Top Female Supply Chain Executives Lead the Way for Global Success

Female leaders stand out in traditionally male-dominated market segments of supply chain

Stephanie Miles, Senior Vice President of Commercial Services, Amber Road
Stephanie Miles, Senior Vice President of Commercial Services, Amber Road

If you haven’t already noticed, this month’s issue has a resounding focus around key decision-makers in the global supply chain. Our 2013 annual “Pros to Know” awards coverage (starts on pg. 14) provides just one glimpse of such men and women who help address company challenges and end-user issues within manufacturing; procurement; logistics; risk mitigation; sourcing; financial operations; packaging and distribution; transportation; and much more. And while it’s evident that the supply chain is filled with executives who help actively grow the global industry scope across a range of market segments, even more apparent is the increasing number of female executives who are growing their company’s business with their efforts. As such, Supply & Demand Chain Executive is honored to highlight the achievements and insights of a select group of female supply chain executives in our first ever “Top Female Leaders of the Supply Chain” industry focus.

From retail to healthcare, chemicals, finance, government and more, female executives are truly positioning the supply chain for global growth. For ex., Plan4Demand Solutions’ Sharon Nelson continues to help save global Fortune 500 corporations millions of dollars through smarter planning. Forecasting, a crucial part of any business in today’s economically changing environment, is another area of supply chain that John Galt’s Anne Omrod helps clients gain improvements in with regards to forecast accuracy, fill rates and revenue. Let’s not forget this month’s Pro to Know of the Year, Prime Advantage’s Louise O’Sullivan, whose efforts and achievements speak for itself.

While these three women are prime examples of supply chain success, they provide only a small peephole into a larger world of female heads who continue to drive their companies to success. As a result, yes, some in the industry may claim that the glass ceiling has shattered, so to speak. Yet others still argue that only a slight dent has been made in terms of metrics regarding the female-to-male workforce ratio in the supply chain.

Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, one thought was unanimous in speaking with the top female leaders we recognize this month. While we need to recognize the proactive efforts that female decision-makers take to better the supply chain, it goes without saying that achievements gained through hard work, passion for discipline and perseverance is where the true source of success lies—whether you are a male or female. The statement is refreshing in itself considering that is does come from a number of our honored female executives this month; and factoring in how far women have come to get to where they are today in any industry role. Which is why Supply & Demand Chain Executive takes a stance to say—“women of the global supply chain—it is OKto toot your own horn.”

This month, we reached out to 28 female decision-makers in the supply chain to gain their insights on what new practices/processes they use to drive value for their company in 2013; what current industry issues require extra industry focus; if the glass ceiling has truly shattered; and even ways that females in the global supply chain can better position themselves for economic decision-making positions in their relative industries.

It is an honor to be in the presence of such female leaders in the supply chain who continue to truly make a difference and recognize the issues that need to be addressed today. We sincerely thank the following women for their valued insights this month to SDCE and for their ongoing efforts to truly make the global supply chain a better environment.—Natalia Kosk, Supply & Demand Chain Executive

Stephanie Miles, Senior Vice President of Commercial Services, Amber Road

I have seen a positive shift in the past 10 years towards a multi-discipline perspective of the supply chain. In the past, individuals focused on their discrete department and often had little knowledge of other operational disciplines of the supply chain. This trend is still evolving. As individuals or individual departments come to understand how their role influences the broader supply chain, it strengthens the overall performance of the organization. A wider adoption of cross-department metrics would drive more cohesive activities and initiatives across the supply chain. Most of the women leaders I know in the supply chain have achieved their success through their hard work, achievements and passion for the discipline. I know of several female Vice Presidents or Directors of Supply Chain that started with their current company as an entry-level analyst. These women have earned the respect of their colleagues through their intellect, dedication, leadership and ability to make a difference. Whether a supply chain executive is female or male, operational experience and the ability to understand the “forest through the trees” provide a fantastic foundation for success. The supply chain is a hands-on discipline and requires individuals to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, communicate across cultures and disciplines, and see an opportunity from more than one point of view. I have seen these characteristics in both men and women, and it is encouraging to see both genders represented in leadership roles. In 2013, we are enabling our customers to pursue global revenue growth while maximizing margins, especially as they leverage the benefits of preferential and free trade agreements.

Laura Rokohl, Supply Chain Manager, Aspen Technology Inc.

Complexity is the primary characteristic that drives the need for a supply chain optimization solution for our process industry customers. The concept of whether or not the glass ceiling has shattered is very industry dependent. While industries such as CPG and high tech tend to have more women in positions of leadership, the process industries are still male dominated. According to a report called Women in Canada’s Oil and Gas Sector, 25 percent of all professional positions in the petroleum sector are occupied by women—but most are in junior and intermediate positions, with a serious shortage of women in executive or senior management positions. On the positive side, I do think there has been a trend toward attracting more women to university programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with significant growth in the last 10 years in the number of women earning engineering degrees. For women already in the workforce, some companies are making strides in developing policies and organizational initiatives that address barriers to women’s participation, such as company subsidized childcare facilities and harassment prevention training. My experience working with customers in the process industry indicates that people (both male and female) evolve into supply chain roles from other areas that tend to be male dominated, such as science, technology and engineering. College curriculums are just starting to focus on supply chain and as these programs grow and strengthen, so will the number of women that bring formal supply chain training to the table. Companies can foster the leadership potential of professional women in the workforce through role models, mentoring and networks to support professional development and create a forum for mutual advancement.

Mickey North Rizza, Vice President of Strategic Services, BravoSolution

The supply chain talent shortage is the greatest single threat to supply chains worldwide, as we face a perfect storm of colliding forces: under-educated talent, dated skill sets that cannot keep pace with changing technology, an aging workforce and low levels of fresh, young workers entering the function. Without skilled talent, supply chains will underperform, costs will increase and the competition will find open opportunities to thrive while others barely survive. As part of strategic planning, businesses need to identify their current and future talent gaps; recognize employee potential with career counseling and employee development;  re-visit compensation and benefits to attract the available talent;  and define recruiting strategies that are tied to the top supply chain schools and to employee development.    

Kelly Barner, Co-owner, Buyers Meeting Point

The goal of any initiative is to achieve the promised benefits—whether savings, efficiency or a competitive advantage. I believe supply chain professionals have been held back in the past because the traits that make us effective sometimes create friction with other functions in the organization. The more driven we are to implement positive change, the more hesitant others may be to work with us. We need to alter our approaches and communication styles to overcome others’ hesitancy so we can reach our goals. Changing one’s methods—particularly under pressure—requires constant self-awareness and purposeful actions. We must consider the larger organization’s positions on risk, change and decision-making and align with these factors when we prepare for interaction with executives and stakeholders.

Jessica Sanchez, Sourcing Systems Manager, C.R. Bard Inc.

Regulation and taxation are increasing at an exponential rate in business, especially in the health industry. These changes significantly impact the bottom line by eroding the margins on manufactured products and increasing non-value-add administrative costs. Early warnings of these regulations and taxes allows for preparation including educating the organization; and implementing systems for tracking requirements or items needing taxing. Taking these steps will be the only way to successfully mitigating increased cost to the business. Building processes and creating cross-functional teams for evaluating regulations and taxation will be imperative in the coming years for companies to successfully systematize responses and action plans that are necessary to comply with these industry changes. The introduction of supply chain management programs at universities significantly increased the education of all managers. The past decade has seen a shift from promoting employees from the manufacturing floor into management positions, to hiring college or master level students versed in supply chain management programs. This opens the door for more women in management positions who might not have had the opportunity without this cultural change. Women being successful in management roles that necessitate economic decision-making will continue to position other women in the supply chain. Women leading major manufacturing and Fortune 500 corporations such as PepsiCo, Sara Lee, KraftFoods, DuPont, IBM and Yahoo will also support better positioning of women throughout the supply chain industry. The real-time example of these women making economic decisions that are propelling their organizations to success is hard for any organization to ignore.  

Belinda Hess, Director, Marketing Food & Consumer, CSX Transportation (CSXT)

Our efforts are focused on driving value for our customers, which in turn creates value for CSX. To that end, we are identifying and implementing new ways in which to work collaboratively with our customers and transportation partners to make the supply chain as efficient as possible. This is critical in the food and consumer market that our team handles for CSX Transportation. We’re charged with creating new transportation and distribution solutions that bridge multi-modal options to better meet customer demands. As with other rail-served markets, we are looking for more opportunities to move food and consumer products in unit trains. That is, the same commodities handled in the same cars with no intermediate handling. The state of transportation infrastructure continues to be a concern with population growth and lengthening global supply chains. Logistics depends upon highways, ports and rails, and all of those components need to work seamlessly. For railroads, the ability to continue investing in their privately funded networks would be threatened if Congress imposed new regulations on railroads. Partial deregulation in 1980 ultimately gave railroads the ability to earn revenues sufficient to invest in new terminals, new locomotives and rail cars, and to expand track capacity while funding significant annual maintenance costs. Railroads and many policy makers are advocating for a continued balanced regulatory environment.

Mary Kleespies, Director of Supply Chain Consulting, DiCentral

There are things that today’s women must incorporate into their daily routine to better position themselves in the supply chain. The first is to keep abreast of what is new in their industry because there are changes in how consumers are making their buying decisions every day. Additionally, the impact of social media and omni-channel retailing are also significant. These are areas that women need to be well-versed in, in order to ensure that this phenomenon is maximized across their organizations. Lastly, as executives and leaders, women need to be open to new ways of improving their supply chains, whether this means an investment in technology or adopting new marketing aimed at their consumers.  The bottom line is that women need to be current and flexible so they can be the most knowledgeable person in their area of expertise.

Ann Drake, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, DSC Logistics

Women's interest in stepping outside conventional roles and professions led to them becoming better educated, more skilled and more motivated to be involved in the supply chain. They see our profession as a challenging, relevant and dynamic field with the power to impact business success and the global economy. Yet, statistics and our own observations tell us that women are still under-utilized in our field. We have basically not yet tapped into the significant contribution women can make to our field with their heightened skills in analysis, communication, collaboration and problem solving. For many years, I've recognized a need for an industry-wide initiative to develop women as strong supply chain leaders. So in 2013, I'm organizing an initiative we're calling AWESOME—Advancing Women's Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education. We're aiming to hold an AWESOME Symposium in early May with a much larger group of participants, where we will address the major issues. We'll be exchanging ideas about solutions to those concerns, as well as identifying the most effective approaches to leadership development. This initiative is right for our time because it's not about “giving” women opportunities—but about harnessing their abilities, knowledge and experience to achieve new levels of excellence and contribution to our field.

Caroline Dowling, President, Integrated Network Solutions, Flextronics

Today, supply chain talent does not make the top of the list of supply chain issues. At Flextronics, we believe there is a need to elevate this issue. With the speed of growth in reshoring of manufacturing and the continued growth of supply chains in emerging markets, we believe there is a need to invest and train in this area. Labor and talent strategies are becoming as important as global sourcing and manufacturing strategies. The war for talent in this space will continue to heat up. Flextronics is taking steps now to make sure we remain ahead of the curve. In Ireland, we have a Gaelic proverb: “Chan ann leis a’chiad bhuille thuiteas a’chraobh,” which means, “it is not with the first stroke that the tree falls.”  Women have made great strides at all levels in corporate leadership around the world. Change doesn’t happen overnight. We must persevere. More importantly, we must make sure that when opportunities present themselves, we have made the proper investments in ourselves through education and experience, so that we’re ready to accept the challenges when the time comes. 

Jaymie C. Forrest, Principal, Neogistics LLC; Managing Director, Supply Chain & Logistics Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology

I still believe there has been very little research and assessment of the implications of traceability in the food chains as product moves between the organizations—at the integration points. Transportation providers have not been engaged to date with the one-back one-forward regulations. And now they are going to be required to comply not only as a participant but as a critical link in maintaining the traceable chain. Even the big retailers have very little visibility to the actual paths and behaviors of the providers. For example, lettuce could have been delivered two days earlier if it went direct from A). the supplier location to B). the retailer DC. But instead it was moved to storage location C). cold storage acting as cross dock in order for C to be closer to the retailer when they requested the delivery allocation—not knowing that they actually just lost two days of freshness in the transportation network by not looking back into the chain and understanding the behavior of all the participants. There’s a good chance that temperature control was not checked from A to C and only practiced from C to B where it is checked at the retailer’s facility. This is a simple example and less critical than some of the actual food safety concerns. I think women need to be smart about positioning themselves. Look for opportunities to take the risks required to stand out. Look for internal sponsors that can help them get to the next level. There are a lot of opportunities for decision making in the organization. Maybe we just need to step out and ask to be positioned where we can add the most value based on our current skills and talent.

Mireia Brancos, Managing Director, Iasta Inc.

I agree with some folks that we have come a long way with the number of females in supply chain leadership positions but I believe we still have a long way to go. If we have to even ask the question, then we are not there yet. The world gets smaller every day—access to education and technology exposes us to a more culturally diverse workplace. This has compelled companies to become more mindful about embracing individual differences. Women have used this cultural shift to showcase their different yet equally effective leadership and management capabilities. But I think we are still in the early stages of this new diverse workplace model. The end goal? Genderless, raceless and ageless— measured only by talent, commitment, authenticity and knowledge. There are multiple ways in which women can better position themselves for positions in supply chain. By 1). Taking initiative, seizing opportunities, taking risks, driving change; 2). Becoming the experts—the go-to individuals; 3). Being confident about their ability to deliver—performance speaks for itself; 4). Having a voice around issues that are unique and important to them; and 5). Mentoring other women—creating a support network.

Lani Hawks, Senior Developer, Integration Point 

Companies that focus on software development are evaluating the implementation of a SCRUM software development process.   Integration Point has been using this process for a while—it allows us to manage a complex product development cycle using iterative and incremental deliverables. We quickly implement new features and functionality for end users to more efficiently manage their complete global trade management and compliance processes. Being able to quickly provide our customers with new and updated functionality allows them flexibility and adaptability to constantly changing regulations and Customs environments. [A current industry issue that needs extra awareness] is sharing data—companies have large amounts of data but struggle to effectively share it up and down the supply chain. This causes inefficiencies and leads to road blocks that slows down the movement of the goods. Part of that sharing of information helps the supply chain react to rapid changes such as regulation changes or new requirements for electronic environments when communicating to Customs and other governing agencies. We all need to focus on increasing our knowledge and having a true dedication to making sure the end product—whether that is software, process improvements or getting the product to the end user—is well done, not just status quo. 

Anne Omrod, President and Chief Executive Officer, John Galt Solutions Inc.

Though the worst of the recession appears to have passed, the level of uncertainty in the global economy remains high. Supply chains must be prepared to adapt to rapid change in market conditions—more now than ever. One way to achieve this is through segmentation of products according to the level of risk inherent in their data, which leads to more effective inventory policies and supply responsiveness. This segmentation can be challenging to perform effectively, but John Galt's Scenario Analysis module is designed to perform this function effectively and enable quicker reactions. As a solutions provider, we are always looking for new ways to deliver value to our customers. Our latest version of the Atlas Planning software is designed to lower the overall cost of support for our clients and enable a more flexible and responsive supply chain. We are also developing new methods of evaluating our customers' forecasting and inventory challenges and delivering workable strategies to help increase sales and competitiveness.

Jennifer Spicher, Vice President, KellyOCG, Kelly Services Inc.

KellyOCG acts as a talent advisor to client to enable them to fulfill their talent requirements. We have found that approximately 20 percent of companies are fully satisfied with their access to talent. We also find that organizations that are satisfied tend to be those that manage talent according to supply chain principles. For most organizations, thinking about talent acquisition in a supply chain framework is a new idea. Just as a supply chain of raw goods and materials is managed in manufacturing, access to skill-specific talent can be effectively procured and managed using a talent supply chain. Organizations need to proactively evaluate their entire talent supply chain when planning for future needs. Traditionally, organizations have focused workforce planning efforts on their full-time workforce and as a result could be ignoring as much as 40 percent of the talent delivering services to their organization. This includes not only temporary agency workers but independent contractors, statement of work contractors and others. Understanding the value that can be achieved by including all talent types within the supply chain can enable an organization to drive success across their entire enterprise. This holistic approach ensures that operations has timely access to the talent needed to meet their business goals; HR ensures the caliber of talent meets organizations requirement; and procurement achieves their cost optimization targets—driving the organization to achieve their strategic objectives.

Megan Pulliam, Vice President of Channel Sales, Liaison Technologies

Our main practice is coming up with more transaction automation for our customers and partners. Automation is a topic that needs more attention in the supply chain industry. With all of the technological advances that have continued to expand, customers are looking for pricing and availability, online access, cloud availability (through cloud brokerage services) and configuration tools. All of these will become mission-critical for enterprises, in addition to maintaining the human element. With the growing number of female leaders positioning the supply chain for global growth, it all boils down to the natural evolution in the way business is being done. Women have and will continue to be just as motivated, if not more, to prove their wit and leadership in what has historically been known to be a male-dominated world. Along with this, most women do not see working as optional anymore, which is really a trend across all industries and market sectors. They are also choosing to go back to work after marriage and children, which in turn is also leading to longer work experience that enables them to move into these leadership roles. The most important thing I think women need is meaningful networking opportunities. One option for this is through social media outlets like LinkedIn. Yes, there are many “groups” on LinkedIn, but what it’s missing is sponsorship from an accredited publication or industry trade group. At the same time, we need to make sure that the sponsored groups are not self-promotional. When I think of a networking group, I think of like-minded women, sharing their ideas based on real experience in the industry. This would also give more opportunity to meet the right people that might end up being a future employee—because you are learning their real opinions, expertise and skills.

Anne Kohler, Founding Partner, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, The Mpower Group

As supply chain organizations are trying to do more with less, we are helping our clients to identify areas where they can add more “value” for their organizations. The challenge for our clients is that many supply chain organizations have measured their value by creating efficiency and cutting costs. But to continue to be relevant, “value” needs to be defined by their customers—and frankly, most of their customers have value drivers that have gone beyond cost savings. A key challenge that supply chain organizations need to focus on is the ability to get any of their innovation—new process, tool or technology—adopted within the organization. Supply chain groups spend millions of dollars a year investing in innovation only to find that a fraction of the intended value is realized. I have seen numerous client organizations that invest in supply chain technology and each one has realized different value. The reason is that a great deal of attention is paid to deploying the technology and not enough attention is paid to ensuring that the technology is adopted within the organization to realize the intended value/business benefits. Without adoption, there is no return on investment. Adoption of new processes, tools or technology needs to have more focus and can be a way to provide more value to the organization. I believe it is up to those women that are currently playing leadership roles in the supply chain profession to encourage, coach and mentor other women to attain leadership positions. I personally do this by mentoring my female clients and helping to recruit young women on behalf of clients.

Sharon Nelson, Managing Director, Plan4Demand Solutions Inc.

Establishing Supply Chain-centric Center of Excellence is a practice organizations are adopting to drive continuous improvement in 2013 and beyond. This drives value in companies through the supply chain by capturing internal knowledge and enhancing core capabilities long term. The devil is often in the details and we’ve found that the value is often in the data, tribal knowledge and experience of the people. People make or break the supply chain. Establishing a Master Data Management Strategy is another way we are helping companies drive value. While Master Data Management is not a “sexy” project, it is a critical one. You should expect to not only clean up current data for reliable reporting but also have an on-going strategy to keep data in good condition. It must be an on-going initiative to support the company growth and agility to respond to market demand long term. The challenges presented by the demanding global competitive environment juxtaposed against the limitations of skills commonly resident in the supply chain organization is an issue that needs extra awareness.   The Demand Planning function is a prime example where tools available to enable the process are often more advanced than the skills of the practitioners. Supply chain skills applied to everyday events will improve operational effectiveness and is the most consistent area for improvement I have observed across multiple businesses and industries. Another industry issue that is getting extra awareness is Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP). Much of the time, companies are still “fire drilling” because they are not truly sharing info and insight across organizational silos. They are driven by comp plans that compete or pit them against each other, at times, in driving improved customer service in levels and manage cost.

Louise O'Sullivan, President, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Prime Advantage

I believe women have earned their leadership stripes in every management role today, especially in supply chain—and that the glass ceiling has truly shattered. Women are very good students and, fortunately or unfortunately, had years to study and observe what makes the best managers excellent. In a 2012 Harvard Business Review article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, based on their research study of 7,280 leaders in 2011, two of the traits—“taking initiative and driving for results”—where women outscored men to the highest degree have long been thought of particularly as male strengths. The reasons for the now shattered ceiling are several : 1). Bright women have utilized their internal strength and their strong powers of observation to unleash their greatness from within. And top management has begun promoting those who can get the job done, minus past generations’ gender biases; 2). Today’s women seek and have found stronger female role models in business and are not afraid to tap male and female mentorship for guidance; 3). Female managers learned via participation to build better, more collaborative teams, utilizing all the talent available; and 4). Female managers are able to combine intuitive and logical thinking seamlessly, determining accurately the resources needed to accomplish a given outcome and focusing on results, not effort. Despite years of evidence to the contrary, many women still have to work twice as hard as men to gain credibility and earn economic decision-making positions in supply chain and anywhere else in business. The reward of these efforts is that women are often remembered twice as long for their successes. In the old days, that memory was partially due to low expectations. Today, that memory is due more than anything else to spectacular results.

Rose Kelly-Falls, Senior Vice President, Supply Chain Risk Management, Rapid Ratings International Inc.

Risk management is a relatively new phenomenon—companies are just now realizing its importance to the bottom line. Supply chain executives must acknowledge this need and implement risk management in the broader context of supply chain processes and workflows. Balancing awareness of suppliers’ financial risk alongside compliance, audit and other risk factors can be overwhelming—and many companies struggle with managing it. We are working to not just encourage awareness of risk management but also provide practical solutions for addressing it. We want to bring calm to a situation that many professionals find paralyzing by simplifying best practices and breaking down the prospect of building a risk management initiative into digestible bite-sized pieces. Noticing this need early on has driven my professional career in supply chain toward a focus in risk management. I’ve recognized the difficulties of the process and how my experience can help pacify professionals across industries. I spent 18 years building and implementing supply chain risk management programs for Ford and Rolls-Royce and now help companies pinpoint their risk management needs and integrate our analysis into their workflows. This exposure gives clients useful insight into best practices in the field.

Bindiya Vakil, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Resilinc

I am passionate about supply chain resiliency. In the last few years, the conversation focused purely on catastrophic events and not on addressing supply chain resiliency from a holistic perspective. Our approach at Resilinc has been to shift the focus to empower decisions that people at every level in the supply chain make on a daily basis. I have always had role models who fueled my imagination about the possibilities. Education builds a strong foundation for self-confidence; however, it is also vital that we’re self-aware. I come from a family of powerful women and yet, assertiveness did not come naturally to me. A few years ago, I read the book “Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babcock. Becoming self-aware changed many small aspects of my personal and professional relationships. Our lives are a culmination of various things we “ask” from the people around us including respect, courtesy and trust. What sets the stage for success are the people in our personal and professional lives who inspire us, open up doors for us and put their faith in us and push us to try harder. However, it is incumbent upon us to also grab every opportunity to put ourselves in a better place. I believe every woman should be in sales early in their career—it enables us to read people, instills confidence and quickly makes us resilient and tough. Besides, every aspect of our life involves sales and negotiations. Educational institutions do a great job teaching women in their academic fields. However, we don’t get practical training to thrive in a world where the majority perceives things in a very different way. The ability to inspire confidence in others is critical for women to rise to economic decision-making positions. Mentoring and coaching have been very effective for me.  I have been lucky to have had trusted mentors who provided me immediate feedback about my actions in a safe setting. Feedback can be difficult for the giver and the taker—I always benefited from it and it has proven invaluable to me as a self-development strategy.

Debbie Wilcox, CPSM, Vice President, Marketing & Professional Services, SafeSourcing Inc.

As a technology-based company, we have been focused on improving our internal systems and introducing new service modules that address existing customer needs. Now that we shored up our internal capabilities, we are focusing on outreach and letting companies know what we do and how we are different through social media and other technologies to expand our business. Companies have been focused on cost containment and reduction but a new focus needs to be placed on removing internal biases. With the rising and fluctuating cost of freight, commodity prices, healthcare costs, new technologies and increasing labor costs, companies and management need to take another look at their supply chains and question assumptions. Being open to new ideas and alternative suppliers can help root out inefficiencies and cut costs.

Lindsey Fandozzi, Director, Source One Management Services LLC

At Source One, we recently made some changes to the way we store and manage our information, which allowed for much smoother and easier knowledge transfers—both horizontally to other team members working on the same project and vertically from analysts to their managers. This produced a noticeable time savings in terms of getting others up to speed; as well as a more thorough understanding of a project’s details and current status by all involved. We also worked very hard to better display and market our flexibility to clients, particularly big companies, who often have specific work processes and a deep-set culture—two aspects that require a flexible team to work through. One thing we have noticed is that the prevailing perception of our core business—strategic sourcing—is that it is just about cost savings. This gives an incorrect first impression about what a business can obtain by utilizing strategic sourcing, as they believe the end game is just swapping parts for cheaper parts and cutting staff. The reality is that strategic sourcing provides a wealth of benefits to the services and products delivered, in addition to the bottom line, meaning that the original standard of quality remains or, in most cases, improves.

Dawn Tiura Evans, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sourcing Interests Group (SIG)

[Talent management] is a current industry issue that needs extra awareness in the supply chain. Most companies know that hiring and retaining the right people are critical to their ongoing success. Many do well with their hiring practices but few have proven track records when it comes to training and retaining their best people. This is especially true in supply chain, where at one time, people didn’t necessarily choose these jobs, but rather fell into them. Over the past 20 years, supply chain/procurement roles—once considered back-office and clerical—emerged from the recession as strategic and critical. It is more important than ever for supply chain professionals to share their successes widely within their organization so these roles remain “at the board table” where they belong.  I am also excited that social networks are being more widely embraced by supply chain executives. As technologies continue to improve, I think we will see more and more of the social media being used to create better networks than ever before.

Shoshanah Cohen, Director, Stanford Global Supply Chain Management Forum, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Over the last few decades the supply chain has become much more important to a company’s strategy. As supply chains have become more sophisticated, there is recognition that supply chain isn’t just about planning materials or scheduling production. It’s about understanding what drives a particular business, what’s likely to happen in an industry and what risks need to be managed. That means more strategic positions. Being a supply chain executive isn’t just about understanding operations—it’s about understanding how marketing, finance, product development and sales work. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to rotate through every one of these functions but it does mean having a good understanding of the basics of each. That’s the best way to get in line for P&L responsibility. We also need to make sure women enter the industry with the right background and/or interest. Success in the supply chain field is less about the degree you have than it is about your strategic thinking; interest in global operations; and understanding of how products are designed, built and delivered. It’s also about your willingness to understand other cultures, to be willing to travel and operate on someone else’s time zone. I’m a great believer in mentorship and I also believe it’s the responsibility of women who have “made it” in the supply chain space to be available to provide advice and counsel to women who are entering or hope to advance in the field.

Patti Vora, Strategic Sourcing Manager, Procurement & Supply Chain Management, TELUS Communications Inc.

Many organizations are making a conscious effort to seek out strong female leaders and placing them in positions of influence. I believe this will drive change and innovation. Women in leadership bring diversity and a compassionate perspective to traditional leadership. A women's inclusive leadership style is conducive to success. Their strength of collaboration and consultation are a winning recipe, producing a culture where everyone’s ideas and insights are heard and respected. These team members feel their inherent value to TELUS, strengthening their commitment to achieving corporate objectives. I believe women tend to think more holistically, enabling us to take into account individual and organizational considerations. With this way of thinking, we can identify opportunities, risks and gaps. Supply chain has been the beneficiary of many strong, influential women providing their brand of leadership, combined with sound business acumen. It is true many women have two lives to juggle—family and career. Organizations that provide flexible work environments and benefits will not only attract but retain strong women leaders and like-minded men who seek work-life balance. An environment where success sharing is encouraged, mistakes are considered to be learning opportunities. And where mentoring is embraced, is an environment that fosters skill improvement. By necessity, this empowers personal and professional growth; the creation of relationships; the enhancement of existing networks; and the cultivation of support systems each of us needs in an environment with ever-increasing complexity and demands.

Jacqueline Bailey, Co-founder, TidalSeven

While off to a great start in regards to female leadership within the industry, the numbers still need to grow to be comparable with other business disciplines. In the last decade we have seen a shift in the maturity and professionalism of the industry, marking a transition from the backroom to the boardroom. This led to many female business professionals that never considered supply chain in the past, to view it as a viable career path and industry with a lot of opportunity. Through this influx of female talent, we have finally seen recognition of female leadership in the industry. I am excited to see the momentum continue in this positive direction.

Lee Shellhouse, Controlling Owner, Trident Technical Corp.

For 2013, Trident is creating a menu of services to appeal to a broader variety of customers. This structured approach will enable customers of all sizes to choose the level of service that best fits their needs and gives them the best value for their money. The supply chain topic that would benefit most from extra awareness is being able to readily identify alternate sources of supply. Unfortunately, many companies have been forced to close their doors in recent years, leaving potential gaps in the supply chain for manufacturers. Ensuring that you have detailed specifications for all of your parts will allow you to locate alternates and/or requisition a custom replacement if needed. Identifying multiple sources of supply will also help to keep pricing competitive. Fluctuations in the economy caused women to think outside the box in terms of becoming self-sufficient. The number of women-owned businesses continues to increase and programs such as the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract program are expanding opportunities for women to enter the supply chain at all levels. The best ways for women to better position themselves are to actively seek learning opportunities and to network with successful business leaders in their field of interest. We should continue to encourage women to be assertive, do their research and take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about their business.

Kate Vitasek, Faculty, Center for Executive Education, University of Tennessee; and Founder, Supply Chain Visions

Overall, today’s workforce is really stuck in an activity trap of sorts—heads down, at work every day, doing the same things we’ve always done. Instead, they need to look at and understand outcomes versus the activities. It’s having the ability to create long-term visions, describe that long-term vision to others and then communicate it in such a way that it creates enthusiasm and a desire to follow. Women who can break the activity trap mold will better position themselves for those decision-making roles in companies. The increase in the number of women who major in supply chain in college and taking positions with supply chain related companies over the past 10 to 15 years is the biggest part of it. The image of supply chain rapidly changed as well from old warehouses and diesel trucks to corporate offices and the C-Suite. The industry now has a couple of powerhouse logistics service providers that are woman-owned that is proving smart woman can run big businesses in the supply chain space. Overall, I see more and more women who are launching their own supply chain companies and I think that can be very inspiring for young women just getting into the field. They can truly see the glass ceiling has not only cracked—but truly shattered.