The Sidekick #001
2024 Is Going To Be A Doozy
Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Sidekick! I’m Kris Lance, VP & General Manager at Una, and I believe every Sourcing Hero (that’s you!) needs a sidekick.
I’ve started this newsletter to share my thoughts on news and issues that affect the global supply landscape. I’ll be sharing the big stories in the US, international news that will impact you, some career tips, and a grab-bag of bits and pieces that I’ve picked up online.
Let me stress from the start that the thoughts and opinions in this newsletter are my own. Some will be edgy, some may come across as a bit whacky, and some you may disagree with. In that case, great! Let me know! My aim is to help you keep your finger on the pulse of the industry in the most non-boring way possible.
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I’ve claimed in the title of this issue that 2024 is going to be a doozy for supply managers. How much of a doozy? We’re talking about the mad possibility of Texas secession, the ever-present threat of invasion in Taiwan, and Meta planning to develop super-intelligent open-source Artificial General Intelligence.
Since I’m not going to back down from big topics, it’s safe to assume the information will evolve quickly and sometimes dramatically – take it for what it’s worth but strap yourselves in.
The American Supply Scene: TEXIT!
“We are going to be so rich!” chanted a Houston-based preacher at the Texas Nationalist Movement. “We’re gonna be rich. We are gonna be rich. We. Are. Going. To Be. Rich! … As soon as we declare independence, we’re going to be wealthy. I believe that our personal GDP will double in five to seven years.”
Are Texas Nationalists serious? Apparently so. I understand the sentiment as I’ve been following this for a while now and it is an emotionally charged topic. Is it understood what type of impacts would be seen with this type of change though? And, if the Supreme Court is no longer the final authority on matters of law, is there really a country? The Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White (1869) that the United States is “an indestructible union” from which no state can secede.
A lot has changed since 1869 though and this hasn’t stopped some Texans trying, mind you. The issue flares up regularly, leading to debacles like the Republic of Texas organization, which led to a standoff with an armed militia bent on secession. Politics also plays a huge part – secession in Texas became a hot topic after Obama’s 2008 win (why? no comment), and today it’s deep-rooted in claims & beliefs of a stolen election, with ongoing border tensions increasing at an alarming speed.
It’s also about money. The Texas Tribune explains the secessionists’ argument: “Unencumbered by regulations and federal mandates, Texas’ massive economy – particularly its oil and gas sectors – would thrust the state into a utopian state of prosperity, peace, and stability.” While this is true, it’s worth noting that one-third of Texas’ annual budget is supported by federal funds though. An independent Texas would have to pay for key programs like social security, all while thrashing out the economic, cultural, and political chaos that would inevitably follow a move like this.
But let me play this out for a minute and suppose that the Lone Star State somehow gets around history to become independent. What would it mean for supply chains?
In short, a hard border around the whole of Texas would lead to a bucket of disruptions and inefficiencies. Firstly, it would entail physical infrastructure such as checkpoints and customs controls, causing delays and increased transportation costs. Imagine the infrastructure on the southern border being extended to the borders of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. This would hinder the swift movement of goods across the “new border”, impacting the just-in-time delivery models relied on by Texan industries like Energy and Tech.
New regulatory and customs requirements would increase administrative burdens for businesses, leading to additional paperwork and compliance procedures. The uncertainty and potential for increased trade barriers would also deter investment and trade between Texas and the rest of the US, further complicating supply chains and hindering economic growth.
Scary, isn’t it? But don’t worry, like history shows us – it’s not going to happen….right?
International Spotlight: Xi-Jinping Gives Taiwan a Scare Before Elections
Enough about secession. Let’s talk reunification.
In his New Year’s address, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China’s reunification with Taiwan was “inevitable” just before the self-ruled island held elections that had the potential to reshape relations between the two. “The reunification of the motherland is a historical inevitability,” Xi said.
It’s hard for us here in the US to imagine what it would be like if we had an infinitely bigger, militarily superior neighbor bringing pressure to bear just before we went to the polls. Xi was hoping for the opposition party, Kuomintang, to take power as they have historically favored closer ties with China. But Taiwanese voters chose to defy China by re-electing the independence-leaning Democratic Party led by Lai Ching-te.
Since the election, Beijing has resumed military intimidation through joint combat patrols around Taiwan and issued angry statements to other governments that have congratulated Lai Ching-te on his win, including the US. Elsewhere, Chinese diplomatic pressure is getting results, with Nauru severing ties with Taiwan in favor of China.
Let’s talk worst-case scenario. If China moves on Taiwan in 2024 and we find ourselves in a next-level military conflict, supply chains are going to be disrupted like never before. Bloomberg estimates a China-Taiwan conflict would decimate the global economy to the tune of $10 trillion, dwarfing the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Think about semiconductors. We have the CHIPS Act, but it’s going to take time for that to take effect and for the benefits to start rolling in. If we lose access to Taiwan within the next five years, most companies and industries in the United States – and in fact the Western world – will have a major problem on their hands.
And don’t make the mistake of assuming a China-Taiwan conflict would mean US companies will only lose access to the manufacturing hubs of those two countries. Yes, supply managers have been pivoting away from China since the 2018-2019 trade war, but we can’t assume any country bordering the South China Sea (Vietnam and Malaysia in particular) will be able to keep shipping safe in their waters.
Look at what’s happening in the Red Sea – Yemen is over 1,400 miles from Gaza, yet the conflict has motivated Houthi rebels to attack commercial shipping in one of the world’s most important trade routes. Meanwhile, heavy Chinese investment in African ports may herald future plans for naval bases in the Atlantic.
If things kick off in 2024 and the world rapidly reshapes into bloc-style geopolitics, my money is on trade with Mexico – further removed from the potential zone of conflict and already eclipsing China as the number one exporter to the US.
Supply chain risk managers are supposed to plan ahead for every scenario, no matter how unthinkable they may be. Do you have a China-Taiwan conflict plan ready to go?
Technology and Futurism News
What’s going on in the world of technology? Plenty. Here’s some news that caught my attention:
- Autonomous shipping is sailing closer: We hear a lot about autonomous vehicles, but what about autonomous shipping? The integration of AI and computer vision technologies into maritime systems means this tech is set to sail sooner than expected. Companies like Orca AI are creating automated situational awareness platforms that slash human error and enhance operational efficiency for ships and fleets. Successful autonomous trials have already taken place, but there are still regulatory challenges to address such as defining the roles and responsibilities of crews and establishing guidelines for the operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS). Despite these challenges, the future of shipping will inevitably be autonomous. Don’t ignore this trend.
- Modern cars are a privacy nightmare. A Mozilla report found that cars in the digital age “have an unmatched power to watch, listen, and collect information about what you do and where you go in your car.” The report found car-makers are collecting, sharing, and selling your personal data, not giving users control over their data settings, and failing miserably in terms of data security. Which car companies failed Mozilla’s privacy test? Every single one – but the worst offender is Tesla.
- Meta intends to develop AGI and make it open source: Artificial General Intelligence is currently theoretical, but basically it’s AI with a level of intelligence that matches or exceeds humans. Experts are alarmed at Zuckerberg’s proposal to make it open source, meaning developers and the public could use and modify the AGI. Wendy Hall, a member of the UN’s advisory body on AI, called the move irresponsible and said: “The thought of open source AGI being released before we have worked out how to regulate these very powerful AI systems is really very scary. In the wrong hands technology like this could do a great deal of harm.” If you’re an aspiring supervillain, watch this space.
Work/Life and Career Tips:
I always keep an eye out for career tips that could benefit sourcing professionals. Here’s a quick summary of three career-related articles:
- Check out the fastest-growing jobs in the US: LinkedIn has released its annual list of the 25 fastest-growing jobs. What struck me is the list’s reflection of two mega-trends impacting organizations: the rise of ESG and the rapid emergence of AI. For example, in third place we have Environment Health Safety Officer, followed by Sustainability Analyst (#5), VP Diversity and Inclusion (#7), AI Consultant (#8), and AI Engineer (#10).
- New role? You need a 30-60-90 day plan: This article from Hubspot provides a heap of templates for planning out the first 30, 60, and 90 days of a new role. The key is to view your first three months as distinct phases. First comes the learning phase where you listen, discover, and integrate. Next, you should increase your presence, becoming independent and taking on responsibilities. The final stage is about taking action, making changes, and seeing your first real results.
- How to get your career unstuck through networking: Never underestimate the power of your network. It’s your key to career growth, the best way to access new opportunities, and it’s unique to you. This Forbes article explores four ways to leverage your network to get out of a career rut, starting with finding ways to help others. Remember, networking should be reciprocal.
People to Follow
Oakland McCulloch (Lieutenant Colonel, Retired) is a great follow on LinkedIn, where he posts on topics including leadership, the art of decision-making, and building trust in your organization. He has featured on Una’s Sourcing Hero podcast and has published a book called “Your Leadership Legacy: Becoming the Leader You Were Meant to Be.”
Connect with Oak on LinkedIn.
Wisdom of the Week
“People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”
– Isaac Asimov
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