Maria Villablanca is the Co-founder and CEO of The Future Insights Network, a fast-growing network of over 130,000 supply chain, manufacturing, procurement and logistics leaders and the host of the supply chain transformation podcast, Transform Talks. Maria interviews senior practitioners, thought-leaders, academics, and innovators from the world’s most admired organisations to cut through the hype and noise around supply chain and business transformation. Her contributions to the supply chain industry have earned her numerous awards, including: ‘Top 100 Women in Supply Chain, 2021’ by Supply Chain Digital, ‘Top 10 Most Empowering Business Women Leading Through The Change, 2022’ by CIO Views Magazine, ‘The Most Acclaimed Leaders in Supply Chain, 2022’, by Insights Success, ‘Elite League of Women In Supply Chain, 2022’ by Success Pitchers, and ‘Top 100 Influential Women in Supply Chain, 2023’ by B2G Consulting.
In a candid interview with the team of CXO Magazine, Maria P. Villablanca sheds light on the evolution of the supply chain industry, the inspiration behind Co-founding her company, The Future Insights Network, her role as a podcast host of Transform Talks, and a lot more. Following are the excerpts from the interview.
How has the global supply chain industry evolved over the last couple of years? What are the top three supply chain trends to watch out for?
Supply chain always had an image issue; it was often seen as a cost-obsessed back-office function if seen at all, that is. The pandemic gave the supply chain industry the attention and recognition it truly deserves, and not just from the C-suite, but consumers too. It only took a few empty supermarket shelves for consumers to get properly acquainted with what supply chains are and how they affect their lives. Covid-19, along with the disruptions that followed, reinforced the notion that for many businesses, the supply chain was the invisible thread that held the business together and, therefore, a powerful source of competitive advantage. Those that had come to this realisation years ago had invested enough into strengthening their supply chains to preserve their place in the markets they operated in. The businesses that came to this understanding more recently painfully watched their forward-thinking counterparts rise while they crumbled. Some even paid the ultimate price and watched their businesses go obsolete. Having spoken to hundreds of supply chain leaders on the Transform Talks podcast and at our events, the most significant trend I’ve seen and continue to see is more investment into digital technologies that connect and orchestrate the end-to-end supply chain with traditionally siloed functions and for the businesses further along in their maturity, with the entire ecosystem of the business. I’m seeing a lot more collaboration with suppliers, vendors, customers, and even competitors, and digitisation enables this. I go into detail about all of the latest supply chain news and trends in my newsletter, Transform Thoughts, which is based on the regular conversations I have with business leaders on the Transform Talks podcast. I encourage anyone that wants to stay up to date on what’s happening in the world of supply chain and business to check it out.
What inspired you to start Future Insights Network? As the Co-Founder & CEO, how would you define the growth of the company till date?
My business partner, Andrew Brown, and I set up The Future Insights Network with the view to serve the supply chain industry with actionable, digestible, and thought-provoking content that cuts through the hype and noise of supply chain and business transformation. We set out to build a strong team that would help us become the preeminent destination for high-quality content and learning opportunity for supply chain leaders and their teams. While we’re not there yet, we’re certainly on our way. In a short space of time, we’ve built a strong events portfolio and podcast and grown our network to over 130,000 leaders worldwide. We’ve lent our platforms to leaders representing some of the world’s most celebrated brands and thought leaders and numerous providers of cutting-edge supply chain solutions and services. We formed a powerful advisory board (The FIN Coalition) to steer our content strategy and ensure we stay true to our primary objective of producing high-quality content for the industry we serve. Just recently, we launched FINeX, a series of executive training courses created in partnership with Professor David Simchi-Levi of MIT, a world-renowned and award-winning thought leader. Our sights are set very high for the years to come. I may be biased, but I believe with our talented team, leaders, and organisations we work with, we’re well underway in becoming the leading destination of content and connections for hundreds of thousands of supply chain and business leaders.
What are some of the lessons you learned in your career that you would like to share for others to learn from?
Fail, fail fast, own up to your failures, learn, and make sure whatever you’re working on is solving problems for either your superiors, your teams, or your customers. No decision or action you take for the purpose of ticking a box will pay the kind of dividends solving problems do, and if you’re a woman, you better make sure the problems you solve are known. If you have any hope of throwing your hat in the ring for a promotion, be wary that the glass ceiling is very real and stronger than you think. You must be vocal about your achievements to have any chance of breaking it.
You are the host of Transform Talks. Can you brief us about your podcast series, the invited guests, and the topics that are tapped upon?
The Transform Talks podcast touches on every facet of supply chain and business transformation, from leadership and talent management to technology, ESG to geopolitics and disruption, next-generation planning to procurement, and so much more. It’s focused on supply chain transformation mostly, but on occasion, I like to bring guests with unique backgrounds to the show, like members of the armed forces, cybersecurity experts, government officials, authors, psychologists, and the odd leadership coach too. I consider myself very lucky to be able to spend my days talking to some of the biggest names in the industry and beyond on various strategic, tactical, and big-ticket concepts. Having questioned and provoked hundreds of guests to this date, I’ve uncovered some pretty fascinating stories and insights that would just not be possible with a passive interview style. I think what makes Transform Talks special is my genuine curiosity. While I’m the host and face of it, I work with a talented team of producers devoted to making sure every episode is as valuable and thought-provoking as the last. I must admit, I used to get the odd telling off from them for giving in to my natural curiosity and deviating from the plan! I think we’ve come to realise this is how we can stay true to our mission of providing thought-provoking content for the industry.
What are some of your greatest achievements in your career to date? What makes them special?
I would say my greatest achievement to date is seeing some of the young talents I’ve trained and mentored become managing directors or CEOs of their own businesses. If you’ve met the Future Insights team, you’ll notice they’re relatively junior compared to me and my business partner. My passion for developing young talent goes way back, though. I’ve made a rule to train and mentor as many employees as possible over my career, and there is nothing that makes me happier to see those that put their careers in my hand go on to do exceptional things.
What are the must-have skills needed to make a successful career in supply chain?
Learnability and the ability to unlearn is the key here. You have to ask questions to challenge the status quo permitted you’re armed with the right information and tools. Experience is worth a lot, but so is the ability to think outside of the box and the courage to challenge the status quo to foster the kind of innovation most supply chains lack, and desperately need. I think the ability to communicate effectively and manage people are also key to a successful career in supply chain management. Most people think management is about you, but it’s really not. It’s about getting results, through people. The best way to do this is by training your subordinates. Good managers get this and go on to become leaders for their perception of the role deviates from conventional, outdated thinking.
What piece of advice would you give to people who have a career in, or who are considering joining supply chain?
If you’re considering it, stop. Become a Youtuber or Tiktok influencer instead. Just kidding. My advice would be to get stuck in. Supply chain is exciting, and a career in a supply chain-related profession can be very rewarding. But if you’re going to get into supply chain or flourish in your supply chain organisation, just know your work will have a direct impact on not only your business but the world around you and more than you think. Supply chains not only keep the world moving, but I genuinely believe they can change the world. Figure out what kind of impact you want to have in the world if you want to have an impact at all, and remind yourself what it is every day. And if you’re keen to develop your knowledge and skills to further your impact be sure to visit our website www.futureinsights.org to benefit from the various resources and help available to you.