It’s hard to say, but Supply Management could be a contender. Why?
Supply chains are more global, more interconnected, more complicated, and more prone to significant disruption than ever before — and the successful management thereof is more difficult than ever before. It requires a jack-of-all-trades that is also a master of one (trade called Supply Management). Only the best of the best of the best with the right education, experience, and EQ can manage these beasts of our own creation that are more fearsome, and ferocious (when a disruption occurs) than the great hydra of myth. And most of these people are in the US — which started the outsourcing craze in the 80s, learned the hard way when they skipped over the frying pan and into the fire, and then, as they learned the errors of their hasty ways, started institutionalizing knowledge and building best practices to help them cope, and, in the long term, succeed.
In order for the US to remain competitive, now that Europe is getting into the global supply chain game in a big way and taking advantage of their closer proximity to Asia, the current outsourcing destination of choice, and Africa, the future outsourcing destination of choice, the US is going to have to step up its supply chain game and produce more supply management leaders. This is going to require more thought leaders, more educators, and more institutionalization of knowledge and best practices. In other words, the US has to create the ability to not only produce supply chain leaders on demand, but produce world-class supply chain leaders.
Once the US has the ability to create the best supply chain leaders on a regular, and repeatable, basis, it doesn’t have to stop when the US’ needs for leaders are fulfilled. It can keep producing leaders because the entire world needs supply chain leaders, and if other countries can’t produce supply chain leaders of the same caliber (and, right now, many can’t), they will need (consulting) leadership and the US could produce the leaders to fill that gap. This has the potential to create millions (upon millions) of consulting jobs. There are over 100 Million businesses in the world, and over 10M of these are mid-sized businesses which, if they are not going global today, are likely to be going global tomorrow, and they will need help at all levels of the supply chain. That’s a lot of consulting that needs to come from somewhere. The US could produce those consultants and establish an industry around them.
And this is an industry the US could own. The continual improvement in automation technology essentially ensures that manufacturing will continue to move to lower cost locales and continual improvement in global telecommunications infrastructure essentially guarantees that customer service, data processing, and even programming will continue to move to lower cost locales as well. And even though Peter Drucker invented modern management consulting, Europe has caught up and the US really has no advantage here. In the knowledge-driven future, global leadership will be reserved to those disciplines where a country has the most advanced knowledge, and this is one area where the US has, and can continue to have, leadership.
So will Supply Management save the US Economy? I don’t think anyone can say for sure, but if the right focus was applied, in addition to saving companies hit hard by the economy by taking cost out of (and putting quality into) their supply chains, Supply Management has the potential to do the same for the economy as a whole. But will anyone realize this (before it’s too late)?