Astute assistants keeping an eye on supply chain, inflation and travel

Travel, inflation and more: What should assistants anticipate in 2022?

Hello, readers. I’ve been itching to carve out time and publish more for you than I have lately. In addition to my webinars, I presented at three conferences last month and spent much of September in the USA. It was wonderful to see and work with assistants face to face once again as well as continuing to train and collaborate virtually.

Over the course of 19 days, I travelled through five major North American airports, on two different airlines. I stayed in four different hotels. Train travel was also part of the journey, and I spent time in Pennsylvania (Penn) Station in addition to making my usual visits to Grand Central Terminal while in New York. 

I believe we should generally prepare ourselves for new norms in travel as well as in our careers, and will offer further thoughts on travel in an upcoming article. For now, let’s focus on supply chain issues and what’s already been referred to as episodic inflation.

Assistants’ early pandemic insights on supply chain issues

Those of you who’ve been following this website for some time will know supply chain issues have been on my radar since my first pandemic-related article, on March 2, 2020. I asked readers if your employers had experienced supply chain issues to that point. If not on the front lines, assistants often have good insights into operational issues. In early March 2020, 14% of respondents told me your employers were experiencing supply chain issues – and another 26% reported no such issues to that point, although they expected that could change, depending on (as I so naively phrased it in the multiple choice responses) “how long it takes to contain the virus”.

How quickly things changed: I posed the same question about supply chain issues less than three weeks later, on March 20, 2020. Guess what? In that short space of time, the percentage of respondents who told me your employers were experiencing supply chain issues jumped from 14% to 52%.

Stock markets reacted

When I published that article and Weekend Poll,  stock markets had encountered – and begun to recover from – significant dives, which were triggered by concerns over supply chain issues and consumer behaviour.

Ten days later, though, on March 12, 2020, trading on North American markets was temporarily halted before resuming.  UK shares suffered what was cited as their “worst day since 1987“. In Canada, the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) experienced its worst ever trading day – or, depending on the source, its worst trading day since the 1940s.

Astute assistants will pay attention, as consumers and in their careers

Experts’ perspectives on supply chain disruptions and inflation

Now, as we approach the close of a second pandemic year, rarely a day passes without a new analysis or headline associated with supply chain issues. In a late September 2021 panel discussion hosted by the European Central Bank, US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell spoke about worsening supply chain and bottleneck issues.

Last week, I watched an interview in which Diane Swonk, Chief Economist at Grant Thornton and advisor to the US Federal Reserve, spoke about what could be termed episodic inflation. In discussing ongoing supply chain disruptions, which she anticipated would continue until the latter part of 2022, Swonk suggested it may be 2023-2024 before inflation cools. Today, Jerome Powell said the US central bank was on track to begin reducing asset purchases. He spoke again about global supply constraints that have sparked inflation – and he, too, projected they’ll  likely continue well into 2022.

Your awareness of macro issues benefits you and your employer

For assistants, executives and consumers everywhere who’ve been paying attention to inflationary concerns, it may be unsurprising that Powell went on to comment, “if we were to see a risk of inflation moving persistently higher, we would certainly use our tools.” Now, that might be a positive income in terms of savings accounts that have been generating less than a single percentage point in interest, yet less appealing for anyone carrying debt that’s sensitive to interest rate fluctuations.

In other business news, we’re hearing this week that fertilizer prices are set to rise, which has potential to impact global food chains … and, of course, pricing.

Another potential impact of the disruptions to supply chains? This week, the Wall Street Journal published a piece, “Supply-Chain Crisis Fuels Latest Retreat From Globalization”. One impact, the WSJ suggested, is the potential end of the era of “low costs and endless variety”.

Experiencing supply chain disruption firsthand

Readers in parts of the UK don’t need anyone to tell them about gas/petrol shortages associated with labour shortages. Across Canada, prices are soaring at the gas pumps. The current price of $1.60 a liter in Vancouver, where taxes contribute significantly to the cost, make me glad we live in an area where I can walk to our dentist, grocer, hairdresser and more. For American readers, that gas price is roughly $6.00 CAD – or $4.84 US a gallon.

In one of our grocery stores earlier this week, there was a sign containing an apology to customers. Prepared pizzas were unavailable, as the store’s supplier was experiencing packaging issues.

As we approach December and the holiday season, typically a time in which we consume more, you may find some shopping options more limited than in previous years. Anyone who’s been cosmetics shopping in the last while will already have experienced this. Before departing for Chicago and then New York last month, I headed to a local cosmetics counter with something verging on excitement over the prospect of buying a new lipstick or lip gloss – and then actually getting to wear it in front of in person assistants at upcoming conferences! The shades I was after, though, weren’t in stock and the rep told me these were just a couple of examples of their stock shortages.

That’s all right, I thought;  I’ll get some in the States.  In Manhattan, I made my way to the Herald Square Macy’s. With two and a half million square feet of retail space, this is one of the largest stores you may ever visit. Even there, the Dior and then YSL lipstick and lip gloss inventories were impacted. No new lipsticks this visitHmm, I then thought; perhaps I should check out eyeshadows while I’m here. I did find the lovely MAC collection you see on your screen; these are the brand’s fall colours.

As I’d planned to spend much of the day exploring NYC, I asked the gal at the counter if she’d hold the eyeshadow palette for me until the following day. She agreed to do so, and then showed me the drawer behind the counter as she explained that this was the very last set in stock. I changed my mind, and bought the palette then and there.

The better informed we are, the better positioned we are to succeed

33% of assistants recently reported supply chain issues at work

You’ll remember I mentioned my Weekend Polls, and the percentages of assistants who reported their employers were experiencing supply chain issues. That jumped from 14% in early March 2020, before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, to 26% when I asked the same question less than three weeks later. In my latest Weekend Poll, 33% of respondents to date have reported supply chain management issues.

That Weekend Poll, by the way,  is still open, given my travel and work on a number of deliverables for clients. I’ll be closing and reporting more fully on its results next week.

Impacts in Norway

Shortly after I published this article and shared it on LinkedIn, Real Careers alum and Norwegian assistant Anita Olsen wrote from Oslo. Anita commented that this article “hit the nail on the head”. She noted that Norwegian hotel chains have recently found it necessary to increase their tax rates from six to 12 percent. Anita added that electricity and fuel prices have also risen in Norway.

No need to panic; stay informed

Am I raising supply chain and inflationary issues to cause panic? No. Am I continuing to encourage assistants to be aware of broad economic issues and macro factors that are sure to impact you and your employers? You bet. I do this in my presentations and webinars, and here on my website, as I believe assistants who maintain such awareness elevate their business acumen. That benefits you and your employers. The better informed we are, the better positioned we are to succeed.

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