/her peers and future generations. This year’s recipient was Thomas H. Slaight, who retired in 2011 after a 42-year career in procurement and supply management, most recently as senior partner at A.T. Kearney, Inc. In 1999, Slaight “pioneered” strategic sourcing and online reverse auctions, got involved with ISM, and then got A.T. Kearney involved with ISM. All told, Slaight spent the vast majority of his time in the consulting sector, with 18 years at A.T. Kearney, eight years at Deloitte & Touche, and five years at Theodore Barry & Associates. Having begun his career before the rise of globalization and witnessed it transform the global economy, Slaight declared in his acceptance speech that, “political forces may attempt to slow or disrupt globalization and technology, but they will continue.” Slaight earned his MBA at night from New York University, served in the U.S. Navy, and earned his BA in History from Hamilton College. 


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