Voice of Supply Chain – Jan. 2021
Featuring: Jenti Vandertuig
Good afternoon and welcome to the premiere episode of our new series, “Voice of Supply Chain.” Following the program, we will be sending you a copy of the recording along with your continuing education. For today’s attendance, please be sure to use our Q&A or the chat function.
If you should have a question, I will now turn the program over to our series host, Sarah Scudder, President of Real Sourcing Network. Thank you, Kathy. I am so excited to kick off our “Voice of Supply Chain” series. This is something that Kathy approached me about a couple of months ago, and she knows I’m a big believer in storytelling. I think there’s so much power and energy that we can learn from each other by hearing stories. So, I was super excited about the series idea, and she asked me to kick it off. And I said under one condition: I want to have Jenti as our first guest.
So, Jenti is here with me today. She and I both live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we’re enjoying some beautiful weather today, which is really nice. She has an absolutely adorable dog, so maybe we’ll get a guest appearance by the dog today. Jenti and I actually met last year at a conference called Spark here in San Francisco. We never actually spoke in person at the conference, but we saw each other. Then a month or so after, Jenti did this really powerful post on LinkedIn talking about her story and how she made it to the United States and overcame so many things in her life to become a Chief Procurement Officer. I was so touched by her story that I reached out to her on LinkedIn and said, “We have to be friends.” Since then, we’ve evolved and had this incredible friendship over the last 12 months. So, it is such an honor to be interviewing Jenti today, and I want this to be interactive. Feel free to use the chat function to post comments or notes. We also have the Q&A function running, so if you have specific questions about something that Jenti talks about or something that I don’t bring up today, feel free to put that in. Jenti’s a really open book and has some incredible stories to share with us.
So with that, Jenti, I want to start off the conversation today talking a little bit about your childhood because I think your childhood had such a big impact on why you came to the United States and why you did the things you did. So, what was the most impactful childhood memory?
Thank you, Sarah. And before I talk about my childhood, I want to say how happy I am to have this conversation with you today. Last February, when we were at the Spark conference and Dr. Louise and all of you women were buzzing out everywhere, I was watching from the background, and I was like, “This girl, she has such a spark in her life. I can feel it, and I want to go talk to her.” I kept chasing everywhere because your jacket, your newspaper jacket, was so attractive. But every time I got close to you, everybody was walking around you and talking, so I missed the opportunity. But to have my very first virtual interview with the person I was chasing, I feel pretty honored, so thank you for that.
Well, Jenti, well, normally I’m wearing newspaper print since I run a startup in the procurement space. So, we help companies manage their print spend. But today, I’m wearing a very special jersey, so we’ll get to that later in the interview. Okay, so now talking about my childhood, you know, all of us remember our childhood in one way or the other, and mine was when I was nine years old. I remember my parents, you know, my dad being a big entrepreneur and traveling around the world for business as well as pleasure trips with my mom and his friends. He went on a world tour, and he came back in 1971 with a lot of stuff from the United States and other parts of the world. But he brought me a very special gift, and it was a Mickey Mouse watch. I was so excited because it has yellow straps. And the way my mom was explaining her journey and this incredible woman, a mother of six, went girls, and then she bought everything one of everything for each daughter. She then turned around and said, “I brought you this, and it’s a watch.” When she spoke about that, I was like, “I need to go to this fairyland called the United States of America because that’s where I want to be.” So you can imagine from nine years old, I was dreaming about coming to this country, and that’s a very heartfelt childhood memory that I have from the 1970s.
So, Jenti, you are one of how many siblings?
We are six girls in a country where women are considered secondary, and I’m number five, the lucky one.
So, I’m the oldest of four girls, so I can relate. So, Jenti, you mentioned that your dad brought this gift back for you, which was a watch, and that kind of inspired you to learn more about the United States and some of the things that were possible for you. When did you realize that having a career was not an option for you?
Oh, right from the get-go, because we came from a pretty affluent family. First of all, one person worked, and the entire family was supported. Even in the middle class and coming from a wealthy upper-class family, culturally, women didn’t work during those times. Even if you had your own business, women didn’t go into business, and the men took care of most of it. Having a career was not even an option right from the get-go.
And even to this day, among all the six siblings, I’m the only one who actually works for a living. All of them are independently on their own with families and living their lives. And I think that’s kind of hard for some of us to even process or understand. I was raised in a family where we were told from a very young age that we can do and be anything. We were encouraged to go to school and have as big of careers as we wanted. So, the idea that as a small child, you were raised to not ever think about working or having a career is a big mind shift for a lot of us in the room today.
Yeah, so one of the other things, Jenti, that I think is really interesting about your story is you mentioned you grew up in a really wealthy family, which is not common. Also, how did you know you were so wealthy as a child, and why did this wealth actually make your life so difficult?
You know, the word “wealthy” was not in our vocabulary. We just lived the colonial British way of living. My dad was educated in England, and he was an entrepreneur working for the British. Then he started his own company, so he emulated a lifestyle of living, the life of how the British brought stuff to India. So, rather than talking about whether we were wealthy or not, we lived a lifestyle where it went without saying that you follow certain rules and regulations, like at the family, you lead a very protected life, very secluded life. Then you didn’t go out of the house on your own; you were chaperoned everywhere But then when I went to a very good Christian school, a convent, also, the nuns used to ask this question, “Hey, can I borrow your chauffeur and your car to go run our errands?” because they didn’t have any of these vehicles. It’s only at that time when we were asked favors and stuff that we never thought about whether we were wealthy or not. However, when I came to this country and I realized, “Damn, I was one of those wealthy family members,” I wish I had done certain things to understand that I didn’t realize I had it so good. You know, because I’ve never made my bed or coffee or anything ever in my life until I was 21 years old and I came to this country. And we had 14, some 15 people working for us, and I didn’t even have my own showers. I had a nanny give me a bath every day until I was 18 years old. How about that?
Jenti, I’m not going to lie, I wouldn’t mind having a chef cooking all my meals for me. We had one for 40 years, believe it or not. I was just like a family member. So, Jenti, you mentioned you went to a Christian school and were educated by nuns. What was one of the most important things you learned from going to that school?
You know, the British discipline and hard work. I was very fortunate coming from a country where Hinduism is very big, a religion. But having a very broad view of my family, allowing us to have any type of religion and not focusing only on what we follow at home, was very, very helpful. So, we had the best of both worlds. And following the British schooling system with the Indian background was a win-win for us.
Even though you were not able to pursue a career and maybe choose your own husband, your family was open-minded when it came to religion?
Yeah, so we had an English medium school. Even when I was in India, where 14 different languages are spoken, I actually went to an English medium school and learned to read and write English from the British nuns and teachers, which is very helpful for us to come to a foreign country and survive, right?
Yeah, no, absolutely.
What would you say is your most difficult childhood experience that you look back and you’re actually really thankful for today? It’s taught you something that became a really important life lesson.
You know, there’s a curse of being in that affluent lifestyle because we had to live for society and everything we did, especially girls, right? Boys got away with a lot of stuff, but girls, you know, if you had a bad name, then the family’s name came down. So everything was so restrictive and prohibitive, and so prohibitive that everything, especially with somebody like me with having a free mind, asking questions was wrong. So, I feel very restricted and at nine years old to feel that way, you know, it was almost like, um, I don’t want to, you know, say God or nature, I thought I just got thrown into a country where I didn’t belong. I felt like. But then looking back now, I feel really, really fortunate because I love the Indian culture except for that arranged marriage that was forced on me, everything else I look back with a lot of pride and happy that I had that lifestyle and grew up in that environment because it shaped me for who I am today.
Yeah, Jenti, one of the things that I admire most about you is your curiosity. You always want to know why and know more, and I can’t imagine you as a child being so curious and not being able to ask questions and explore and do the things that excited you.
Yeah, you know, I was just talking to my sister over the phone last week, and I was saying, we were talking about our family, and I said, remember this one event where, in front of the whole group, I asked my mom, “Mom, did you choose your own husband?” and I was like 10, 12 years old, and my mom just almost was so angry and she was ready to, like, slap me right there and say, “What the hell are you talking about?” and because her mother-in-law was there, which is my grandma, and that was, like, the most offensive thing that I said. But it came naturally to me, and so you can imagine that asking that question back in the ’70s, right? I mean, not even in the 2020s, but in the ’70s. Well, and I think your curiosity is one of the things that I think has helped you be so successful in your procurement career because you’re always wanting to know more and understand things at a deeper level.
Oh, yeah, and you know, whatever you touch in any aspect of your life, there’s procurement, right? I mean, whether it’s medical or technology or facilities or anything. So, it’s very interesting, and actually, that profession sucked me out. So, I think I’m very lucky to be that it was my career the last three years.
So, you went to a Christian school, um, you were taught by nuns, and then you went to college. What did you do after college?
Um, being number five in the family, I knew one by one, right after school. Uh, and as soon as you finish college, you’re gonna get in line to have that arranged marriage. Like, a couple of my sisters got married when they were 16, and a couple of them at 18, and I was 19. So, I was like, “Oh my God, my time’s coming.” I’d rather, I’m 37, and I’m not married, so I can’t even imagine. Yeah, so, um, so, um, so there was that, you know, and actually, I was actually playing a golf tournament in a different part of the country, and I was actually leading when I got called to say, “You need to come because there’s a family coming to talk to us to see if that could be a good alliance.” This is how it happened, you know. There may be many Indians watching or listening to this podcast, I mean, this interview later. Everybody’s life is different. This is about my life and about my family and my experience, right? So, I was so upset and pissed off, and I tried to say things in a different way, and my mom’s calling me and saying, “You know, you have to stop.” I said, “Mom, I’m leading the golf tournament. I cannot leave.” And she said, “You will.” So, I flew back, and I was so freaking pissed. So, I was going to tell this guy, he’s going to tell, “No,” because I want to work and I want to golf and I want to have my own travel agency and stuff because my parents traveled. I wanted to have a travel agency. I didn’t know how else I could travel, right? So, anyway, so I came, and I had an 11-month engagement, and I was caught. I was in my third year of college, and then the wedding was fixed for the following year when I finished college. And it was the most dreadful time, but I had to go through it, and that, you know, talking about having a voice, right?
So, Jenti, how does this even work? So, your parents set up this initial meeting, and then they decide that they want you guys to get married, and that’s it?
Yeah, so there’s, I’m talking about my life again, you know, because different cultures have different practices. So, I don’t want to be offending anybody, but that’s my life. Yes, you go in, in a cultural the caste system is very prevalent, so you have to be in the same caste, and also you have to have the same socioeconomic factors. Like, you know, if my dad was wealthy, then you look for somebody in that same social class and wealth class, so you can meet and have that same type of life. All that was great. We were the same caste. We were the same type of a financial background, even though my father was much higher. But the company that they had and all of the stuff seemed to be in a category that seemed to be okay for my family. But the upbringing and the lifestyle that I led, where my dad was so progressive in every other way and took me around the world and gave me a good education and opened up to sports and all these other activities. But then finding a family that was the most opposite, most, you know, strict in the Indian culture, cannot wear any other outfits but the saris, and you can’t even call your spouse by your name, and you can’t travel. It’s, it’s completely, I can’t explain, but it was really horrible. But even people asked my family, “Hey, how are you going to match this?” Because this girl seems to be like a spitfire. And then, but, you know what somebody said, “Well, this is what she earns, she gets this for being a spitfire. She has to go to a place where she has to adjust and live. How about that, Sarah?”
Jenti, what’s, what’s a sari, is that what you said, sorry?
Sorry, you know, the, the sari is the Indian outfit that you wear, that’s like, yeah, that’s it, it’s a common costume for our country, but even though there are so many other varieties. Right now, when I grew up, that was the most prevalent one that everybody wore, yeah, the women were.
So, your family had this meeting, and then it was decided, you had this 11-month engagement, and then you married a man that you had no say in and didn’t really know at all, correct?
Correct, at 19 and 20, I got married, I had that arranged a wedding.
So, how did this arranged marriage get you to the United States? I’m always a big believer in looking at the silver linings, and in all the struggles and challenges, good things can come from it. So, yeah, how did it get you here to America?
The reason I just didn’t get up and leave and come to the US is because it’s hard without any visa to come and live in a foreign country, right? At that point in time, the person who was arranged to be, you know, my spouse, it gives me jitters to be called in my husband.
So, uh, actually he was a student, and I had a visa here, so I came as the spouse of a foreign student, and then I came here back when I was 21 years old, but with the mindset that I need to find my freedom as soon as I got here. Yeah, so, so you were here on a travel visa with the intent that you were wanting to stay here?
I actually came here as a visa that is supported as a spouse of a student, okay? And then that could change to any other category as you applied in the United States, yes, okay.
How did you find the courage to get out of this marriage and leave your family, your wealth, basically everything you knew, and start over in your 20s?
You know, it’s hard because when I talk to my sisters, I don’t think any one of them would have done what I did because they liked that luxurious lifestyle, and they didn’t think it was that bad. But for me, it was. So, it’s, it, um, the loss of my independence was so great that the privilege of the privileged lifestyle and the resources that I had didn’t mean anything to me. And giving all of that up for my independence was a struggle for my victory to owning my life. Right, and even when I didn’t have anything, I came here with 30 bucks in my hand, and when you leave an affluent lifestyle, you don’t realize, uh, you know, that 30 bucks doesn’t get too far because I didn’t even think, and then I, on the plane, I spent 17 getting my headphones, and I forgot that I have to save my money. So, so it’s different. So, my totally right-brained, um, phase of my life got me here, and then suddenly when I came to this country, then my left brain was in full function to say, gosh, I have to survive, how do I survive this? But every day was an adventure. Every day was an adventure. I used to look at the calendar and say, day one, I’m in the U.S., day two, and 36 years later, I’m still counting. I love this country, I love this country, I love the people. Yay for the Bay Area, way to represent. Yes, so, so you, so you got out of this arranged marriage, which is not easy to do from what I understand, and you had no money and nothing. So, what’s the process for immigrants getting acclimated into the U.S.?
Yeah, so, um, it took me seven years, by the way, to have everything, you know, and for those seven years, I just focused on myself. And, um, basically, when you apply for a visa, it takes a while, and it, you know, I, I heard recently from a couple of friends of mine, it takes about 10-15 years to get a visa, a green card. Fortunately, those days in the ’80s, it took me like a couple of years. But I actually, until I got the right visa status, I could not work for pay. So, I actually looked up the Yellow Pages and decided, hey, you know what, I want to work somewhere for free, so I can, you know, beef up my skills. And when it’s ready for me to get employed somewhere else, you know, somewhere, then it’ll be the right time for me to, um, get going. And, you know, a couple of my siblings who were in India, they helped me greatly with the mental strain that had to go through. I became very anorexic at some point. And, um, because I was denounced for whatever I did back home, and even though we were millions of miles away, you care, and that also shows your personality. I love my family, I love the society, but what I did, I hurt myself more than I did anybody else. And that took a big toll on my health. But at the end, my dad and through my siblings, send some money in some way, and, um, I just lived. I just lived. I forgot golf. I brought the same old clothes that I had back in India, and I wore that for like five, six years. Didn’t buy anything. But I did work, I did. And somebody said, “Hey, Jenti has such a spark.” And I had all that energy. So, coming to this country and having that independence gave me everything. That free spirit, and I could forsake anything and everything for that, including my love for golf, you know. So, and you mentioned you struggled with anorexia, eating disorders, or something that lots of people struggle with. How did you get over that? I mean, it’s something I’m sure you still live with today. It never just goes away. But how did you overcome the anorexia and just kind of move on to the next phase in your life?
You know, um, I tried to go to many doctors, and nobody helped. My hair started falling out, and suddenly when my hair started falling out, I was like, “Oh my God, I gotta take care of this myself.” And, um, I think I went to Stanford Hospital, and they gave me some type of help there that was very, um, I think I was able to look within, to say why, and ask some questions as to why. And, you know, it’s easy to talk about a lifestyle change, but I didn’t, even though I was excited to be here and stuff, I think my body, my physical body, was going through a different type of shock that I had to adjust and live, and I got better. Yeah, yeah, that’s really amazing because there’s a lot of people that struggle with that forever, and it just has a huge impact on everything that they do. So kudos to you for finding the will to overcome that with no support. I mean, you were here completely on your own and didn’t know anyone. So, Jenti, I want to talk a little bit about now how you got your first job. So you didn’t go to school in the United States, so you had no U.S. college degree, and you couldn’t work for a while because you didn’t have your green card. And you mentioned you started volunteering. How did this volunteer work help you get a paying job?
So, um, you know, back in the ’80s, there was no internet or social media. We just had the Thomas Register for procurement and the Yellow Pages for finally finding suppliers, right? So, I looked at the Yellow Pages, and there was the City of Sunnyvale, and it said it had a volunteer office. So, I called them, and I said, “I’d like to volunteer.” They said, “The volunteering is for court referrals, you know, where if you’re a juvenile and you had some offense, you have to do some time.” So, I said, “Well, it’s not that I committed any crime. I want to work in a volunteer office, and I want to volunteer.” So, they, I had an interview with the volunteer office, and they said, “How many hours do you want to work?” “Uh, an hour a week.” So, I said, “No, full-time. I want to work 40 hours.” “You’re like the dream, right, to come in and want to volunteer full-time?” Yeah. So then I started working, and then I, um, you know, I look, this, this is new, coming from a baltic family and then, uh, going to school and college, playing golf, and then suddenly I meant, but everything was so exciting until I saw, I started answering phones, and man, the typing was tough because I couldn’t have more than five words a minute. So, it was hard. So, I said, “Okay, first things first, I should never get a job where I have to type, so I have to use my brain rather than sit on time.” Right? So, then I started working, and then they were like, all these people around me were like, “Hey, this, this girl has a lot of spunk, you know, and I don’t know why she’s working, so I had to explain to them about the, you know, usually, you don’t see immigrants in government administration. Usually, they’re engineers or software engineers and lawyers or doctors and stuff. So, I’m telling them these stories and stuff. So, um, within this, um, when I got the opportunity, I started working as a full-time volunteer, almost a thousand, two thousand, two thousand hours a year, and I worked for three years that way. And I worked at the city manager’s office, the mayor’s office, then I worked in HR, and then from that went to the police department. And sometimes, I used to work in the police department after I worked in HR after 5 PM, and so I was like, everybody’s like, you know, there’s something about her that she’s very willing, and she’s hardworking and very committed. And so, how many hours, you said three years working full-time, how many hours did you rack up of volunteer work?
Probably a thousand, three, four thousand hours, probably.
Yeah, yeah, hey, but it got me a job without typing a resume. Everybody knew Dante, and I – my very first paid job was in HR. Actually, when I got my green card in ’87, was in HR. I was the HR liaison to get all the applicants for the jobs and stuff. And let me tell you, you have, in the civil service rules, you have to pass the test for, um, going to the next step. You have to have the written typing test and from the typing test to a written exam, um, for grammar and all stuff, and then you go for the interviews. And I was like, I can’t pass the first hurdle because I can’t type. What do I do? So, guess what I did? I was a proctor for the, for all of the tests in the HR department, and I took that sheet of paper and I memorized it. So when it was time for me to take the test, I typed 55 words a minute because I did it with my two fingers. And little did I know I was typing with my, my finger, middle finger. And when I was in the Sunnyvale police, when somebody used to come and ask for help at the front desk, I would say, ‘One minute, please. You see what I’m doing?’ You’re what I call a keyboard hack example that just kind of plunk on the keyboard. Yeah, but guess, guess what? I was thinking I was flipping off everybody. ‘One minute, please. Let me –’ So then I was making everybody angry, and I was like, boys, why is everybody coming to the police department angry with me? Then somebody said, ‘Jenti, you’re flipping everybody off.’ I said, ‘What’s flipping? Me? This is how I learned.’ Oh my gosh, that is hilarious. So, so you’re, you, you figured out, very creative and strategic about memorizing it, so you passed the test. And then, so you had this paying HR job. How did that turn into getting into procurement? So from there, um, in the evenings after working full-time, I went to work at the Sunnyvale police, and I was doing all the fingerprint cards, typing up the fingerprint cards for all those people who were arrested. So nobody wanted the job, no paid employee won’t do it, so I said, okay, I’ll do it. So the lady was like, ‘Wow, would you like to get paid?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ So I actually negotiated a 25% raise right there from HR, and I told HR, ‘I’m leaving. I’m going to Sunnyvale police to work.’ The story is, when I asked her for her raise in career, she wouldn’t give it to me. She’s like, ‘You know, you just started, gently.’ I’m like, okay. So I got a full-time job, a paid full-time job at the Sunnyvale police, and it was something that I could do very well. And then from there, a couple of years later, that’s when I was anorexic. I was working, working, and a lot of stuff and a lot of things that I had to also take care of my health and stuff. So I decided I would just go and work in the Sunnyvale library. I got a promotion there, so I was actually in charge of all the library acquisitions, um, procuring all the books and the periodicals and the shelving and all of this stuff. So that’s where my procurement career began, in acquisitions, acquiring books and periodicals and audiovisual materials. And that’s where I met myself, you have a, you have a print background. Oh yes, I think you’re, you’re the only person I’ve known that’s gotten into the procurement industry through the library. So, yes, very interesting story. And you learned how to negotiate your raise, so you were well on your way. Oh, you bet.
So, you’re working in the library, what next? Okay, so, um, the library, we had a, um, they decided to close the library because they had to renovate it, and they told everybody, ‘Hey, if you’d like to take some time off, uh, this is a perfect time. And if a few of us, uh, you’d like to work part-time, we’re gonna have a relocation.’ So I decided, hey, let’s have, I was telling my husband, okay, now it’s a perfect time to have a child, let’s go plan to have our second child. Little did I know that I was going to be the acquisition queen of buying all the materials, the shelving, and all of the stuff. So, um, so when in 1998, uh, was when I was really, uh, interested in advancing my procurement career and the procurement director was watching everything that was happening, and I was doing a kick-ass job as a procurement liaison, not even in the finance department. So, uh, she said, you know, you would make a great buyer. And that’s when I asked Houston, said you asked the right questions, and you have the energy and um, you tackle all of the functions and you ask the right questions, including for AP, the accounts payable department. So she opened up a recruitment, and of course, there I was, and I applied for the job, and I actually got the acquisition by a role in the City of Sunnyvale. Yeah, and you mentioned your husband, so this, this was a marriage of choice. Oh yes, of course. And of course, I had to do everything opposite. So, um, I actually, my husband was actually a student in Sunny City of Sunnyvale, and he was going to school in San Jose State. And we were friends for quite a few years, and we fell in love. And of course, this is a six-feet-five-inches Dutch, uh, it’s very different from, uh, Indian culture, but yep, I’m happily married 27 years. And you mentioned he’s in photography. Yes, he went to school in photography. Talk about going from a cast where you are an industrialist to finding somebody you love and doing what they choose to do. Right, yep. And he’s working for Stanford right now. He’s a property manager. And we have some amazing pictures of our kids as they grow up and some of my pictures when I was, uh, in my twenties, two and thirties. Yeah, beautiful. You shared some of the photos from your wedding. Um, very, very beautiful. And I’m happy that you guys found each other and you were able to, to find someone that you wanted to spend your life with. Thank you. So, you got this buyer role. Somebody saw something in you. You applied for a job and you were selected. That is a far cry from being a chief procurement officer. So, how in the world did you get to be a CPO? Yeah, so, um, when I was a buyer, my boss gave me some of the most important assignments because I always went and knocked on the door saying, ‘Give me more, give me more work.’ Right? So, when back in the ’90s, when e-procurement just evolved, she put me in charge of learning how to automate some of the, uh, the contracts that we had and also negotiate with suppliers to have a punch-out of their own website and Granger and Office Depot types, right? And at that time, you know, punch-out is super common today, API integrations. But at that time, that was a big thing.
Yes, in fact, I have some newspaper articles that show that Jenti Vandertuig negotiated with Granger to have a 15% discount on online catalogs. And then we used to also even order rubber stamps on our, you know, that everything has to be funneled because they would have all these stamps and stuff. So, I was like, oh my god, this is, I need to find some solution to this. So, my boss called me in and said, ‘Well, let’s do an e-procurement study. We’ll bring one of the Big Fours to do the study.’ So, I was in charge of this as a junior buyer, uh, to actually work with Deloitte to do the analysis because we were a big KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Pete Marwick financial system operation in City of Sunnyvale. And we brought Deloitte in and we did the entire study. I still have the study from 2000. And at that time, she also sent me to conferences, and I went to a conference where I met many number of CEOs. And I actually signed up City of Sunnyvale for an e-procurement, e-print solution with a company called Impress.com. And a month later, I actually got an offer from them, unbelievable offer, um, that to come and work as a sales operations manager. And I went, I went running to my boss to say, what do I do? And she says, go try it out. If it doesn’t work out, you can come back to me back again. And that was the, the most amazing thing. I went there, but I realized I was not a sale, in sales, or it’s not happy. We blew like 200 million dollars, but I learned something. I had the most amazing boss again, another new boss, and she was like a machine. She was so fast, she was so quick. I learned a lot from her. And then when the company closed down during the dot-com crisis, I decided I need to move on, but I didn’t want to go back to City of Sunnyvale.
I actually applied at Cisco to be a, um, I want to go back to the, I want to go to the private sector to, um, expand my, you know, breadth of, uh, procurement activities. But that’s the time when everybody put a freeze, and then I became a contractor. And then I worked at County of Santa Clara, where there was a huge need for, um, procurement staff, and that’s when I joined back in 2000. Gently, you, you mentioned you didn’t like sales. Why? You know, I like the power of money in my hands. I don’t like to sell. I got so, I’ve got so many offers, you know, because I, I negotiated so many. I mean, I’m not kidding. My very first contract that I negotiated with County of Santa Clara, I saved $750,000, and nobody had even the word negotiation was not there in the vocabulary or in the history of procurement, right? And the second contract I had, I saved $12 million. So, you know, that was the electronic voting system back there. So, it’s not like I just suddenly got all promoted. Anything I touched in County of Santa Clara, uh, nobody wanted to do anything, and I had this, you know, energy and the curiosity and also the perseverance to do the toughest thing. And then the biggest problem for me was, I damn contact, man. So, I used to go after night, after putting the kids to sleep, I used to go finish typing up all of the stuff because I was able to think faster than my typing, right? So, um, I worked some very, very long hours, and I did some massive projects, you know? They had hired KPMG back in, um, and I think 1999 or 2000 to do a business process reengineering, and they did some amazing study to say, here are the quick wins, and here’s the midterm and long-term solutions.
So, naturally, by way of me working, they put all of the quick wins on my lap to say, ‘Jenti, we’re gonna make you responsible for this.’ And, um, I ran with it. I actually ran the procurement card system from scratch. I was scared of public speaking, actually. They, I found a coach to teach me how to get over the fear of public speaking and all of the stuff. And then I actually started doing I.T acquisitions. Then I did the toughest and the largest acquisitions, and the customer started loving me, and I got the highest rating of customer surveys, um, satisfaction survey. So that gave me some confidence. I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m doing something right, so let’s keep going.’ And then also, I had Mark and myself had two kids, and our decision was to send them to private school. And I know we had to work hard for a living, yeah, work hard for a living.
So, Gently, it seems like in everything that you just talked about, that you’ve always been really drawn to the technology part of procurement, the automation, the efficiency piece. So I want to dive into that a little bit. But how did you get the head of procurement or chief procurement officer job? I mean, that must’ve freaked me out. I would have been super overwhelmed.
Well, let me tell you, it was exciting and it was very, very tough because I already had worked in a way that County of Santa Clara was not used to. It was because I executed 100% of the time. And, uh, effort without execution is okay in certain parts of the public sector, and that was never the way it was in City of Sunnyvale or my father’s companies, right? And then the second thing is, um, by way of promotion, I was the head of the people who I was reporting to, right? That’s very, very tough. So, uh, suddenly I’m sitting at the top, but at the same time, I have this drive, and, um, I don’t have the full leadership skills that come with this position that is required, but I knew I was able. I did not have any doubt about my technical abilities at all because I had done all of this stuff even when I didn’t have to work for a living.
So, Jenti, one of the things that comes to mind for me:
I have several friends who work in the public sector, run companies that really focus on that segment. There’s a big stigma, at least here in the Bay Area, and in a lot of the people that I interact with, that people who are in government are lazy. They’re underachievers. They are not innovative. They’re just there because they want a pension. So, how did you overcome this and motivate people who weren’t necessarily of a corporate mindset and focused on, you know, being really driven and wanting to make all of these changes?
Yeah, it’s very sad that people have that opinion, you know, especially where I’m consulting right now. You know, there’s a big tug of war between the public sector and public-private partnership. It’s unfair for the people who work because, in most of these organizations, especially the size of the County of Santa Clara, is very heavily unionized. But I learned a couple of things. One is, it’s a different mindset of how to spend taxpayers’ money and move that forward. And also, in a culture where there was no performance evaluations, you get paid based on a scale of step one through five. You have specific service rules where you just apply for jobs. And here, I’m a poster child, and I’m coming in, I’m coming to this county, and I’m saying, ‘Sorry, a buyer classification in the County of Santa Clara is under clerical administrative.’ But they look at us as typing six-part forms. And here, I have done quite a few as a journey-level procurement contractor as well as a procurement manager, and I’m advocating hiring people not in the union but in management association type of classification.
So, actually, when I did that, there was a lot of attention, and staff stood in front of the board and said not to support me. And I had to learn myself. It’s like, am I going to push myself to get negative feedback from everybody all the time? So, a couple of things what I had to do, and it was a very tough situation for me, was I had to get a coach to sort of learn myself first. Why, how to lead without fear of failure. And the second situation is, how do I do it in a way that I take care of the organization first and I pulled the vision and mission of the values of the organization? So, when it came to the union environment, I actually learned to partner with the union steward. And I got to tell you a story. I did most of the heavy lifting because I had to. Pokemon was called a black eye of County of Santa Clara in my department, and the HR was one, and I’m an overachiever and in charge, and there’s no established performance protocols, and you got to do this. And so nobody told me to work like this. In fact, if I had worked less, I would have been even more successful, right?
But I didn’t want to take the job where I had to do that type of a change in my personality. So, I had to learn a lot, a hard way. I brought in some consultants, which was, I think, the most horrible thing I did, even though I’m a consultant right now because their end was just to finish the project and move on. They didn’t really care versus having that type of a connection with the people. So, I had to learn the hard way, and that’s when I learned a lot through my coach who was not judgmental, and he actually brought out the seven habits of highly effective people, and the eighth habit, which is finding a voice and teaching me to understand myself and my life. But I’ve got to tell you, in 2008, I went to India for a big wedding, my nephew’s wedding, and it was an arranged marriage but with 5,000 people. You could talk about Hollywood. Okay, this is this, you know, and I don’t know how there’s so much wealth. You didn’t have to work.
So, I’m sitting there, and I’m with my BlackBerry, and I’m working, and somebody comes and says, ‘So, what’s your product?’ And I’m like, ‘Product? I didn’t fit in there because I’m now an American, you know.’ And I said, ‘I know I’m working. I don’t work. I don’t have anxiety. Which company do you own?’ I said, ‘I don’t own any company. I work for a government.’ They’re like, ‘You’re sitting at a wedding, and you’re typing up, and you work for the government. That’s the most derogatory role that you could have working for government in India.’ So, I’m like, ‘No, I have a sense of, you know, I have a need. My staff are contacting me.’ But I noticed something. I had to answer every question. People were not able to do that work on their own because they wanted somebody to make those decisions, right?
And when I was there, my daughter was in the fifth grade, and she was flying back because she was going to a new private school, and she wanted to run for student council as a head of council student council.
So, I’m trying to pacify her. ‘Hey, you’re going to the new school, don’t worry about it. You know, if you lose out, I’m mom’s going to stay behind,’ and I’m pacifying as she goes. So, she calls me from the U.S to India when I’m there at 3 a.m in the morning because of the time difference, and she says, ‘Mom, I won!’ And I said, ‘How the hell did you win?’ And she says, ‘I’ll tell you, Mom. When I was in India for two weeks for the wedding, I actually recruited all the first graders. I got them all from Michael’s store. I got them all the stuff, and they went and distributed all over the school. And I made them all do all the work, and I actually recruited the best people, the first graders, and I talked to them. And when I went back after two weeks, my name and the flyers were everywhere, and actually, I won, and I’m the head of student council of a brand new school.’ So, I said, ‘Oh my god, my daughter who’s in the fifth grade in a brand new school has taught me something. I need to find the stars in my own team and lean on them.’
And one of the stars was the union steward who cared so deeply about the people. I cared deeply about the people, and we joined our hands together to say, ‘I will support you in any way, and if you can help me.’ So, she was like my right hand changing policy and stuff, and that grew. That was my journey of being a journey-level CPO from being a novice to being effective. And in 17 years, it took me 17 years to handle the people process and then implement technology. And then I finished my career when I hit 55. It’s in a nutshell, but it was a lot of pain, but a lot of effort, but many, many rewards.
So, Jenti, we have about four minutes left. So, I want to ask one final question about your time as a CPO, and then I want to do kind of a spitfire round to get your feedback on a few things. What are you most proud of in your 17 years as a CPO? What accomplishment or what thing that you did do you feel best about?’
You turned 55 and you decided to, I’m gonna say in quotes, retire. Why did you choose to retire, and what are you doing now?’
So, you know, all of the success doesn’t come without some other consequences, right? So, somewhere with my health and my family was taking a second and third choices in my life, which was not detrimental to our Vender type family and my health. So, I thought this was a perfect time for me to segue in and take a break and smell the roses, go around the world, travel and stuff and spend time with the family and recoup a little bit. That’s what I did. But I did a lot of traveling for one year after I retired, and then I started teaching at UC Santa Cruz Silicon Valley Extension. And at that time, my daughters were like, ‘Mom, especially my younger one, was like, ‘Where were you when we needed you?’ You know? But now, I have my life, are you bothering me too many times a day? I said, ‘I want to be there for you.’ She’s like, ‘That’s good. Leave me alone when I let me come back to you.’ So, you know, where I had to get back into the working world a little bit. And I got called to work for the San Francisco 49ers as a consultant, and that’s what I’m working here for right now, a year and a half that I’ve been so excited to work for another amazing boss and some incredible people at the 49ers. And I’m helping them transform the procurement operations.
Jenti, in honor of your new employer, I am rocking my number 10 Jimmy Garoppolo jersey. So, hands down, hottest quarterback ever in the NFL, and I’m obsessed with watching the 49ers because of him. So, I’m wishing him a very speedy recovery. I know he got injured, so we want him to be back in full force next year.
So, we have a good, great taste, girl. So, we have a minute left. I want to do a spitfire round. I’m going to ask you five things, and if you can answer in one or two words:
Most unique hobby: Daydreaming.
You hate doing the most: Taking the garbage out.
Favorite book: ‘Awaken the Giant Within.’
Most inspirational leader: Keith Crock, who’s a founder of Ariba.
Best parenting advice: ‘Don’t wait till you retire to take care of family and enjoy time.’
Alright, Jenti, well, it’s been a pleasure to interview you and tell your story. We are exactly at time. I’m going to turn it back over to Kathy to close out our very first Voice of Supply Chain interview. Oh, thank you. Thank you both so much. Oh, and thank you so much, Jenting, for sharing your journey. I mean, a personal journey. I hope everybody joining us today on this program really had some takeaways from everything you shared with us today. And I really appreciate you being on our first episode of Voice of Supply Chain. I would like to let everybody also know that to join us on February 24th as Sarah interviews Sarah Barnes-Humphrey, who is the founder and host of Let’s Talk Supply Chain. Of course, I will be emailing out, and we will be posting on our social media about this upcoming event. Again, thank you, everybody, for joining us this afternoon, and I want to thank Sarah and Jenti as well. Have a great day, everybody. Thank you all. Alright, bye-bye. Bye-bye.