Camels and Tigers and Unicorns, Oh My!

April 21, 2020

Author: Guy Soreq

For many of us, a camel brings to mind a creature that patiently crosses the desert from one oasis to another, equipped with adaptations to cope with the harsh environment. Similarly, a ‘camel’ firm is one that can adopt an organized and patient approach to business. In this analogy, the business cycle during times of crisis is the difficult journey across a vast chasm which needs to be broken down into discrete steps based on access to internal resources and a focus on key challenges. While a 'camel' firm may be the best choice for your supply chain (and possibly your investment portfolio) in a 'Normal' financial crisis, we are not dealing with normal times.

'Tiger' firms inhabit volatile market spaces where conditions change rapidly. These firms are able to adapt to a number of difficult environments where competition is less predictable and agility is therefore an important attribute. Contrary to camels, tigers have a vastly different experience of crossing the same demanding chasm. In their book, "Camels, Tigers & Unicorns: Rethinking science and technology-enabled innovation," authors Uday Phadke & Shai Vyakarnam analyze the journey of 300 firms between 1995 and 2015. The journey included, of course, crossing (or failing to cross) the 2008 Financial Crisis chasm.

In a recent poll, in one of the numerous webinars attempting to understand the rules of the 'next-normal', participants were asked: "Besides lower demand, what do you see as the biggest risk to resuming production scale?". The first risk mentioned: "components and inventory shortage from the various affected regions". "Insolvency/closure of companies in the supply chain" came in close (and highly disconcerting) second place. The 'camel' firm, with its internal resources and clear focus is not agile enough to cope with the scale and scope of these new challenges.

While a 'camel-tiger' hybrid business culture is probably just as mythical as that of the Silicon-Valley ‘unicorn,’ creative business leaders can form elite teams of 'tigers' within the 'camel-like' corporate structure. Finding supply chain partners with the same tiger attributes is just as challenging as creating them internally, but that is exactly the reason that boards across the business spectrum have suddenly begun turning to their Chief Supply Chain Officer for answers – "Where? When? Why Not?".

The CSCO’s team of 'tigers' need to work with all the 'Elite' teams in the firm to create the "magic" that can result from concessions and sacrifices: compensating for shortages of raw materials and components, re-formulating staple products to adjust for these shortages, or simply pushing their cost-structure above the ominous breakeven point. So, is there a tiger in your organization? Or a mythical hybrid along your supply chain?