Voice of Supply Chain – Dec. 2022
Featuring: Lara Nichols
Welcome to the Voice of Supply Chain, brought to you by ISM New Jersey and SourceDay. The purpose of our show is to tell stories of people in supply chain doing extraordinary things. And I can’t believe this is coming up on our two-year anniversary of hosting our show. So, this will be our last show of 2022, and we are planning to continue the show again in 2023. So excited to have a whole new lineup of guests next year. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder. I oversee marketing for SourceDay. Our software prevents late part deliveries for manufacturers by automating purchase order changes. If you want more intel on what’s happening in the supply chain manufacturing world, I post a lot of content, oftentimes multiple times a day, on LinkedIn. So, you can connect with me on LinkedIn, and I have two hashtags that you can follow: #ManufacturingMaven and #WomeninERP.
Today, our guest is Lara, and she is very themed for the holidays. So nice way for us to close out our last episode of the year. So, Lara, we—I always like to start off the show going way, way back in time, things you probably haven’t thought about for a very, very long time. So, we’re gonna kick off with childhood. But before I do that, I want to encourage those of you who are joining us live today to drop a note in the comments, tell us where in the world you are joining us from, and something you are looking forward to doing or experiencing during the holiday season. Lara will also be answering questions from the audience throughout the show. So, if you have anything that you’d like to ask her, drop that in the chat as well, and I’ll be making sure to monitor that as those come in. And Kathy from ISM wants to welcome everyone to the Voice of Supply Chain show as well. Thanks, Kathy, and love working with you on the show.
So, Lara, to kick us off, we’re going to start off with favorite childhood memory.
Sarah, Kathy, thank you for having me today. I am so excited to spend this time with you and with the audience. And please do ask questions. And I think of that within the context of childhood where curiosity was kind of central to who we were as children. And as time goes by, we become more and more busy. Our minds become more and more occupied, so that curiosity kind of takes a back seat. But as I think about that, one of my favorite memories is I grew up in Southwest Virginia, and my mother’s parents, my grandparents, lived about an hour away. They would come every Wednesday when we got off from school—appropriate that today is Wednesday—and they would take us out to dinner and to the mall. And I don’t know whether you’re old enough to remember that going to the mall was a thing. And you would walk around and you would shop, and you might get a treat. But that was really special for me, not just because I got to spend every Wednesday eating out with my grandparents, but also because my grandmother would always come into the house with a big paper shopping bag for me and a different one for my sister. And it was our goodie bags, or she called them care packages. So, you never knew what was in the bag, and it was simple things but things that she had especially picked out for each of us based on our taste and preferences. And so, that’s a really special memory to me, that they very intentionally spent that time with us but also made it very personal to each of us individually. And of course, as soon as I finished looking in my bag, I was curious as to what was in my sister’s, and then we’re doing this comparison of who got the better bag this week. But that was a really incredible, special investment in the two of us growing up that I remember very fondly. Also, I’m impressed with the consistency. I feel like life gets busy, and the fact that they made an effort to do it every single week, I think, shows a lot of commitment and the importance of family. 100 percent. Lara, what in your childhood shaped you to be the person that you are today?
I didn’t realize it at the time because we just accept life as children. It is what it is. But my mother was the very first example of a professional woman in my life, but she was also a full-time mom, a stay-at-home mom. And so what she did was she got her cosmetology license, she transformed our basement into her salon, and she built a clientele. And so she was always home for us, and she was providing an example of work. And she built her clientele over time. Eventually, we moved into a house that my parents built, and her salon became its own space designed by her in the house. And so she demonstrated to me how you can pursue your professional dreams and nurture your family. And it’s not easy. I can remember coming home from school and there was always a pile, like a big pile, of the clean hair towels for me to fold and take to the salon to restock the shelf. So there were things about it that I didn’t necessarily appreciate, but looking back on it, she demonstrated for me that being a professional woman and a mother and a friend to your children and a partner to your spouse was all very doable, easy, no, doable, absolutely.
Did your mom have a name for her business?
She didn’t. You know, nobody’s ever asked me that. It was, she just had, had people that followed her. When we went from the basement salon to the salon on the side of the house that was built, they just came with her. And I could always tell how busy she was when I was walking home from the school bus stop, depending on how many cars were lined up out front and therefore how many chairs were filled in that moment. But she had a very loyal following.
Hmm, do you think growing up, I would call that to be an entrepreneurial family or an entrepreneur household? What do you think that taught you about business and life, seeing your mom go through that?
It taught me determination. It taught me a can-do spirit. It taught me optimism, even when you’re facing your most challenging moments. There’s a way through. There’s a path. There’s a plan that can be built. There’s a set of goals that you can achieve. And so, I’m always thinking forward on what’s next and how am I going to get there and what’s the value of it and why is that something that’s important to me. And that was just kind of inherent in who she was and is. My mom’s still with us.
So, we’ve got some comments coming in. We have Susan joining us from St. Petersburg, Florida, and she is starting the holiday season with her son home from college. So awesome to have you with us today, Susan, and hope you’re spending some quality time with your son. We’ve got Vera who says, “The mall was definitely a thing.” And Susan also said, “Going through the Sears catalog and she remembered circling all the things that she wanted.” Love that. I remember that as well. And as a child, what you did with that catalog was flip it over and start in the back because that’s where the toys were. And then you knew you were getting close to the end of the toy section when you started seeing the bicycles and the bigger ticket items. But, and Susan, so glad you’re with your son. Just I’m an empty nester. My son is in Edinburgh, Scotland, for his master’s degree, which is a dream spot for him. And he missed his flight home this morning due to the chaos at the airport. So, we’re a little delayed, but we’re right behind you with kids coming home from school. I feel like travel is just crazy this year more than any other. So, hopefully he doesn’t have to sleep in the airport. No, no, he went back home but had to build a plan B. We all have those stories, those travel stories, don’t we? So, I just told him, now you’re a seasoned traveler. What’s a tradition that you learned from your parents that you’ve continued on with your own children or your own family?
So, growing up in Southwest Virginia, food was always central to our holiday celebrations. And we would always step it up, up a notch and use the good linens on the dining room table and pull the China out of the cabinet and dress the table and come up with a celebratory approach to our meals. And I have continued that tradition. In fact, the dining room table that I have was made from cherry wood that was chopped down from my great-grandfather’s farm. And so, it’s not for me and in my mind as I dress the table, it’s the same table with the linens that my mother gave to me, setting it up in the same way that we did when I was a child. We also have a tradition of having a country ham at our Christmas dinner table, which is quite hard to find in the Northeast United States. But it is a very specialized, very salty form of ham that brings back memories because it was always a big deal when I was growing up. Because my grandfather had to go way out into the remote parts of Virginia to find a farm where he could get a salt-cured ham, which you cannot necessarily get at the grocery store or even through a specialty shop. So, I pursue, “Where is our country ham coming from this year?” As a continuation of that thought, it’s not as difficult for me because I do compromise and get the pasteurized version. But it is still a very central part that we celebrate. Do we love the country ham? I would say different levels of appreciation for different members of the family, but we’re all required to eat it. And I know from your fun facts that you shared with me, it sounds like you’re quite the chef as well.
I love to cook. I don’t know whether I would call myself a chef, but there are very few plates that come back into my kitchen with food still on them.
What is one thing that you’ve learned as an adult that you wish you knew as a kid?
So, on the light side, the answer is no matter how many times I’m told, I do not believe when I do believe when someone tells me this year they’re removing the word ‘gullible’ from the dictionary, I believe everything you tell me, and so that gullible side of me has always been there, and I wish I had a little bit of a critical side to the way I think about that.
But I think on a more serious note, I wish that I had learned the skill that it’s really okay to leave some things for future Lara to work on. There’s always this sense of accomplishing everything that’s on my plate in a day, achieving as much as I can towards something that has been presented to me in that moment. My daughter shares that trait, and I was just talking with her in the last hour as she is writing and preparing for finals, and she’s not very good at leaving things for her future self either. So I wish I had understood it’s not all that important in this moment; it will unfold as it should. Does this mean that you’re a to-do list maker and you can’t sleep until every single thing has been crossed off? That was the previous Lara. Current Lara and future Lara still make lists, still write notes, still carry a notebook with her wherever she goes, still refers to it multiple times throughout the day, but some things can be left on the list overnight.
“What did you like best about being a kid?” To be an unusual answer, Sarah, I re- I when I reflect back on my childhood and what was really important to me was the evolving independence that came with age and the acceptance of responsibilities as they were provided to me as time went by: having an allowance, being able to drive the car, ensuring that I managed my own time, not having to report out on grades. You know, this ability to be responsible for myself was really important to me, and I could look back and think about how that has progressed, and I’ve been very intentional about progressing that with my kids too, who are now, you know, more or less just young adults on their own.
So, one of the things when I was doing some research, prepping for you to come on the show, that we both share a potential love and passion for marketing, but you chose to major in marketing in college, as did I. So, I would like to dive into a little more about why marketing and what did you learn from your college experience and marketing. It’s a pretty underwhelming answer, but I know what I was thinking at the time. So, I entered college thinking I was going to become a marine biologist, and why is it that so many of us knew about marine biology and pursued it? I’ve never figured that out. Two attempts at introductory chemistry, two failures at introductory chemistry, and I decided I wasn’t a biologist after all. So, I went to the advisory office. I went to a very large university, and I didn’t get a lot of help there. Then I went to the office for the College of Liberal Arts, and I picked up a brochure for a degree that’s literally called marketing education, and it is a dual degree; you get a teaching certificate and a marketing degree, a Bachelor of Science in Marketing. It’s kind of an interesting combo, it is, and if you went to a school where you had kids that would go to school half day and then they had a work-release program in the afternoon, I was their marketing teacher. That’s what that role led into. And so, what I really liked about that is the flexibility that it provided to me. I can remember explaining to my family over Christmas break (Christmas seems to be a theme in this conversation), but I remember explaining to my family, “Well, I can go into business, or I can go into teaching.” So, I have choices because they couldn’t understand what it was I was aspiring to do, and to be honest, I probably didn’t know at that time which pursuit was more important or more appealing to me. I just knew that it was probably more in my wheelhouse than all that chemistry. And I also knew that I would have choices and flexibility, which was back to my independent soul, very appealing to me as a young woman. We’ve got Susan who said she watched Flipper as a child and wanted to play with dolphins; maybe that’s it.
So, what’s the most important thing that you learned during your undergraduate program?
I learned how to be interdependent with teams. The marketing education department was relatively small; I think my graduating class had about 25 people in it. So, we were sent off to work on projects, and we got to know each other very, very well, and we’re very close friends even today. So, that’s a really important element. But also, on a more technical basis, even though it was torture to me, the math was a foundation for my career and for how we think about how we do our work every day and what success looks like. Did you have to take calculus? Yes, so math is probably my least favorite thing to do, and I went to a very, very small state school in California, and one of the reasons I chose to go to the school where I did was one of the only business programs I could find that did not require calculus. You know, I understand that thinking. I did not think I would pass, and I really wanted to major in business with an emphasis in marketing, so I got very creative about finding a school. Now, I still had to pass algebra and statistics. Statistics was not my favorite thing, but I feel like it was much better than calculus, so I can absolutely relate to not loving math, but it sounds like it worked out in your favor. My very last final and my very last math class that was required for my major, it had four or five questions on it, and I would run the formulas for the questions. I would arrive at an answer that made no sense, and I panicked. So, I wrote down the steps and the rules that were applicable to each of the problems, and I can remember squishing the words in at the very bottom of the page, and then I put a note to my professor: ‘If you will just pass me in this class, I swear I will never take another math class as long as I live.’ And I got a C. Soon work in the system.
Oh yes, creative around math, just like you, Sarah. Worst advice you received in college: ‘Stay in your lane.’ That one wasn’t even hard and from a very influential person that was really trying to help me understand how to succeed but with a very limited expectation of what I could do. Best advice you received: ‘Do what you’re really good at. Sharpen your strengths. Don’t worry so much about your weaknesses. Somebody else will come along that will augment you, that has those weaknesses as strengths, so you’ll go further in life by sharpening what you do well, recognize those things, be proud of them, and work on them.’
You had kind of a dual major. It sounds like it was marketing and education when you were going to school. What did you think you wanted to do after graduation? Well, I had very lofty goals. My first goal for myself was to obtain an MBA, which I never did. My second goal for myself was to get a big corporate job so that I could have an office. And then my third goal for myself was to use my ability to influence to change the world.
So, let’s dive into it. I also do not have an MBA. School is not my favorite thing. I come from a pretty entrepreneurial family, and school was never just a huge focus for my parents, siblings. So, I did go to college, but doing additional was just not something that I was interested in. So why no MBA for you? That’s an interesting question, and I have a love of learning, and that’s a major part of the theme of my life from college all the way through to even what I do today. I enrolled in MBA school; I took the required exams, I was accepted, I signed a lease, and I was all set for fall. This was right after I graduated. But I come from a family of blue-collar workers. My sister and I were first-generation college graduates, and my sister was older than me, had graduated, and was in her own successful career and having been very happy with the path that she’s on. And my mother, who didn’t quite understand why continuing education was of value to me, very much wanted me to start earning a paycheck. And so, she literally picked me up at school. She said, ‘Just take two interviews, just two interviews. I’ll drive you to the interviews.’ So, I did. I got one of those jobs, and my best friend in college got the other one. And so, there was this pressure to become a productive member of society, and there’s no blame in that. It’s just a different perspective. And it’s true what they say that if you take a pause from your education, life moves on, and it’s very challenging to go back. So, while I have not earned an MBA, I have earned a certificate in teaching in technology, which put me on my technology path. And I am currently in the last phase of earning my CPSM. So, there are other ways in which I have been fulfilling some of those needs and desires for myself to continue learning, but yeah, my parents had a significant influence in that path. Do you regret not getting an MBA? I do, but I feel like our companies, our corporations, augment that with strong professional development capabilities, and if you pursue those and advocate for yourself, they’re there. And I could look back on my career, and I can see where attending the Center for Creative Leadership and having a professional coach and having a chance to go earn technical certificates from Microsoft and other organizations, those have been presented to me. And so, while I would have liked to have had the foundation of an MBA, I think it would have put me on a very different path. And I like the path that I’m on. I’m proud of myself. I would argue MBA and extended education becomes less important as you gain more experience.
I would argue that as well, Sarah. I totally agree. I think if you’re fresh out of college – I know I’m asking this because this question comes up a lot – I’ll get people who are thinking about careers in supply chain or are new to the industry, and they’ll say, “Should I go back and get an MBA? Should I go and get extended?” And for me, I’m kind of biased because I don’t have one, and I don’t think it’s impacted my career at all. I also have gone more the startup route, right, which is very different. But I think it’s very much depends on where you are in your career. If you’re, you know, 20 years out, I don’t necessarily think having an MBA is going to help, versus the experience and the businesses that you’ve worked at to back up your work.
I agree with your perspective, and as a long-time hiring manager, as I look at the credentials that a mid-level professional or mid-career professional is bringing to the table, it’s much more of an influence on me that they have that career experience. They can articulate specifically their achievements at each stage of their career, and if they’ve demonstrated ways in which they’ve improved themselves through professional development, that, to me, weighs much heavier than having additional degrees.
Yeah, exactly. So, you graduated and had two interviews – one your best friend got, and you got the other one. So, tell me how you started your career. When I say “career,” I guess I should be paying first-job type thing.
I was – it felt like I was very much on my own because I moved to Northern Virginia. My first job was in Stafford County School Systems, which is right outside of the DC metro area. And I bought a house, a little two-bedroom World War II-era house that needed a lot of work, and I was very much on my own during that time. And so, I remember setting up my own routines. I remember making decisions about ensuring that I had proper things to eat for dinner and, you know, all grown-up sorts of stuff to do. And it was a very good experience for me, and I built relationships in the community. So, as the work-release teacher, so to speak, my job was to match my students with jobs that would align with their interests. And then, in the classroom, I would teach them skills – customer service skills, counting change skills, very practical skills for interfacing with the public because it was a marketing role. So, many of them worked in some sort of retail. So, building the relationships with their bosses and then evaluating them on the job – I would go and visit them in the afternoons and see how they were doing at their work, and they would get really puffed up and proud. All the teachers here, and it was a really fulfilling experience for me to have that kind of a closer relationship with them, with a different perspective on who they were as individuals besides who they were in just my classroom. And so, that was really fulfilling, Sarah. I look back on that time, and I think that was a really great introduction to my career.
Hmm. So, you taught for about four years or so, was it five years?
Yeah, okay. And then, you transitioned to working – so, kind of more government route – into working for, I would say, a pretty corporate gig at Wells Fargo. So, tell me about how you made that – I would say pretty drastic – transition.
Isn’t it? So, it is a bit of a 180. And, you know, I pulled out of my quote bag of tricks what I had used during my college years to sell my family on this really cool major that I had discovered. Because part of it was, hey, you can go the teaching and education route, or you can go the corporate route. I was interested in moving into corporate America because – and this is like a sad observation which many people will relate to – I worked too hard as a teacher, and I was dissatisfied with the experiences in my classroom because my time that should have been spent building curriculum, lesson plans, designing projects – things that my kids could use as good experiences for their education – I ran the canteen, I did bus duty, I had after-school adult education programs. I literally had no time. And so, my whole reason for going into teaching – the love of the learning experience – I loved it less and less each year as I did a rinse and repeat on my curriculum.
When I switched over to work for Wells Fargo – which at the time was First Union Bank, a regional bank – deregulation came along, and banks grew, and I grew with them. I was hired as an education consultant into the technology department, and what they needed was educators like myself who could write curriculum for bank employees to get familiar and comfortable with the technology that they had in front of them to do their jobs. So, the tellers that were hired that had the green screens and the little function keyboards in which to process transactions for their customers – so I taught them how to use those systems. My big claim to fame was I wrote all the curriculum for the bank to transition the entire bank over to Windows 95.
What were they using before, should I – I might be scared to ask?
Yes, yes, everything. So, we had OS/2, we had Windows 3.1, we had people on DOS, and then we had people that had never put their hands on a keyboard in their lives. So, I wrote four different sets of curriculum to transition everybody to the same platform.
Wow, yeah. It’s kind of an interesting transition from education into corporate and using some important skills to be able to teach people things on a very simple and easy way to understand, which I feel like educators should be leveraged more for for roles like that. It was – I was very fortunate, and I loved what I was doing. The bank pretty soon discovered through, I guess, my curriculum writing and the classes that I taught that my self-motivation for quality was quite high. And so, they progressed me into special projects where we were doing – this is my first introduction to what I now know is transformation process engineering and process improvements, even things that were as simple as rationalization at the time. We were also gearing up for Y2K, and I ran programs to modify our problem management and change management desks within the IT department. My I also created our approach to asset management – at the time, we called it everything from the mouse to the mainframe, where you’re simply managing your assets. And so, I did a number of things that were very transformation-centric very early on, and that was had a lot to do with the acquisitions that were taking place in the banking industry because of deregulation and trying to operationalize on a single platform, so that you could make the those deals accretive very quickly in the process of buying very large counterparts and bringing them on board. And that set me off on my transformation journey that has just built as time goes by. So, you stayed at Wells for about 10 years, which is a long time to stay with the company. What – why did you stay, and when you left, what were you ultimately doing for them?
You mentioned the transformation piece, but I feel like there was a lot that you did that kind of catapulted your career in supply chain. Yes, there’s one person – individual – or one person in particular that influenced that in my life. I was doing the transformation work in our very large and complex technology environment, and I segued into advanced technology, or what we call the ATG – Advanced Technology Group – where we incubated the new technologies that we would then propagate throughout the bank. And I ran five centers of competency in ATG, everything from learning and figuring out how to use Java to Lotus Notes – do you remember that?
So, I – I never used Lotus Notes myself. Notes, I thought it had a place, and there’s some version of its functionality that still exists today in the SAS technologies that we use. So, I was doing advanced technology incubation-type work, and so I had learned as the years go by many different aspects of running technology organizations, and I thought one day I would be a CIO. That was my path. But somebody in the sourcing department, our chief sourcing officer, saw in me that I had very good skills – this is the “do what you do well” piece – in vendor management and vendor relations, and he recruited me to become the chief sourcing officer for technology and operations for the bank. And so, with that, I pivoted into what was probably the earlier version of procurement for the bank and began running very important relationships with companies like Microsoft and Oracle and Dell and figuring out ways in which to generate value for the bank, learn how to run solicitations, figure out how to ensure that we are able to get the most for our money. And that came very naturally for me. So, I took that role with that influence from Bill Huber – hi Bill – and I stuck with that for a long time. When I left the bank, I was taking with me the supplier management skills that I had learned, and that was my first role at Tyco.
Yeah, and one of the things when I was looking at your profile and kind of diving into your career advancement at Tyco, it says you designed a top-to-top 360 partner program. And I think this kind of goes along with your supplier collaboration, working closely with suppliers as partners. So, I would like to have you kind of dive into talking about what is a 360 partner program.
It was a made-up thing that I generated for the purposes of solving a very specific problem at Tyco. When I joined the company, we were a $66 billion conglomerate in more than 50 countries, and I was part of the team that was hired to be the cleanup crew coming in after the incarceration of Dennis Kozlowski. For those of you who are history buffs, Dennis Kozlowski was the CEO who was jailed – I think he’s still in jail – for misappropriating funds of Tyco. Of the top 300 leaders at Tyco when I joined, 296 of us were new to the company. So, we would joke and call ourselves a $66 billion startup. But if you know Tyco history, we began the process of trying to figure out how do we operationalize the conglomerate into a corporation and how do we focus on our core competencies.
So, the core competencies ensured that we were really scrutinizing each and every one of our lines of business, and so we began divesting. So, from a $66 billion company, we moved into a $42 billion company. From a $42 billion company, we divested again, and we are now a $20 billion company. Then a $12 billion company. So, in addition to creating separation agreements and transition services agreements and figuring out how to replicate relationships with very key suppliers and ensure that we have the integrity of what was secured as a $66 billion company, we had to learn how to get creative to protect those relationships.
So, the 360-degree partner program was established, and the goal was to connect and partner and create transparent, authentic relationships amongst senior leaders who would then find the points of light that would allow us to be able to grow together in a healthy way. And you only do this with your most valued suppliers.
Of course, but once you get the right people in the room with the right frame of mind for that gross centricity, those points of light start to shine. So, if you can understand, for example, your suppliers – what are they investing for their own research and development, and what can I do as a customer to contribute to that so they can accelerate those goals for themselves? And when you have those kinds of conversations, then just that supplier, you know, vendor kind of relationship begins to soften, and you begin to be more partner-centric.
The crux of that program was designing those relationships, building very intentional teams for those relationships to be able to thrive, and then to be able to measure the progress on both sides of the table. As a result of having worked in that fashion, I would almost argue you were years ahead of your time. I feel like supplier collaboration and supplier relationship management has really come to the forefront in the last couple of years, given Covid, and those that did not do this well were not the customer of choice. They were the customers that were not getting products, they were getting late orders, they were getting incomplete shipments. And those that really had solid partnerships and programs in place were being prioritized and getting that limited supply. Isn’t it great how that works? When you really invest in something, then it will give you returns. Are you going to be able to measure them all the time? Not exactly, but sometimes some of those subjective interactions facilitate the measures that prove the success.
Well, and I would also argue it’s the shift in mindset from cost, cost, cost, to focusing on value. And just trying to nickel and dime to save a couple of pennies here and there can have very, very significant detrimental impacts to your business. So, it’s important to think about how you’re managing stakeholder relationships and talking about value versus just cost and cost-cutting.
Absolutely, and that has been a theme from the moment that we made up that program and how it was going to operate on behalf of Tyco’s businesses. That mentality, that thinking, that whole design process, the interactions with the suppliers has continued throughout every role that I have held since then.
So, the other thing you launched at Tyco is something called a Global Partner Strategies, I think for short it was GPS Services Tower. So, what is this and why did it generate so much value for the company?
It is our label for Global Business Strategies. So, I was the orchestrator, the designer, and the implementer of outsourcing and offshoring strategies for several of our back office entities at Tyco, including a beginning with application development and maintenance, and also extending that through other types of support for our IT organization and many of our organizations. IT is a very, very big spend, very difficult to see the ROI, and so when you find relationships with third parties who could be significant augmentation to those operations for a lower cost because you’re implementing a global strategy, then you win. We started there, and then we moved on to working with finance for very similar goals and objectives, and then finally human resources for all of our human resource operations for Tyco.
So, this is where I racked up a lot of my international travel experiences. I feel like I have visited every country and location with significant delivery centers on the planet, at least as it was at the time, and being the champion of the global business strategy approach for Tyco and bringing along our C-suites and those three different major back office functions for the company was a really fulfilling, very challenging time for me because I became just the champion of globalization and teaching people who had never been to India what India can do for them and opening their eyes on what these delivery centers are fully capable of doing, and actually more mature than ourselves, and being able to provide that fulfillment in the day-to-day, keep the lights on, and also the project design and execution.
Yeah, two very big projects. I feel like these were really important in your career to help you kind of transition into running procurement departments. No question, and I almost hesitate to give the shout-out because everybody gives this shout-out, but the person who influenced me and led me down this path and ensured that I was taking advantage of my strengths was my boss, Shelly Stewart. Shout-out to Shelly. Shelly, if you’re with us today, kudos to you.
So, you were at Tyco for a few years, and since then you’ve transitioned to running procurement for several organizations. So, I’d like to have you just kind of walk me through that career progression and point out some lessons learned or best practices for those that are listening that are kind of looking to establish and build out their careers as well.
I really appreciate that question because I think we all puzzle at all stages of our career what the path looks like and why it’s this and not that, and how to make those difficult choices. Do I stay, do I go, do I take this opportunity, do I continue to thrive in place? So many different things that influence the way we think about taking steps forward. The first thing I will say is it’s never a straight path, so be comfortable in the crookedness. And, you know, for me, being a futurist CIO and getting comfortable with moving into supply chain, it was a really big deal for me. And then finding ways through supply chain while continuing to bring along my love for technology was also a bit messy for me, but it was very fulfilling.
The first “build like business” build that I did was for Merck, where we were building a center of excellence around externalization, which was their terminology for outsourcing and offshoring. And so, and I also, that was my first chance at running a Supplier Diversity Program, which I did for a while there too. That program remains in existence today. It was the first time that they had done like a horizontal view of how we’re working with third parties and outsourcing and offshoring-type way. And in doing so, really taking and using that value, Sarah, that you were talking about earlier, for optimization and tuning and joint gain. That team is still there doing that work. I was there long enough to build it, and then I moved into Insurance Brokerage services.
And I chose that role because it was a company that had nearly gone under during the financial crisis, recognized that they were operating inefficiently because all of their acquisitions were inorganic, and so those operations kept running independently of one another. And they really wanted to unlock the value of the corporation, which that goes back to, you know, I pulled a lot from my Tyco days and helping them set that up. And they were building their first-ever procurement department, and they chose me to be their head of procurement. First-ever meaning literally from scratch. No one had a procurement title, correct. Get this, I walked in the door and I said, “Hey, who’s our biggest spend with?” There was no answer. And “What we’re really proud of ourselves because we had recently implemented a corporate card program.” I said, “Excellent, who’s it with?” “American Express.” “Cool, give me the name of our account representative, I want to talk to them.” “Oh, we don’t have one.” “How do we get cards?” “Well, when we run low, we call the 800 number on the back of the card and we get them to send us another batch.” So, this was where we started. It was fun. You know, it’s what I call Ground Zero.
Yes, and that is, I think, a hallmark of, you know, I make stuff up as I go and I make it make sense for the business. And I, if I were to provide any insights to our listeners based on my experiences, don’t be afraid to make stuff up if it makes sense to the business. And so, the first and foremost thing you must do while you are a procurement professional, a supply chain professional, a supply management professional, and you probably have a lot of credentials within your field, know your business. Know your business, know what you sell, why you sell it, what are your margins, how are you growing it, how are you investing in what you’re going to do next as a company, where are your biggest wins, what are the things that are dragging the company down? Know the front of the business, know how the middle part of the business operates, and by doing so, you can bring all that expertise that you have and you can make it relevant to the company. Without that connection, you’re simply operating, and that’s going to get you somewhat down the road, but you won’t have the opportunities to build from Ground Zero, as I did.
My children and their success. They are amazing members of society.
Quality you admire most in yourself: I’m pretty driven, can be completely focused, and I am an accomplisher. I get stuff done.
What’s your dream to influence: This goes back to my learning love, helping people through their possibilities.
Biggest pet peeve: So for the last many years I’ve been a New Yorker, so lollygagging around. I like to move quickly, I like to be focused and sharp.
Favorite thing to do in your downtime: I read, I travel, and I ride my bike. I love to be in the sun.
Advice you have for somebody wanting to accelerate their career quickly: Ask questions, go back to your roots and being curious, and don’t hesitate to put your out self out there and do something you’ve not done before. My entire career has been based upon doing something new, not just for me but for the companies I work for.
Most fun thing you’ve done this year: Oh, my Sarah, install my kid in Scotland.
All right, this brings us to the end of our show. Lara, I want to thank you for joining us. I encourage you to connect with her on LinkedIn and follow the awesome work she is doing in supply chain in the cancer space. Our next show will be on January 18th at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Thank you for joining, and Sarah, it’s been a pleasure.