A New Age in Supply Chain Transparency

coffee beansWe live in changing times. Much of what we see in the world right now makes us want to step back and look at the role we play in the changing social and economic landscape. We sat down with #MSCM student Justin Gillebo, a senior supply chain planner at Starbucks, to talk about the meaning he finds in supply chain management and how he feels his work fits in to the global context of change.

Q: How do you think your work in supply chain fits into the social and economic fabric of the world right now, especially as industry moves more and more towards automation? Some argue that these advances are coming at the expense of people. Do they?

A: They don’t have to. We definitely live in a unique moment, both politically and economically. Our world, our country, is going through dramatic changes, and supply chain can play a big role there. I think a lot of companies are excited about progress in automation, how they can work towards additive manufacturing or 3d printing, and supply chain gets to be at the cusp of some of these technological advances. But when you apply new systems, you can’t divorce that from the fact that that’s going to impact people. We need to take advantage of progress and balance it with a desire to see people flourish. But in practice, that’s hard. The critical thinking offered in a masters program like this one heave really helped me get to know the social, political and environmental nuances.

Q: How much do you talk about the global context of the work you’re doing in class, topics like supply chain transparency and socio-economic impact in developing countries?

A: One thing the program has done really well is bringing in a number of industry leaders and perspectives with a heart and an ear towards these issues. For example, we had an executive come in from Costco’s supply chain who spoke to us about the footprint supply chains can have in sensitive parts of the world and how to thoughtfully go into these areas and focus on sourcing well. We had case studies from Starbucks and Ikea who are focused on transparent supply chains that hone in on the human impacts. It’s been really meaningful to get those perspectives.

Q: This transparency movement is relatively new, often driven by corporate oversights in the past. Many brands are leaning into this movement, especially in the last 10-20 years. Many are baking supply chain into their branding (think Patagonia) and are seeing big gains from doing so. Where do you think the primary motivations for this movement are coming from?

A: I think it’s a symbiotic relationship between the fact that consumers pushing for it and the fact that it’s just good for business. Consumers care how their products are made and where they are sourced. They have high expectations of the companies they choose to patronize; they want their chosen brands represent things they can feel good about. A lot of leading Fortune 500 companies are putting out reports about sustainability practices, fair trade practices and things of the like. Whether it is for PR or not, consumers now have an expectation that companies will play fair and be a force for good in the world in adherence to those trending values. But the even more impactful fact is, good supply chain practices are good for business. For example, at Starbucks, we pay our coffee farmers fairly for their product, but we’re also investing in healthcare infrastructure, we’re investing in schools and places for people to develop and flourish. That’s not just a nice story to tell consumers, it’s important for our suppliers to be strong and resilient. It doesn’t help anyone to have to find new suppliers every year because the current ones can’t sustain their lives. It’s good practice that’s demanded by the public, but it’s also good for business.

Ready to jump in to a career in supply chain management? Check out the UW Foster School of Business Master of Supply Chain Management Program.

Written by Victoria Pinheiro, MSc.
MSCM Content Strategy Writer
[email protected]