The cost-cutters

Finding career opportunities in a slowing economy can be challenging, especially as companies put many projects on hold or scrap them entirely. But recruiters and workers alike say the supply chain management market holds promise. That's because an IT manager versed in the sound management of logistics, procurement and distribution can make a difference in something that hits home at many companies right now: controlling costs.

A career in the supply chain arena involves constant change, but that's what makes it more challenging to someone with a background in IT, says Ted Raiman, a supply chain director at Hunt Corp., a Philadelphia-based manufacturer and distributor of office supplies. "It's a more fascinating job than it used to be," says Raiman. "Every dollar you spend in purchasing goes to the bottom line. If you can save a dollar on a purchased part, that's an extra dollar of profit."

A well-heeled resume

Raiman says key attributes for supply chain managers include good negotiation skills and an understanding of how to leverage electronic procurement. Being able to negotiate can help a company win favorable long-term contracts with vendors, while electronic procurement can make purchasing more cost-effective by eliminating paper, he says.

Because supply chain managers make decisions that impact profits, the field also requires a thorough understanding of finance, says Bob Daniell, vice president of supply chain at New York-based Siemens Corp. He recommends taking a class that ties together finance and supply chain principles in order to help a company grow and better use its assets. "Not enough guys can talk the language of the CFO," he says.

Attending user group conferences is one of the best ways to get a "cutting-edge education" on recent technology developments in the supply chain arena, says Brett Stevens, president of The SearchLogix Group, a Woodstock, Ga.-based placement firm specializing in the supply chain market. Companies sponsoring these events include Dallas-based I2 Technologies Inc. and German software company SAP AG.

A number of organizations offer training and certification on supply chain issues as well. For instance, the Council of Logistics Management and the Warehousing Education and Research Council, both based in Oak Brook, Ill., offer meetings and research materials. Other organizations, such as The Educational Society for Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., and the National Association of Purchasing Management Inc. in Tempe, Ariz., offer certification examinations in areas such as inventory and purchasing management.

Getting certified enables you to learn how to develop and negotiate contracts, says Raiman. "You get the background or knowledge to do the job effectively," he says.

Some universities also offer supply chain courses. The University of Pennsylvania's Center for Supply Chain Research offers classes, such as Managing Effective Supply Chain, which range in length from five days to a couple of weeks. Skip Grenoble, the center's executive director, says the State College, Pa.-based center attracts a mixture of IT workers, including CIOs, as well as supply chain and logistics managers.

And since they have a bird's-eye view of an entire organization, IT workers find it easier to move into an area like supply chain management, Daniell says. "Businesspeople are driven by functional agendas that may not apply to the entire organization, whereas IT does have an interest in the whole organization," he says.

So as the economy continues to fall, it seems the importance of the supply chain manager's role rises.

According to Stevens, supply chain managers typically earn $70,000 to $90,000 a year, with a 10% bonus, while top supply chain executives at large companies in major cities can expect to make as much as $125,000.

"Supply chain is an area that you can keep squeezing out dollars," says Joe Marotta, assistant vice president of supply chain systems at Lawrenceville, N.J.-based Lenox Inc., which sells kitchen and giftware. Although experts acknowledge that a cooling economy means fewer pay raises, Marotta notes with a chuckle, a supply chain manager's responsibility for containing costs "helps people keep their jobs a little better."

Dash is a freelance writer in Alexandria, Va.

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