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Written by Adrian Preston

The rise of the Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO)

The CIO, CTO and CFO are often viewed as natural successors to the CEO throne, but should the CSCO be added to this exclusive list?

Over the last 30 years, the breadth and complexity of the CSCO role has increased exponentially. The origins of this shift can be traced back to China’s Open Door Policy in the late 70s and the fall of the Berlin Wall just over a decade later. These landmark events, along with advancements in transport infrastructure and technology, paved the way for the globalization of business. Procurement suddenly had a wealth of low-cost markets to source from. As a result, supply chains lengthened, and supply chain professionals’ roles became immeasurably more difficult.

Over the last decade, there’s been growing recognition that navigating this complexity is a big job. This has been further highlighted by recent, hugely disruptive events including the Covid-19 pandemic and Suez Canal crisis.

To be a great CSCO today, you need a rich and varied skillset – and many of the qualities that leadership teams look for in their CEO. You must:

1. See the big picture

CSCOs are one of the few people in their organizations (besides the CEO), that have visibility of operations from start to finish. From this perspective, they need to coordinate suppliers, logistics and manufacturing so that each can play their part. They are, in effect, organizational conductors, making sure everyone plays in time and in tune with each other.

2. Be an excellent collaborator

CSCOs work with vast numbers of people, up and down the supply chain. They need to get people on side and pulling together when times get tough. For example, unexpected weather can cause serious delays if manufacturers are unable to fly in vital components. Relationships with both external and internal stakeholders will be key to solving this problem.

3. Adapt at speed

As soon as something jeopardizes operations, the CSCO needs to step in and get things back on track. Within a lean supply chain, the margin for disruption can be less than a day. CSCOs have to be decisive, and comfortable taking remedial actions fast.

4. Lead on sustainability

CSCOs now play a really important role in keeping their organizations compliant in the face of mounting sustainability legislation. Our new – soon to be released – research also found that nearly 40% of organizations look to the CSCO to be the driver of sustainability progress. They’re also being called on to improve the sustainability of operations and, in some cases, feed-into sustainability strategy. As their role expands in this direction, they’re amassing huge amounts of knowledge and expertise that will only become more important to their organization’s future.

5. Keep commercially minded

The CSCO needs to create value for everyone upstream in the supply chain. Talking from experience, they are also acutely aware of the commercial implications of their decisions. When I had to pause production on a manufacturing line, I could feel every minute of downtime hitting the bottom line. Having this level of accountability is great preparation for the top job.

What does this mean for supply chain professionals now?

First, it’s an incredibly exciting time to work in supply chain. There’s clearly a huge opportunity – and appetite – for supply chain professionals to step into more strategic roles. According to one survey, 45% percent of CSCOs now report into the CEO, suggesting that many already are.

However, human resources, learning and development, and leadership teams need to support supply chain professionals to make this shift. The skillset supply chain people need is expanding and evolving all the time. Those in charge need to invest in continuous learning so that individuals are equipped to meet the changing requirements of the role and have fulfilling careers. If you’d like to learn more about how Skills Dynamics can support continuous learning within your supply chain organization, please get in touch. You can also register to receive a copy of our upcoming ESG and the supply chain report as soon as it’s released.


A supply chain leader with 30 years experience of working in and managing the supply chains of the world's biggest companies from the automotive, medical, aerospace, construction and agricultural machinery sectors.

Adrian Preston