Where Should Young Professionals Look for Supply Chain Jobs?

It is still a tough economy out there, with unemployment in the U.S. still hovering near 10 percent. Where should a young person interested in a supply chain management career look for a job?  My top two choices: Bentonville, Arkansas and Geneva, Switzerland.

Bentonville is where Walmart is headquartered. But the jobs there are not just for Walmart. Many large consumer goods (CG) companies have account teams in Bentonville to service Walmart. These account teams frequently include customer logistics and supply chain personnel that either report directly to the account teams (i.e., the sales organization) or they still report to the supply chain organization but have dotted line reporting to the sales organization. 

I recently searched Monster.com and found 13 jobs that included the search terms “Bentonville” and “Supply Chain.” None of these jobs were for Walmart.

What would set you apart if you were looking for these jobs?  Walmart has a system called RetailLink that churns out lots of great data that can help CG firms compete more profitably. These firms are looking for people with the skills to help them “compete on analytics.” The jobs might not be strictly a traditional supply chain job. Often they will be a blend of demand management, replenishment, merchandising, and category management. 

However, the CG-to-retail supply chain is becoming more “demand driven.” The focus is expanding beyond “have we met our commitments in delivering to Walmart distribution centers?” to a new focus on ensuring a high in-stock position at the retail shelf. CG firms are still learning how to do this effectively. There are technological, data harmonization, and cultural barriers to becoming demand driven, which is what makes this a great career opportunity. If there was a defined blueprint for how to do this, the opportunities for upward mobility would be more limited.

Why Geneva, Switzerland? 

Multibillion-dollar multinational corporations (MNCs) typically have operations and facilities around the globe, operating in countries with widely different corporate tax rates. The effective tax rate (ETR) a company ends up paying often represents an overlay of where that company operates, the size of its operations in the various countries, and the tax rates of those countries.

Many MNCs have sought to combine a corporate structure that allows for a low effective tax rate with the optimal physical supply chain. These two goals are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they have considerable areas of overlap. Any supply chain transformation typically requires a degree of centralization as a way of creating new global or regional synergies. The same holds true for achieving a low ETR. The overarching objective is to structure the business in a way that minimizes the tax exposure without damaging the physical supply chain.

And where do MNCs pursuing a tax efficient supply chain usually end up locating their regional headquarters in Europe?  Switzerland—and more specifically, often near Geneva. English is almost always the language spoken in these regional HQ sites. And I’ve heard that an English speaker that speaks no French has no trouble communicating because Geneva is full of foreign professionals. 

A quick aside: what do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. 

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?  Bilingual. 

What do you call someone who only speaks one language?  An American.

This is also an excellent career opportunity because it is a multinational regional supply chain; it is a foreign assignment; and it may allow a young professional to jump to a new MNC just beginning its supply chain transformation.

It is possible that in a few years Geneva will not be the hot location for supply chain jobs that it is today. In his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “And to encourage [businesses] to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.” However, as we’ve seen with healthcare reform and cap-and-trade trade legislation, despite the wishes of a President, it can be very difficult to pass legislation that large corporations do not believe to be in their interest.

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