C. F. Lynch & Associates

Can We Please Buy a Vowel?

By Clifford F. Lynch

DC Velocity, November 2004

Twenty years ago, officers of the National Council of Physical Distribution Management found themselves contemplating the unthinkable: changing the organizationís name. Despite the risks, the groupís executive committee felt it had little choice. The term "physical distribution management" was quickly being eclipsed by the broader-reaching "logistics management." A leading edge professional organization like NCPDM couldnít afford to be burdened with an outdated name. As the committee members debated the various renaming proposals Ė including their eventual choice, the Council of Logistics Management Ė a few joked that whatever name they chose, at least it wouldnít have a more difficult acronym than NCPDM.

This year, however, their successors appear to have met that challenge. At the Council of Logistics Managementís annual conference in October, President Elijah Ray announced that the organization would once again be changing its name. Effective Jan. 1, 2005, the group formerly known as CLM will become the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, or CSCMP.

The decision reflects the changing nature of the groupís membership and its membersí expanding scope of responsibilities. Ray says the majority of CLM members have seen big changes in their jobs in the past decade. "We interact with more people within and outside our organizations" he noted. "Our members want to know about collaboration, visibility, integration. They want to understand the connectivity in all these things and learn how they can more effectively execute." No doubt this is true; and if it isnít, it should be.

But some worry that the titles may be getting a little too far ahead of the game. As we wrote earlier this year, you cannot transform logisticians into qualified supply chain executives with a stroke of the pen (or several strokes, in this case). Many fine logisticians simple havenít yet mastered the skills required to take command of the sprawling supply chain Ė the human relations skills, the negotiating expertise, and the ability to secure consensus among independently managed functions.

How do the CLM members themselves feel about the name change? Our informal (and admittedly unscientific) poll of conference attendees revealed some ambivalence. Even two venerable educators who have spent years promoting the notion of the "supply chain" felt we may be reaching too far. As one put it, "All of a sudden, everyone wants to be a strategist and view the issues from 30,000 feet. The major emphasis still needs to be on blocking and tackling."

Still, our poll failed to uncover any serious opposition. Comments ranged from the lukewarm endorsement ("I guess itís OK") to the downright optimistic ("At least it will educate those corporate officers who understand the supply chain, but still believe all the logistics experts are in the military").

But no one was able to muster much enthusiasm for the name itself. Itís simple too cumbersome, members told us, and it has no comfortable acronym.

One CLM officer dismissed those concerns by suggesting that the organization would in all likelihood become known simple as "the council." To me this sounds a little sinister, bringing to mind shady characters slinking about in the shadows, admitting only when pressed that they work for "the agency."

Thatís not to say we wonít work our way through this. As one logistics executive cheerfully observed, "The name is just a pothole in the road to what the organization is trying to accomplish."

Certainly, the group gives every indication that itís barreling ahead with its mission to be the professionís preeminent educational organization, and the conference itself reflected that. The keynote address was delivered by The Right Honorable John Major, former British Prime Minister, a most impressive opening to a high-level event. But we might have been better served by inviting Vanna White. We need a vowel.





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