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Q&A: Mark Baxa, President and CEO, Council of Supply Chain and Management Professionals

Logistics Management Group News Editor Jeff Berman recently spoke with Mark Baxa, President & CEO of the Lombard, Ill.-based Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP). In this wide-ranging conversation, Baxa addressed various topics, including: the 2022 CSCMP EDGE conference last month, the current state of the supply chain, and career development, among others.

Baxa was voted into his position in June by the CSCMP Board of Directors and its Officers, previously serving in the position in an interim role. Over the course of his career, Baxa has held various roles, including sales, customer service, logistics, distribution, global trade operations & compliance. He has also served as Vice-Chairman St Louis University Center of Supply Chain Excellence and co-led the Executive Global Supply Chain Certificate Program and is an adjunct professional instructor. He recently completed a 4-year term as global board member for WEConnect International, consistent with his belief in the value diversity brings to the supply chain. He has facilitated supply chain policy development at the EU & US Federal level, teach executive courses at the university level and speaks at conferences worldwide

LM: How would you describe the current supply chain and logistics landscape?

Mark Baxa: Well, I think the journey that we're experiencing right now, and where we are today has been built on a couple of different major influxes into the supply chain overall, and it began in 2018, with the introduction of the Section 232 and 301 tariffs.

The reaction, I won't say it was immediate, but it was fairly quick, and that is the discovery that certainly for all those that import goods out of China that were affected by those tariffs suddenly he had a 25% in Greece in their cost of goods.

And the levers that the Federal Government pulled at that, time, regardless of what the underpinning reasons were, certainly we could attribute that to differences in trade practices and balancing the cost of producing locally versus importing goods from a foreign location such as China. We could also look at intellectual property and cyber, security levers, and those kinds of things. And there's people that are above my pay grade that certainly have intimate knowledge of that for a lot of different reasons. It is what it is.

All of that created a big difference in actions and reactions by trade community mainly here in the U.S. and Europe, and that was focusing on, do we begin a shift to nearshoring or reshoring in general, not necessarily just back to the country where demand is generated but overall, what is our approach to the future and where can we get our quickest recovery from without having to prolong the pain of these incremental costs? Following that, we entered into a phase of human health pandemic that nobody ever wants to see again, due to Covid-19. That created a number of different things, and exposed, quite frankly, a tremendous amount of fragility, and just by the inherent nature of the supply chain where we currently work, it is the very fact that people were producing goods in many different places only to believe we're sourcing from many different places…only to believe at some certain point, that through the process of discovery and the impacts of who was able to work, and who wasn't and coupled by where we can ship production from or source from, we realized that many of the source points, and in a number of cases, frankly, were the same place. And how did we get there? We got there through a tiered approach to our supply chain, namely, in our sourcing agreements so inherently the whole, if you will, generation of what we're in today in terms of the being what I now call an out of sync global supply chain, it's currently where we're at today.

It was brought about by these underpinnings and following that is the resurgence of demand to the shift of people going back to work, or working in hybrid environments, to manning different things, sort of points of where we actually buy our goods from as everyday consumers from stores. You had some of that, and you still have that today,

And then, not to mention the amount of inventory imbalances that we have is an outcome of the experiences I just talked about. I'm sure there's other factors, such as inflation. But the reality is that we currently now are continuing on this journey of becoming something that we need to be…we're not quite yet there, because we're experiencing just so many different dynamics and forces of the trade, not to mention the impacts of the transportation industry now more currently the threat of rail strikes and previous to that was the capacity crunch that we felt by landing capacity for trucks, and ocean capacity a year ago was a big challenge for many.

So, we now have a lot of imbalances in different places that will eventually sort itself out. We're all doing it based on the supply chain, if we will, across all the industry verticals, and it's specific to factories and businesses as a whole from looking to solve the problems for their own immediate needs.

LM: How did you think the 2022 CSCMP EDGE conference went, with full attendance, really, for the first time since 2019?

Baxa: My expectations, frankly, was to deliver the best possible conference we could that would actually be kind of the convergence of what I call the three pillars of the business environment.

LM: What are the three pillars?

Baxa: There's the education and learning pieces. There's a sourcing piece which is happens in the Supply Chain Exchange, and there is the peer-to-peer, networking in the form of vicarious learning by hearing experiences of others discussing options, and leaning on others to get insight into how they're solving some of the most difficult products that we face today. No matter what industry you are in, your supply chain exists.

I want to be that place where people could coalesce and have this intensive environment where they could get as much as they could, leaving the job that they have to do day-to-day and taking a break and refreshing and restating their mission, and sharpening the edges if you will, of the saw blades, so that they can be more successful in 2023.

We have a lot of challenges out there, as I articulated earlier, so I want people to find the to find the whole solution or at least find part of the solution to what the problems were at this conference. I have to say the feedback for the conference is always different, depending on the kind of environment we are in and also the type of program we have put together as a part of the EDGE conference. This year knocked it out of the park. People have expressed a large amount of success and satisfaction, in looking for things like lead generation at the Supply Chain Exchange. This is not the only environment to learn and be collaborating in, as there are different options people can choose from throughout the year. But I think this is the best one…and every year we are going to succeed because we are going to make it larger and more relevant each and every year, depending on the conditions of the market but also where we are in our supply chain journey. I am very proud of what we experienced, and I say that because that was the feedback we got, the enthusiasm people felt, and the acknowledgement that it was an investment well-made in coming to Nashville this year.

LM: While at the conference, the number of younger attendees was notable. Do you think, in a way, that reflects how more young people are getting into supply chain and logistics as a career path? As a follow-up, how is CSCMP helping on that front?

Baxa: Well, there is no doubt in my mind that the best people leaders take their people and make sure that they have the resources they need to grow currently in their role, but also to get ready for the next role. So, it all begins with people leaders. And the first appeal is to ensure that our corporate members and individual members who are leading teams of people, first and foremost, recognize that CSCMP is the place to come and to continue to learn on their journey throughout their entire career. And this begins with students. It doesn't begin with professionals coming out of college, or first entering the workforce and taking on a role in one of the supply chain functions if you get to the student level. We also know that there is a real challenge for many companies for a lot of different reasons, and we can look broadly across the spectrum of supply chain roles virtually, or we can look at industry specifics such as warehousing and transportation. We want the workforce to continue to be flush with opportunity, and we want those entering the workforce to have those opportunities so that we can do more of what we do really well, and that is to plan, procure right, build, and deliver and take care of the financial reconciliation of everything that we make sell to the everyday consumer.

I think the youthfulness that you refer to at the conference itself just identifies with the workforce of today, but it also identifies with where CSCMP is at.

LM: In what ways?

Baxa: We've reached deep into the universities around the United States and, frankly, around the world for collaborative opportunities to share, not only in our content, but to create roundtables, where students early and ahead of entering their professional career can gather and learn. But also, once they get into those places that they also experience everything we have to offer to the greatest extent that we can locally. It's not just about the EDGE conference. It's about all continuous learning the entire year, all 365 days.

Another thing I would say that perhaps more recent is a push to get our educational content into high schools. So, herein lies the secret sauce, and that is to make sure that the discussion that's happening around the millions of homes today, where supply chain issues are being discussed more candidly, in terms of “where is my toilet paper?” There is something to be said for that, and that is, well, maybe there are career opportunities in the supply chain and the functions within it, because this is now a family discovery in that this [supply chain and logistics] is the engine that makes stuff get where we want it to be so that we can enjoy those, you know, products and services that we so desire and do it sustainably. So, the professional world is open up, and whether high school students intend to go direct to the workforce or to a technical school, or to a two-year college program, or to a four-year degree school, it is agnostic and does not matter. I want as many high school seniors graduating with as much as we can get indoctrinated over the next several years. The content that we have around our SCPRO fundamentals, which covers all the disciplines of supply chain and even if they don't come out with a certificate of accomplishment, they've gone through the coursework and achieved a level of understanding so that they are better prepared to pursue careers in supply chain, and industry and government public-private partnership as well. We are turning out more and more students into the workforce that have a body of knowledge and desire these roles in supply chain.

And then, finally, we have tremendous effort around young professionals, and there's no question that we celebrate young professionals in the workforce, and we want them coming in. We want people leaders driving them, and we want young people on their own reconnaissance showing up at places like the EDGE conference. It is very critical as part of our overall mission to drive the workforce and also push for diversity in the workforce as well.

LM: How does CSCMP address the different needs of it various types of members, including shippers, carriers, 3PLs, academics, and technology services providers, among others?

Baxa: We've diversified our learning portfolio quite a bit over the last couple of years. I think it's, to be frank, everybody has a supply chain, whether you're a service provider or you're a shipper. You have some semblance in some form of a supply chain. You have a need to source. You have a need to buy. You have a need to ship. These are all critical components of a business model.

I think the differentiator, for us, is providing unique learning experiences so they're relevant right inside of where their needs are, and also their long-term needs to support their strategy. We are going to be doing more of that. We are doing some and are going to continue to do more. So, for example, we've tended to focus on where people are in their careers, whether they're students, early in career professionals, or if you're on the executionary side, and in a transportation or distribution role, it doesn't really matter.

We've attempted to make a canvas that has a broad painting with a lot of content in it that we hope is relevant for everybody, and at some point in time you'll find what you need.

We're doing more targeted experiences now. So, for example, we're creating centers of excellence inside of CSCMP. And we launched the Transportation Center of Excellence, and that certainly speaks to exactly what it is, and that is, it comes from more of a robust area of focus or transportation. It doesn't matter whether you're selling transportation services, or procuring or using them. This becomes the learning center of the latest and greatest in transportation content. So, to an extent, we'll also be looking at functions within supply chain to build that out which will be applicable to both service providers and shippers, and academics as well. It's very important, because we recognize that as CSCMP supply chain learning is almost infinite, And it definitely is not finite.

LM: When we look at where the supply chain is, everything that the supply chain has been through, especially in the last 2.5 years or so, what do you think are the key differences, in your opinion, between this role of the supply chain professional now, and the role of a supply chain professional, say in three-to-five years?

Baxa: Every day is a learning opportunity to learn something. You can choose to learn something really simple or fast or you can spend time devoted to academic learning that is really sophisticated and complex. The supply chain experience we have now—and I say this broadly and also with a lot of depth—we have had to navigate through the unpredictable and as a result of that we have had to deal with the risk of knowing there could be pain tomorrow and the day after that and the fear that more pain could come once we start tackling the pain we had yesterday. That leads us to the fluidity and the dynamic nature that we've experience where nothing seems to be as it was, and nothing can be shaped into what we want it to be easily, because there's a lot of dynamics in between lot of variables, uncontrolled variables. And we look to create something that's new and fresh. If you rely today on your trusted partners of yesterday, they may not be your trusted partners of tomorrow unless you uncover and peel the onion back, break the hood on the engine compartment and see what's inside their very business.
We have to learn to be much more open and transparent than we ever have been. We also have to ask the right questions to seek the level of transparency we need, because it's all about risk in our business.

We want to minimize the risk. That's what we've experienced. We're going to minimize the risk, which has led to, in many cases, pain, pain of losing a job. We've seen still today churn in chief procurement officer and, or, chief supply chain officer leadership rolls because someone could not figure out, or handle, the job. There are others saying “this is not a great place to work and the alignment capability of just really, theoretically, taking the practice of supply chain and putting it into action no longer exists, and everything has been blown apart. I am going somewhere else where I can lead a team that really has an interest in putting it back together.” So, you have a lot of leadership gyration that's happening, and we have the same thing within staff that man key roles with them supply chain because there's a dual route. They're tired from all these experiences. In terms of what the difference is, if you leave behind the opportunity to navigate through the dynamics of today's supply chain, if the sense if avoid risk-related redundancy and resiliency behaviors that are value-added…and you don’t shape that into the supply chain of tomorrow, you have missed a tremendous opportunity, because you know people have that and are going to face the same type of problem today.

We learn from these experiences, and we have to understand how to create better environment tomorrow by taking these learnings. And that's why I think it's reshaped the learning path for many executives, and many in supply chain as a whole, because we realized that our proposition isn't about innovation. It's not about standardizing practices. It's not just about optimization. It's about a new center, a new kind of figuring out that risk and managing risk with some form of resiliency and value-added redundancy must take precedence in many places where before it might have been just words.

Think, about the procurement practices of yesterday and think about pre-Covid and what we might have referred to as strategic sourcing. If that model hasn't changed, and if you haven't put in play a much more transparent model, and be willing to have a more open and transparent conversation with those that you care to do business with need to do business with, you're probably going to lose, and you're going to lose in the area by self-induced risk. Figuring out that environment is really critical, and I don't care what that is. I don't think I don't care if it's raw materials, or if that's transportation sourcing, or whatever it might be. There's a there's a new collaboration [available] that I think will carry on into year, two, three, and four ahead that we won't forget to use. Now that we have been through it, we can learn from it.

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About the Author

Jeff Berman's avatar
Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review and is a contributor to Robotics 24/7. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis.
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