Note: This article originally appeared as Mr. Eshkenanazi began his one-year term as ASAE president in September 2015.
Exclusive Association Adviser interview with Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of APICS, the premier professional association for supply chain and operations management with over 43,000 members and 300 international partners. Eshkenazi, newly elected chair of the ASAE Board, shares his insights about hiring, talent management, connecting with Next Gen, and the importance of raising the profile of your profession worldwide.
Association Adviser: Abe, on top of your duties at APICS, you’re the newly elected chair of the ASAE Board. What do you hope to accomplish in your first 100 days in that high visibility role?
Abe Eshkenazi: The first 100 days is about making sure we’re consistent with the legacy that ASAE has established. We expect volunteer leaders to be present. We expect them to be knowledgeable and to show fiduciary responsibility. This isn’t a function of changing anything. You’re looking at an organization that’s operating at peak performance right now. It’s just a matter of fitting in and understanding that this isn’t “my year,” it’s just a year in ASAE’s legacy.
AA: Obviously, your association peers think highly of you. Has anything else eased your transition into your new ASAE role?
AE: Serving on the ASAE leadership board and being part of ASAE’s leadership the past few years has provided me some unique insight into the ASAE strategic planning process. In terms of running the organization, ASAE has some of the best staff in the world and is a model for other associations [to follow].
AA: Okay, so how would you describe your leadership style?
AE: My philosophy at APICS is to hire the brightest people I can and remove the obstacles in their way so they can succeed. There are very talented individuals and you need to get the best out of them. We’re not about making them fit into a formula, but encouraging them to change the formula. Also, you can’t be afraid to take risks as an organization. You have to learn from those mistakes and do better the next time if you want to grow. We certainly have more mistakes than we have successes, but we’re always working on moving the ball down the field. But, when successes happen, they tend to be very big for our members and for our customers.
AA: APICS has a reputation for being very innovative. Do you have a formal process for innovation or do ideas come up ad hoc when opportunities arise?
AE: Great question. A lot of people say, “Let’s get a bunch of smart people in a room and start to innovate.” It doesn’t happen like that here. It’s more organic. We’re always looking for ways to engage with members. They often have the best ideas. We look to fill their needs.
AA: So, what’s the best way to figure out what members need? Our research shows that’s a big challenge for associations now.
AE: You’ve got to get out and talk to members. You rarely see us sitting in a room and asking, “What do members need?” No, you have to go to members’ workplaces and find out what their work life is like. What pain points are they feeling? Can you identify ways to be more responsive to their needs? We also beg, borrow and steal from other organizations. What are they doing well and can we make it better? As I said, we’re in the needs-filling business, and we stay relevant when members see us as a career-long resource.
AA: You touched on hiring. Does APICS have any special strategies for connecting with Next Gen?
AE: It’s a matter of awareness. You have to make [our profession] real for guidance counselors, academic advisers, even for parents. They’re the trusted advisers for the next generation. We’ve got to make sure we’re giving those advisers the appropriate support they need.
AA: How about after they’re hired?
AE: Once you get them into the workplace, make sure that what they’re working on is relevant. You’ve got to engage them. You’re not just giving them a job; you’re listening to them and giving them the opportunity to influence the organization. I didn’t come to APICS to develop supply chains. I came to APICS to develop people. If we develop people at the staff level, member level and the supply chain level, they’ll develop better supply chains.
Reader note: For more on this topic see the APICS report, Next Generation Supply Chain Leader.
AA: APICS recently merged with the American Society of Transportation and Logistics. Can you talk about the challenges of blending cultures, processes and systems?
AE: Actually, it’s our third merger in the last four years. A number of years ago, we identified several niche players in our space — supply chain, operations, and logistics management. We found companies were looking for end-to-end solutions and not wanting to go to different organizations and associations for their certification and education. They view their supply chain as an integrated activity. We as an organization tend to view it as a segmented activity. Bringing in these other associations allowed us to have fuller and deeper conversations with our members and our customers. The cultures of the organizations we acquired were very complementary to ours. When you always keep the customers’ and members’ needs in mind, it makes the work that much easier.
AA: What is the biggest issue your members are facing and how is APICS helping them?
AE: Logistics is not a career choice for a lot of talented people coming out of college. They often back into a role in supply chain management. One of the issues we have is awareness. Ours is an extraordinary field to be in. Students coming out of school with supply chain degrees have the second highest placement rate after those with engineering degrees. They also have the second highest starting salaries. Again, only engineering is higher. We need to make sure we have enough individuals interested in supply chain. We still have a stigma — coming out of manufacturing. Many view it as shop floor work as opposed to high-tech robotics. It’s a global and highly complex field that needs individuals who are highly trained. Part of it is making [supply chain and logistics] a career choice and being responsive to organizations that need people trained in those areas. Unfortunately, most students don’t go into supply chain until their junior year or later, after starting in finance or engineering.
AA: Any final thoughts for our readers?
AE: At most organizations, only two functions know everything that’s going on at a company — finance and supply chain. Traditionally, finance was the path to the CEO’s job. Only recently are you seeing people with supply chain experience at the helm of big companies — Mary Barra at GM and Tim Cooke at Apple. Those are pretty big names and great recruiting tools.