For 30 Under 30 Supply Chain Star Tanner Ryan, Culture and Geopolitics Make Supply Chain a “Forever-Changing Puzzle”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of Q&As with a few winners of this year’s Thomas/ISM 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars Recognition Program. Check out previously published interviews with Charlotte de Brabandt and Rhiana Gallen.

Among the common characteristics of the 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars are an international mindset and an interest in giving back to the community — two traits that certainly apply to Tanner Ryan. His supply chain career has taken him around the world and back to his native Colorado, where he now works as a Rocky Mountain Region trucking coordinator for Shell.

In this Q&A, we chat with Ryan about his career accomplishments and challenges, his experience working in China as a teenager, the disruptive potential of autonomous transportation, and, last but not least, beer.

Spend Matters: How did you become interested in supply chain?

Tanner Ryan: I believe my love for supply chain came from my parents. My mother is an incredible nurse and unknowingly instilled the fundamentals of Lean practices in me at a young age. From keeping my room clean to organizing luggage in the car for family road trips, she helped shape my way of thinking to quickly assess a situation, like in an emergency room, and implement efficient solutions.

My father has been in international freight forwarding for most of his career. He introduced me to supply chain through factory tours and small side projects. I developed a sense for data and analytics from watching him think through large family decisions and interacting with his customers. The dichotomy of my mother’s quick, concise reactions and my father’s analytical, process-oriented approach provided me with a strong foundation for a supply chain career.

In college, I dual-enrolled in civil engineering and business but quickly found my true passion in supply chain. Civil engineering was a concrete example of a supply chain in action, but I knew I wanted to be on the business operations side instead of the design side. From there, my interest in supply chain sent me on a global journey. From China to Ireland to Argentina, I found myself conducting business, building programs, securing contracts and visiting manufacturing plants. I knew this field was for me when I decided to enter the University of Colorado’s Master’s [program] in supply chain management, and I have not looked back since.

SM: What aspects of supply chain work interest you the most now?

TR: At this point in my career, I am still very attached to the international aspect of supply chains and the economics that fuel our decisions. The cultural and geopolitical aspects add an interesting complexity that makes supply chains a forever changing puzzle. I love being in the field, interacting with our front-line partners and bringing that knowledge back to my teams to improve our planning and decision making. I hope to be intertwined with the energy transition and leading other supply chain professionals toward a more globally integrated future.

SM: What has been your proudest professional accomplishment so far? What about the biggest challenge?

TR: My proudest accomplishment has been building a model for my team’s operations in the Gulf of Mexico that accounted for asset and port locations, offshore demand, supplier lead times, total cost of transportation, and several other variables. This model was used in multiple contract negotiations and continues to provide insight to the team.

The most challenging obstacle in my career thus far has also been the most exciting. I have moved three times in less than three years to Anchorage, New Orleans and then Denver. All three of these locations offered unique, thrilling experiences, beautifully diverse cultures, and meaningful relationships.

The two hardest parts, though, have been managing my personal life and growing in my professional career. It is not an easy task to ask your fiancée to move across the U.S. three separate times and leave amazing friends and family to start the whole process over again. It has also been challenging, as a young professional, to grasp the inner workings of this enormous company and all the details of what we do in three distinct regions.

SM: As a teenager, you spent three summers working in China. What was that experience like, and were there any lessons learned that were particularly applicable to supply chain?

TR: Spending three summers in China, and three years connected to the culture and language, was the single most influential experience I had in college. It expanded the way I thought, altered how I interacted with people, and enhanced my ability to make decisions during uncertainty. I was able to travel from Beijing to Hong Kong and several cities in between and even picked up conversational Mandarin.

While I no longer use Mandarin and have since lost most of it, I still cherish the lessons I learned. The most prominent lesson I was taught is that nothing is over until it is over. This is particularly applicable in international supply chain. We work with massive companies, unstable governments and ever-changing contracts. Assuming something is complete before it is actually finished can put us in a costly bind.

SM: One of the original goals of the “30 Under 30” competition was to promote supply chain careers to young people. What can companies do to retain future generations of employees?

TR: [The] aptitude [of young professionals and students] for technology is unparalleled, and they are increasingly willing to work and live outside of their home state or country. Giving these new employees flexibility in schedules, work places and projects may be one way to encourage the creative exploration if there is an understanding that their responsibilities will not suffer from it.

SM: We love writing about disruptive tech on Spend Matters, though we also realize that the term is often loosely used at best. What technologies do you think truly has the potential to be disruptive for supply chain?

TR: I believe autonomous transportation will be the most disruptive technology ever experienced in supply chain. It will completely change transportation models and how we interact with products. Insurance providers to vehicle ownership models will shift significantly. The labor force will face immense challenges and will see completely new opportunities.

The largest change, though, will be to consumers. They will experience supply chains in a vastly different way. It will affect their infrastructure, interactions with company representatives, order to delivery lead time, and even daily commutes.

With autonomous transportation and the continued focus on data, I suspect the supply chain industry will begin to experience unimaginable computer capabilities. We will see new methods of handling big data and new forms of data even more complex than we know today. Our prediction and forecasting models will trend closer to reality while incorporating finer and finer details.

SM: What are your long-term career goals?

TR: I would love to continue diversifying my experiences in the field and corporate world so that I have the depth of operational knowledge and breadth of business acumen needed to lead a supply chain one day. I aspire to be a leader of people and teams all focused on a cleaner, more efficient supply chain. I hope to stay connected with consumers and emerging technology as I grow in my career so that I can influence trends and employ the most effective tools. I hope to work internationally again and eventually hold a global position as well.

SM: You like to brew your own beer in your spare time. What’s your favorite beer?

TR: I cannot say I have a single favorite beer, but I am enamored with the Belgian style. It is one of the most complex and diverse types of beer I have encountered, and the history behind their wild fermentation techniques is fascinating! Belgian beers are incredibly unique and challenging to replicate because of the native yeast and bacteria found in Belgian air. I hope to someday visit the original monasteries in Belgium to learn about the style’s roots and taste it, firsthand!

This Q&A has been edited and condensed.

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