Leading in supply chain amid uncertain futures: Nike director Erika Jorge on why fundamentals matter

How do businesses plan for uncertain futures? “I think we have to prepare for a market that will continue to be hybrid — omnichannel with brick and mortar and digital working hand to hand,” advises Nike Program Management Office (PMO) Director Erika Jorge. “For companies to succeed, they will have to continue to adapt to provide the customer with the product, but also an experience.”

With more than 17 years of industry experience and a Master of Science in Global Supply Chain Management (MSGSCM) from Portland State University, Jorge knows what it takes to pivot during trade wars, resource shortages and a global pandemic.

“If you start with an outstanding customer experience and plan backwards from there, you can answer the fundamental supply chain questions,” says Jorge. “What needs to happen in terms of manufacturing? How fast can we produce the product? Where are the raw materials, and when can we obtain them?”

The coronavirus pandemic has demanded adaptation and resilience from companies of every size in nearly every sector, affecting staffing, sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, demand and more. According to Jorge, the key to being nimble during disruption is scenario and contingency planning: “As we look forward, we need to plan for such scenarios. A global pandemic is a situation we never thought would happen. And it did.”

Learning to lead in supply chain technology

Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Jorge majored in production engineering and launched her career in information technology services. She gained experience with large-scale digital transformation and the implementations of new technical systems at global companies across the consumer goods, pharmaceutical and retail industries. Jorge joined Nike in 2014 as a supply planning business system analyst lead, leveraging her knowledge of production planning and distribution processes. In 2016, Jorge started to consider how higher education could catalyze her career.

“I always knew I wanted to do a deep dive into supply chain so I could understand the foundations,” says Jorge. “I wanted to step back and have a holistic view of the key concepts and fundamentals.”

Finding the right fit at PSU’s MSGSCM

With more than a decade of industry experience, Jorge wanted a graduate program that complemented her expertise and supported her professional goals. “My experience was mostly with large companies, so I wanted the opportunity to see how supply chain is handled at different scales” She also wanted a graduate program with a global focus: “I wanted the opportunity to study theory, travel to see how supply chain functions in a different culture, and learn how to design more global processes.”

Jorge also needed a program that would fit into her personal and professional life. “There was a convenience element. I live in Portland and work at Nike. To me, it just made sense to go to a local school,” she says. Balancing her career and education, Jorge wouldn’t be able to be on a campus for every class, so the flexibility of an online program was critical.

With a rigorous curriculum in line with her learning goals, a global focus and online classes, PSU’s MSGSCM program checked all the boxes. Jorge enrolled in the part-time MSGSCM program, and continued to work full time at Nike.

Leveraging case studies and community

Looking back, Jorge sees how specific courses and experiences have impacted her career. In a class with MSGSCM academic director, Daniel Wong, Jorge studied applied supply chains with a case-based curriculum. “They were real stories. We had to think about how the theoretical strategies were being applied,” shares Jorge. “You can study a lot of things in a textbook, but in real life, it’s never exactly the same.”

The global field study trip to Asia was also a critical part of her graduate experience: “I got to see first hand how our contacts had to adapt to the market, to their country’s realities, and to a global environment that was changing dramatically.” Connecting to guest speakers and industry leaders is often a major draw for graduate business education, and even though Jorge already had her own robust global network, she found that the community at PSU’s MSGSCM was an added bonus that she really appreciated. “Networking is always important, and I was able to meet really talented people while I was in the program,” says Jorge.

The future of supply chain

A major area of focus at PSU is sustainability, and the MSGSCM is no exception. “There was a big theme at PSU about creating a closed loop,” says Jorge. With this value embedded throughout the curriculum, graduates of PSU’s MSGSCM program stand out from their peers as leaders of sustainability and innovation. Jorge brings that perspective to her ongoing work at Nike, believing that sustainability is critical to organizational success. “How do you ensure the product you’re delivering is also sustainable? How do you replace or reuse it so you’re not creating unnecessary waste?” asks Jorge. “More and more, our consumers are looking for that, and I think it’s our responsibility to be more sustainable.”

Before graduating in 2018, Jorge was promoted to her current role as PMO director, managing the department budget and resources, and overseeing almost 250 employees between Beaverton and India. True to her roots, the role is heavily technical. “As PMO director at Nike, I lead a team that handles the SAP platforms and application,” says Jorge. “That system supports processes that are tied to every step of the supply chain — anything from order management, delivery, finance, even human resources.”

On the future of supply chain, and her career in it, Jorge predicts that change will be the only constant. “In the MSGSCM program I learned the foundation, and how to adapt to changing markets,” shares Jorge. “Supply chain will always be dynamic because the market is dynamic.”

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