Insights from Theo Epstein

On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs did the unthinkable. The Cubs won the World Series, coming back from a 1-3 deficit to the Cleveland Indians. For Cubs fans, the victory marked the end of an era—a 108-year streak of competitive futility. Although the Cubs’ game-seven, extra-inning victory is inspirational, you may be wondering, “Why, as a supply chain professional, should I care?” Answer: Because Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations, knows how to build a championship team—a task that is likely high on your to-do list. Vitally, Epstein’s role in the Cubs’ turnaround wasn’t a fluke. In 2004, Epstein, as Red Sox General Manager, helped Boston vanquish the Curse of the Bambino—an 86-year title drought.

Deciphering how Theo Epstein took the Cubs, a perennial loser, to a World Series championship has been a hot topic in the sports world. Based on our 20-plus years working with supply chain leaders, we argue that Theo Epstein’s job—i.e., assembling a champion on the field—is a model for the supply chain leader’s quest to build a winning supply chain. Let’s take a closer look at how Theo Epstein transformed the Cubs into champions. His approach highlights five principles of supply chain design that we call the 5Rs. The 5Rs have enabled companies from Amazon to Zara to win on the world’s toughest playing field—today’s global marketplace.

Figure 1.1: The 5Rs of Supply Chain Excellence