Retail and the Supply Chain MBA Experience: Our Interview With a Rising Star in Supply Chain

May 26, 2015

“Supply Chains are in every organization. Even a corner store has a Supply Chain. They may just not know it.” —Nadia Kassam, MBA

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For the past few months, we’ve offered numerous interviews with executives in Supply Chain, Procurement, Strategic Sourcing, and Planning from a variety of different industries (including Food Production, Consumer Goods, Manufacturing, and others) about current issues in Supply Chain from a talent perspective. This week, we’re doing something a bit different for our interview series by speaking about Supply Chain talent issues with a more recent entry to the field. 

This week, we interviewed Nadia Kassam. She’s a high-energy, high-potential star performer with an innovative approach to Supply Chain, who also happens to be currently on the market for her next role. Nadia has lots of experience in a fast-paced Retail Supply Chain organization, where she managed numerous store openings as well as a number of other initiatives. Ms. Kassam is also a relatively recent MBA graduate who discovered a passion for Supply Chain as part of her degree, making the switch from Financial Services. We had a wide-ranging discussion about Retail’s unique challenges and opportunities, the assets that new graduates have to offer Supply Chain organizations, the differences between Supply Chain education and on-the-job learning, and how organizations can attract the next generation of talent – from someone within the next generation’s perspective.

You have several years of Retail Supply Chain experience following your MBA. What motivated you towards the decision to focus your MBA in Supply Chain Management originally?

“I was in the financial industry and the dynamics of the market had changed. I decided I wanted something different so I did my MBA,” says Kassam. “People do their MBA’s for three reasons: one, because they have technical skills and need soft skills. Two, a lot of people have soft skills but need hard business skills. And three, to open doors, and that’s why I went. Supply Chain kind of happened organically while I was there. In your first term you do a myriad of courses and then you specialize. In taking strategy, Operations, and Supply Chain courses, I found that my interest lied in these areas. I noticed that there was a growing trend in Supply Chain. What Supply Chain was 10 years ago isn’t what it is today, and it’s still evolving. I thought there would be a lot of opportunity.”

In practice, every company has their own strategic way of applying Supply Chain principles. The processes you build around it, the resources you have, the way you procure, is how companies separate themselves.”

What exactly piqued your interest in the field?

“I really enjoyed strategy and operations,” says Kassam. “The reason I thought that Supply Chain was so interesting was that every organization, small or large, has a Supply Chain. What fascinated me was that you could develop strategies around your Supply Chain to increase efficiencies. Tightening up Supply Chain could improve the profitability of your company. So the strategy piece was very interesting to me.”

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Is there anything about Supply Chain that’s different in practice from the MBA experience?

“There is definitely overlap, but once you get hands-on experience it’s never exactly the same,” says Kassam. “The overlap was the fundamentals, the way Supply Chains are set up and how corporate processes are built. In school, your understanding of the different parts of Supply Chain come together kind of like the way you put together a puzzle. But in practice, especially in Retail, every company has their own strategic way of applying Supply Chain principles. The processes you build around it, the resources you have, the way you procure, is how companies separate themselves. In school, it’s more theoretical – there are business cases, but you quickly learn that every company has their own approach. While the fundamentals are the same, companies are different.”

One of your biggest areas of experience in Retail was managing Store Openings in a fast-paced, start-up-like environment. What was that like?

“There are so many moving parts in opening a store: you’re dealing with the store operations people, people who work in the store, the marketing, the distribution, the merchandise planning, etc,” says Kassam. “There are so many areas involved in a store opening. What was interesting was the effort involved and making sure that everyone was on the same page at the same time. There’s a lot of strategy involved in planning, then execution, then follow up. You don’t just open the store and walk away. You make sure the store is performing up to KPI’s (key performance indicators), and quickly allocate resources to improve key areas.”

“With each store opening, there are different factors making it unique,” says Kassam. “It could be the store format, the capacities on shelves, how much space each category is given, how much space in the store could affect replenishment. Geographically, you might have a rural or urban store. Demand in those areas could be different. Urban stores could have a higher demand for home décor, fashion. You have differences in terms of experience of the personnel. In some cases you will move people as subject matter experts into new stores, because you need people who can understand the types of things that can go wrong.”

One thing we often speak about in these interviews is how to get young people involved in Supply Chain, and what talent at the junior end has to offer organizations. As someone who graduated with an MBA in Supply Chain recently, what’s your perspective on this issue?

Putting The Puzzle Together

“I think what young people in Supply Chain have is that they don’t have preconceived notions of how Supply Chain Management should be set up,” says Kassam. “Young people can bring creative and innovative ideas, especially from an MBA program where graduates are jacks-of-all-trades. Because Supply Chain is changing, there’s a need for fresh perspectives. What young professionals can bring is the experience of having researched case studies from myriad organizations. So they have a different lens on Supply Chain processes and can bring knowledge based on theories and the most up-to-date research that’s been tested through peer review. ”

“In terms of how the field can help get young people interested, in a business school, networking is very important. Schools usually have a lot of guest speakers coming in from different industries. Guest speakers definitely pique the interest of lots of MBA candidates. There are more and more courses dedicated to Supply Chain every year. I found that a lot of my fellow MBA candidates were taking courses in strategy or negotiations, and there was a niche of students who were interested in Supply Chain. But the presence of recruiters and guest speakers get students more interested.”

“If you turn on the TV, a lot of private colleges and university programs are advertising Supply Chain programs. That’s a good way to have a greater understanding. Like I said, Supply Chains are in every organization. Even a corner store has a Supply Chain, they may just not know it. The field can be educating more, and things like the Supply Chain Journal, articles coming out in various sources like Business Week, professionals sharing on social media are helping that. Students searching for jobs look towards these sources as to where they should go.”

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As a boutique recruitment firm that specializes in recruitment for Supply Chain at the sole contributor level all the way to the C-suite, we’re all over covering the Supply Chain Talent landscape from any and all angles. We were thrilled that Nadia Kassam, one of tomorrow’s Supply Chain leaders, took the time to provide her perspective on Supply Chain talent issues. Innovation, strategy, and flexibility are the future of the field, and conversations like these show us that the future of the field is very bright indeed.

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We’re proud to be representing Ms. Kassam, so if you’re looking to add a high-performer to your Supply Chain team, let us know. Call 416-364-9919! 

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