The Mount Rushmore of Supply Chain

Is your company’s logo sculpted onto supply chain’s Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore
Supply Chain Greats. Getty Images

Whose faces are sculpted on the Mount Rushmore of Los Angeles Lakers players?  On the New York Yankees Mount Rushmore?  Who joins Meryl on the Mount Rushmore of movie actresses?

In the national pastime of creating mock Mount Rushmore’s, we list our top four in a specific category because sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his son could fit four faces on the southeast granite face of Rushmore (ironically called Six Grandfathers by the Lakota Sioux).

It’s probably important to point out that the “national pastime of creating mock Mount Rushmore’s” may be less of a national pastime and more of a bit I heard on sports talk radio that was used to fill a couple midafternoon segments.  But indulge me, if you don’t mind, there are important supply chain optimization lessons to be learned…

Mount Rushmore categories are infinitely fun to come up with (Mount Rushmore of Sci-Fi movies, Mount Rushmore of 20th Century American Novels, Mount Rushmore of Beatles Songs, Mount Rushmore of Talk Show Hosts, Mount Rushmore of Movies Based On Stephen King Stories/Books, Mount Rushmore of “Lost” Characters, Mount Rushmore of Political Philosophers, Mount Rushmore of Shortstops, Mount Rushmore of U.S. Presidential Candidates Who Are/Were Women, Mount Rushmore of Modern Inventions, Mount Rushmore of Awkward Teenage Awkwardness, and so on).  By the way, unless you’re coming up with the Mount Rushmore of The Three Stooges, you’re going to end up leaving someone deserving off the list.

  It’s part of the game.  And, as with all Mount Rushmore’s, even the Mount Rushmore of Supply Chain is not absolute.  Until now.

It’s important to have ground rules going into any Mount Rushmore creation or the game might take close to the original’s 14 years to complete.  Only modern era Lakers, for example (sorry, George Mikan fans).

  Movie actresses with at least one Oscar.  Those kinds of ground rules.  For the Mount Rushmore of Supply Chain, the rule is:  Only companies I have some personal experience with.  That may sound limiting, but personal experience has a broad definition, as you’ll see below.

The faces of Supply Chain’s Mount Rushmore:

Amazon:  I’ve been an Amazon supplier. I’ve used them as a third party distributor. And I’ve been a customer (because I am a human being with an internet connection).  If you’ve ever ordered a toothbrush from these guys, you know that it’ll be on your doorstep within 24 hours.  Sundays included.  And their drones aren’t even flying yet.  And for as customer focused as they are, they are equally disciplined when dealing with their suppliers.  Payment terms are non-negotiable.  Inventory levels are meticulously tracked and maintained.  With a company this huge, I’m sure there’s some waste along the way, but one of the main reasons Amazon is what it is today is because its supply chain has been able, and continues to be able, to meet the lofty aspirations of its branding.

Apple:  And speaking of branding… I’ve been a supplier to Apple’s retail stores and these guys know how to move product through the supply chain at the lowest cost possible.

  The supplier pays for it.  Apple forecasts and orders your product, but you own it.  After you ship it to them, you own it.  After it arrives at their distribution center, you own it.  After it moves to their local hubs, you own it.  They only pay you for it just before it goes to their retail store and is practically hanging from a peg.  Very little inventory risk for them.  And these are just their accessories.  I don’t have to mention what they did by transforming the way we think of music, telephones and tablets.  If their supply chain couldn’t back up what their marketing promised, we’d still be thumb-typing on Blackberry’s hard buttons.

Pfizer: I’m kicking it old school supply chain with this one.  In March 1942, half of all the penicillin in the world was used on a single patient.  Three months later, there was only enough penicillin around for 10 patients.

  Pfizer realized that the fermentation expertise it developed making citric acid could be used to make penicillin.  Jump ahead to June 1944 – D-Day – and most of the penicillin that hit Normandy was made by Pfizer.  Think about that – new technology, never been mass-produced and they make it and deliver it in quantities never imagined before.  That’s optimized supply chain before the words supply and chain had ever been put together. But – in spite of what my kids would tell you – that was before my time.  I was at Pfizer a few decades later, when a little thing called Viagra was launched.  Marketing forecasts indicated that Pfizer might need its entire organic synthesis capacity at facilities in Ireland and Puerto Rico to meet its demand.  We had to outsource and re-source antihypertensive meds, antifungals and diabetes medication – to make way for the little blue diamond that could.  And we did all that.  And Viagra reached one billion dollars in sales faster than any prescription drug in history.  Go supply chain!

Dell:  This is where we learned it all.  Back in the day, Dell was to supply chain what Grant Achatz is to molecular gastronomy.  From designing and building its suppliers manufacturing facilities, to chartering daily Asia-to-U.S. 747’s full of computers and parts, to having suppliers consign their inventory all the way to the production floor (and measure it in minutes-on-hand), Dell set the standard.  Their star may have fallen in recent years, especially as Apple’s and Amazon’s has risen but Dell’s face deserves a permanent place on the Supply Chain Mount Rushmore.

On the cusp: Netflix (for having all those DVD’s on hand and maintaining that inventory control and delivering it to their customers and changing the face of home entertainment – twice) and these companies. (Thank You, David Weaver and the Inventory and Supply Chain Blog.)

And just so we’re clear:

Lakers:  Magic, Kareem, Jerry West, Kobe

Yanks:  Ruth, DiMaggio, Berra, Jeter

(Okay, the Yanks are one of the few categories that can field two A+ Rushmore’s:)

Yanks:  Gehrig, Mo Rivera, The Mick, Donnie Baseball

Movie actresses:  Meryl, Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, Sandra Bullock (it’s not too soon to put her on, mark my words)

Sci-Fi Flicks:  Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T.

20th Century American Novels:  To Kill A Mockingbird, A Catcher In The Rye, A Prayer For Owen Meany, The Old Man And The Sea

Beatles songs:  Let It Be, All You Need Is Love, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Help!

Talk Show Hosts: Oprah, Johnny, Ellen, Dave

Movies based on Stephen King:  Shawshank, Stand By Me, The Mist, The Shining

“Lost” characters:  Ben, Jack, Kate, Locke

Political Philosophers: Socrates, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hobbes

Shortstops:  Jeter, Ozzie Smith, Pee Wee Reese, Cal Ripken, Jr.

Female U.S. Presidential Candidates:  Shirley Chisolm, Hillary Clinton, Margaret Chase Smith, Jill Stein (more votes than any other woman as her party’s presidential nominee)

Modern Inventions: Binary code, the web, internal combustion engines, interchangeable parts

Awkward Teenage Awkwardness:  That first unhide-able zit, that first romantic kiss, that first hiding-the-twist-on-your-face-when-you-sip-your-first beer, that night when your friends find out you have a curfew (For some of us, this Mount Rushmore was lived on a single night.)

The Stooges:  Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp

Feel free to play at home, folks.

Also ironic – I don’t know if Mount Rushmore goes on my “Mount Rushmore of National Monuments.”   National Monuments, in the U.S., have a specific definition (funded by the federal government, managed by the Park Service, etc.).  I’d have to go:  Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Gateway Arch, and fourth would be either the Vietnam War Memorial, the Flight 93 Memorial or Mount Rushmore.  So maybe Mount Rushmore squeaks onto that Mount Rushmore, but it’s on the cusp.

I’m sure you’ll disagree with some, most or all of my Mount Rushmore’s.  Feel free to start a supply chain blog and come up with your own.  Or let me know yours.