APICS is the premier professional association for supply chain management.

Being in the Business of Innovation

by Elizabeth Rennie | September/October 2013 | 13 | 19


“Talent is rare,” Daniele Meldolesi, CPIM, general manager for Cargill Starches and Sweeteners Europe, told APICS 2013 attendees as the start of his educational session. “It requires your attention and commitment every day.”

While there are many ways to identify talent, for Cargill, a true talent is somebody who likes to challenge the status quo, has ideas, and is an “improver.” The new ideas such people bring to the organization foster the process of innovation and provide opportunities to grow and improve. In addition, Meldolesi says these employees demonstrate sustained performance and learning agility: “They introduce new viewpoints and lead change.”

He believes talent is important for many reasons, including filling critical positions should someone retire or leave, creating more diverse teams, being flexible in a shifting environment, and simply making the business run more easily every day. 

Cargill has a structured process, consistent across all business units, to identify future innovators. This biannual event, called Talent Talk, involves members of the core management team meeting for a full day that is 100 percent dedicated to the company’s talent. “For each employee, we evaluate key results areas—integrity, execution, behavior, conceptual strength,” Meldolesi said. “Then we evaluate their ability to quickly respond to intense, varied, and adverse assignments; if they demonstrate superior performance under different conditions; and if they eagerly learn new competencies.”

Cargill’s framework also involves assessing employees on their drive and problem-solving ability. “The more complex the problem, the more a talented employee likes it,” Meldolesi explained. “He can sort things out quickly and believes a problem is an opportunity to learn something.” 

The core management team also considers the employees’ people and communication skills, such as self-awareness, motivation to improve, responsiveness, political agility, and conflict management. He adds that talented employees aren’t error-free. “A talented employee makes mistakes in order to learn,” Meldolesi said. “He has no fear of looking stupid, no fear of resistance.” 

The next step is discussion and then mapping out a development and succession plan. Some tactics employed at Cargill include giving people short assignments that involve a new skill area. For example, someone who has never had experience leading a team would be assigned a project that involves managing people. 

There also is a corporate training program to enable leadership transition and a mentoring program to develop strengths to improve upon weakness, introduce people to other areas of the business, and help employees understand where they want to go.

Meldelosi’s final appeal was to invest in and develop employees. “The worst thing you can do is save on salaries. Talented people must be fairly rewarded,” he said. “If you don’t develop your people, I assure you: They will leave.”


Where are supply chains going in the future, and what innovations will drive change, define effective capabilities and competencies, develop top-level industry professionals, and help build world-class value chains? These are just some of the questions that were tackled today by Michigan State University (MSU) leaders David Closs, PhD; Patricia Daugherty, PhD; and Steve Melnyk, PhD, during their educational session.

Key to the MSU-APICS Foundation joint research project, “Supply Chain Management: Beyond the Horizon,” is an understanding of the interrelationship between the business model and the supply chain and exactly how these two elements should unite. “We cannot talk about a strategic supply chain without talking about the business model,” Closs said, explaining that the model must revolve around the needs of key customers, plus the company’s value proposition and competencies.

Also essential to this plan is effective collaboration at both ends of the value chain—suppliers and customer bases. Daugherty explained that this is a significant shift from previous years when industry experts believed it was mainly internal processes—technology adoption, continuous performance measurement, and formalization—that were essential to success. 

Closs went on to explain that, whereas a linear model of the supply chain worked decades ago, it is not appropriate today when taking into consideration the heightened performance demanded by today’s marketplace. “Linear models are no longer effective for our dynamic, highly complex global supply chain,” he said.

“So, how do we as supply chain professionals need to adapt?” Daugherty asked attendees. The speakers believe success in the increasingly dynamic environment requires 10 competencies, which are

  • customer integration
  • global supply chain optimization
  • innovation management
  • internal integration
  • planning effectiveness
  • strategic alignment
  • supplier integration
  • supply chain responsibilities
  • supply chain risk management
  • supply chain segmentation.

These capabilities link the business model, the customer, and advancing supply chain performance. The concept involves the global supply chain, leaders of the integrated process, and a system that is focused on delivering real value.

Melnyk noted that the most important thing to remember when grappling to create the world-class value chain of tomorrow is speed. “It’s about being fast,” he said. “Sense the change, assess it, formulate a response, deploy it quickly, and recalibrate your objectives. And then learn—know what went wrong, what went right, and what’s missing.”


“There are huge, incredible amounts of information out there—and it’s just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger,” professor Roberta S. Russell, CFPIM, told APICS 2013 attendees, and then asked, “What do we do with all this big data?”

She says the key comes from five Vs:

  1. The volume of data is so much greater than what we traditionally could handle.
  2. There is much more variety, as data is showing up in new and different forms, such as tweets, comments, blogs, images, videos, emails, smart devices, and so much more. “This unstructured data accounts for 90 percent of new data,” Russell said. “When we make time-sensitive decisions, want to understand emerging trends, make a course correction, or be the first mover on something, we need unstructured data. It’s the newest, the latest, and the most valuable. It’s going to predict the future more effectively.”
  3. The velocity at which the data changes is faster than ever before.
  4. And then we have the challenge of confirming its veracity in order to avoid dirty data.
  5. “Once we figure out how to manage these issues,” Russell said, “only then can we get the value of it.”

For supply chain and operations management professionals, the real point here is that big data enables analytics, which—when applied effectively—can significantly advance a business. Analytics can be used for customer profiling and segmentation, demand forecasting, demand planning (including pricing and promotions), production planning (including product mix and sales and operations planning), logistics optimization, inventory optimization, supply chain optimization, supply chain design, and risk management.

“The techniques aren’t new,” Russell explained. “But it used to be too much trouble to use analytics back when we only had a little bit of data.” Big data is the innovation that now enables professionals to find the patterns in data and look at all the knowledge discovery and pull out things that are very useful.

There are a few key issues prohibiting people from effectively putting big data to work, which include storage, privacy issues, and lacking a clear strategy. “There must be a reason why you initiate a big data project … before you can apply analytics,” she said. “It’s not, ‘This is the data, let’s see what we can do with it;’ companies with successful analytics lead with priorities.”

Elizabeth Rennie is managing editor for APICS magazine. She may be contacted at editorial@apics.org.


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Newsletter Editorial Staff 
Editor in Chief
Jennifer Proctor

Managing Editor
Elizabeth Rennie

Associate Editor
Jessi Lee Gaylord

Staff Editor
Christopher Jablonski


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