Great leaders in business and industry come and go. Some are lauded around the world and become household names, while others are renowned only among people in their field.


The latter is often true of great supply chain leaders, who seldom receive the adulation they deserve, unless they go on to become great CEOs.


However, these unsung heroes are often responsible for driving changes and improvements, not only within the organisations they serve, but in the entire supply chain sector.


3 Great Leaders to Follow and Learn From

In this short article, I’d like to bring three of those inspirational supply chain executives to your attention and share some of their most notable achievements. Any actual or aspiring supply chain leader can learn a lot by following the exploits of people like Pier Luigi Sigismondi, James Sinegal, and Francesca DeBiase.

If these are names you never heard before, let now be the moment they take their place on your list of business greats to follow and perhaps even emulate.


Francesca DeBiase of McDonalds Supply Chain

Ever controversial, McDonalds is nonetheless an enduring icon of supply chain excellence, although that’s a fact that often goes unnoticed by the consumer-masses continually flocking through the doors of its 36,000-plus outlets scattered around the globe.


For the last decade, Francesca DeBiase has been leading efforts not only to keep those outlets supplied, but to do so with an ever-decreasing impact on the environment.


Since 2005, when Francesca made the shift from finance to begin a supply-chain leadership career, she has held a number of high-powered positions at McDonalds, including:

  • CSCO Europe
  • Vice President Strategic Sourcing and Sustainability
  • Senior Vice President Worldwide Strategic Sourcing and Sustainability
  • Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer

In the course of her senior-leadership journey, Francesca has been instrumental in fusing McDonalds’ traditional (and very successful) “system” developed by company founder, Ray Kroc, with a modern approach to sustainability and corporate social responsibility, ensuring that the fast-food giant consistently receives accolades and awards for supply chain excellence. Francesca’s achievements include:

  • Leading initiatives to source food-ingredients and packaging that do not contribute to deforestation.
  • Establishing McDonalds’ commitment to source beef only from suppliers verified as sustainable operators.
  • Driving goals for 100% sustainable sourcing of palm oil, coffee, and fish.

Given that these are worldwide goals and initiatives, it’s clear that Francesca DeBiase is not afraid of lofty objectives, or of the challenges involved in motivating and inspiring people to achieve global business-transformation.


James Sinegal of Costco Supply Chain

If you’re looking for affirmation that the shop floor can be the first step in a stellar career, you need only look at James Sinegal, who started his career unloading mattresses and bagging groceries for a 1950s warehouse-store chain. James later became Executive Vice President of that company and went on to become a co-founder and CEO of Costco.


Now retired, Sinegal will always be remembered as a strategic genius, building the success of Costco on the concepts of customer loyalty and value.


But just how influential was he during his career?…

His ability to inspire is perhaps best highlighted in a story told by another great supply chain leader. Jeff Bezos met with Sinegal in a certain coffee shop, which incidentally owes its popularity to yet another great supply chain leader—Howard Schultz. That coffee shop of course, was a Starbucks.

During their meeting, Sinegal explained the Costco strategy and why it was so successful. Bezos left the meeting determined to apply some of Sinegal’s wisdom to the Amazon Empire, and immediately went about cutting prices at the ecommerce giant by as much as 30%.

In his own words, Bezos explained that Sinegal inspired him to develop Amazon as a company that continuously seeks ways to charge less, rather than more for its products.

So there you have it. Great leaders know the importance of looking to other sources for knowledge and inspiration and as one of those sources; James Sinegal has earned his reputation as a supply chain leadership guru.


Pier Luigi Sigismondi of Unilever Supply Chain

You don’t get to be the Chief Supply Chain Officer of a corporation the size of Unilever without either being or becoming a great supply chain leader. Pier Luigi Sigismondi was Unilever’s CSCO for over six years and in that time, transformed the conglomerate’s supply chain from one of local fragmentation into a model of unified operational excellence.

Today, Unilever’s operation is the envy of many multinational enterprises and rests at the very top of Gartner’s list of top-25 supply chains. This accolade is in no small-part attributable to Sigismondi’s aggressive and ambitious approach to supply chain strategy.


Over the course of his six-year tenure as CSCO, he worked closely with CEO Paul Polman to lead Unilever in a doubling of overall revenue and a halving of environmental impact.


Hailed as one of the first true supply chain leaders (in the sense of being focused solely on supply chain operations), Sigismondi insisted on a tough but ultimately successful strategy of process standardisation, while also pushing technological innovation and centralised supply chain management.

His was the driving influence in establishing the Unilever control towers in Europe and the United States, which now form part of a network of similar hubs, offering full visibility into what the company calls the  “Three Cs,” comprising customer-service, carbon, and costs.


Which Great Supply Chain Leaders do you Follow?

If you’re looking for some supply chain leadership role models, you could do a lot worse than drawing inspiration and influence from the three corporate icons featured in this article.


After all, every professional needs some inspiration from time to time, especially when progressing through increasingly senior positions in a supply chain career.


Are there any particular leaders that you look up to and follow? If so, we’d love to know who they are and what you find most inspiring about them. Perhaps we can feature them in a future article, so please do share details in a comment or two below.


Contact Rob O'Byrne
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Rob O’Byrne
Phone: +61 417 417 307


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