Voice of Supply Chain – Jan. 2023
Featuring: Michael Leiken
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. Kinda can’t believe it, we’re already in 2023. This is actually our first show in the new year. I am your host, Sarah Scudder. I oversee marketing for SourceDay. Our software prevents late part deliveries for manufacturers to prevent their production lines from shutting down. If you want more intel on what’s happening in the supply chain manufacturing world, you can connect with me on LinkedIn and follow my two hashtags: #ManufacturingMaven and #WomeninERP.
Today, our guest is Michael. And I’ve known Michael five, are we five years, coming on five years maybe? Yeah, sounds about right. And I think I actually met you in person for the very first time at the Spark Scout RFP Conference right before the world shutdown. Yes, that sounds right. Lucky we stuck that one in. I know I hosted a bunch of supply chain ladies at my house, and they left on Thursday that week, and I want to say the following week things shut down. So that was a very, very close encounter. I could have been housing people for a long time. And at that same time, they had a huge security conference in town.
That’s why hotel rates were so crazy, and I had people on couches and people sharing beds because it was just super expensive. So I see we’ve got comments coming in. We’ve got Larry joining us from Canada. Hello, Larry. Happy New Year, happy Wednesday. Kathy Perna, who works on the show with us, hello, Kathy. So drop us a note in the chat, tell us where in the world you are joining us from today, and then put a note about your favorite thing you did over your holiday break. So assuming you took a little bit of time off, what was that one thing that really stood out too? So go ahead and drop that in the comments.
So we’ve got John joining us from Tampa. Hello, John. I think you have much nicer weather than I had when I was in NorCal and was stuck in a storm and torrential downpour.
So, Michael, today we’re gonna dive in and really, really hear your journey and your personal story about your life and how you’ve gotten to where you are. So, I wanna go back in time and start with childhood. So, what was your favorite childhood memory? Fortunately, there were many. I think the one that probably stands out the most, and there are a couple of little tidbits in there that I’ll share with you, is how our family would take a trip almost every year to Cherry Grove, which is North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And we would go visit our Aunt Dora and Uncle Hyman, who had a beach cottage a couple of blocks away from the ocean. And in the back, they had a canal. It was on a canal. And some of the main highlights, I guess, that stuck with me and are special for me about those trips is first would probably be that, you know, my dad would always get up early and go take walks on the beach. And he would do it regardless, but I was allowed to tag along if I wanted to go. And I would go, and I had liked, you know, looking for shells and messing around in the surf. He was there for his walk in his own little peace. So, he would keep going, he wouldn’t stop for me. I’d have to run to catch back up to him. And not a lot was really said between us, but it was still, you know, special, like one-on-one time that traditionally I didn’t get from him otherwise.
Another thing about it was, I mentioned the canal. So, in the back, there was a pretty good-sized dock, and Uncle Hyman had two crab traps. One was a big square box contraption where if the crabs went in, they couldn’t figure out how to get out. So, you basically bait it and drop it and just wait. The other one, however, when it was open, it was shaped like a star. So, each of the sides, like a triangle, and you had to watch it, and then if you thought you had a crab, you had to yank it up and catch it inside. And I would sit on that dock and lean over the railing and do this for hours every day, and it just fascinated me, and it was fun.
Were you good at it? I caught some crabs. I caught crabs. I mean, nothing, you know, they were all throwbacks, but it was definitely entertaining for me. And then, I guess the last thing would be almost every day, not every, almost every day, Aunt Dora, she would bake muffins. And like, there was nothing better than coming back from one of those walks, and she’d be pulling out a pan of blueberry muffins. And they weren’t sweet, like the sweetness was basically based on or dependent upon the actual blueberries. But she’d, like, see you walking in, she’d pull it out, piping, split it open, put a little butter in the middle, and give it to you. And, like, that’s just, like, one of those, like, simple pleasures. It was, it was just good times.
So, did the blueberry muffin continue on to your family today? I don’t bake. I like to cook, but no, it has not. It’s stayed in Cherry Grove.
What did your childhood shape you to be the person that you are today? There’s definitely a lot of people and certainly experiences. It all kind of combined, helped shape me. One that was probably more impactful, I would have to say, was, it’s probably sixth and seventh grade, I dealt with a lot of anti-Semitism. So, we were, we, I grew up in a small farming community. Population, you know, 2200, so, are we talking, no stop sign, no stop lights small? Zero stop lights, absolutely no movie theater, no mall, no fast food joints, a gas station, and a corner store. There you go, a little, little mom and pop shops. Nearby communities were also small, but within, within a half an hour, you could get everything you needed, and, you know, that was some pretty brutal bullying and hatred. And it was that of all times, right when you’re going through puberty, which is probably difficult enough for children at that age.
But I think that in the end, like, it helped probably pull out, like, the inner strength and resilience, and it made me much more introspective and aware of a lot of things. So, maybe, maybe it made me grow up a little bit faster, but it also kind of fueled a drive for all these goals and aspirations that I had and things I wanted to accomplish because I wanted to get out of there, as you know, as part of that. But it was all, like, based on, you know, where I wanted to go to college and what I’m going to do after college. And so, that all started really from just being a kind of, like, a carefree kid who didn’t think about much. As a result of that experience, I have to say, sometimes the mean people in life motivate us and teach us things that we never thought we’d learn. Yeah, absolutely.
So, you have a family now? Yes. What is one tradition that you learned from your parents that you’ve continued on to your family today? I’m going to bend the rules a little on this one, because it’s not really a tradition. I don’t know if we have rules on this show, but we’ll go with this. Perfect. So, I’m definitely middle of the lane, well within the rules. Not really a tradition, but I guess I’d say just a core value that was instilled in us and I certainly hope, I’m definitely trying and working hard to demonstrate and instill in my children, is just to always do things the right way. Like, and how you approach life and everything that you do, if it’s school or sports or work or interacting with people, not cutting corners, it’s not cheating, and it’s not doing things half-assed. Like, if there’s a right way to do things, that’s how you should lead your life.
Well, that’s not always easy. It’s not always the easy way. It’s usually not the easiest way, but yeah, we’ll have to talk to the little ones and see what they think about this. That’d be very interesting.
Most influential person in your childhood? My parents. I also give it to both of them. They always, I guess, kind of adding on to what I just said, you know, they’ve always led by example. You know, they definitely walked the walk and they lived. Whenever they would preach, you know, I felt they always had a good balance growing up from them of them being supportive and also kind of letting me learn by doing and by living life and making my mistakes. But at any time, if I ever needed something from them, whether it’s advice, feedback, sounding board, or just listening to me vent, they’ve always been there for me, and they still are.
And do they still live in the small town? They actually moved to Bloomington, which is a half an hour away, where they actually have greater population. A couple of universities, State Farm’s headquartered there. That’s what most people may potentially know about Bloomington, Illinois.
So, what’s one thing that you learned as a kid, or sorry, what’s one thing that you learned as an adult that you wish you knew as a kid? Power of compounding, compounding interest. I always had a job. Oh, we’re gonna go finance here. Since ever since I was little, I always had a job and like many entrepreneurial ventures to earn money, whether it was mowing lawns or I had a handful of girls in class making friendship bracelets that I’d sell. I’d go to Sam’s and you know, buy the big bulk candy and I’d sell them by the piece out of my locker. But on the weekends, I’d love to go on little shopping sprees because I was kind of flushed with money, especially for a kid that age. So, if I only knew that and had my dad invest at least half of it for me, that would have been great.
So, your kids are getting lessons young on how to save money? Absolutely. And here’s a great example. This past weekend, we went to this place called Lazy Five Ranch and took one of their friends whose birthday is coming up as an early birthday celebration. And at the end, they have like a little gift shop and, you know, they buy these little stuffed animals. And I offered to let each of them pick one. They’re probably between eight and fifteen dollars. And I could tell that Michael, my son, didn’t really love any of them. Like, he would have taken one just to take one. And I said, well, you can get that, which is probably fifteen dollars, or I’ll put ten dollars towards your savings account. He’s like, oh, savings account. So, I was pretty proud of his choice. We’ll have to get him on a LinkedIn Live show here.
He’d be thrilled. We’ve got a bunch of new people joining us. Looks like we’ve got a lot of people from Florida and Texas today. So, Mike O’Brien from Houston, shout out Mike to my fellow Texan. We’ve got Michael Walsh joining us from Atlanta, Rodrigo joining us from Miami, Florida, Martin from Denver, Colorado, Ola from Richard, Texas. I have not been to Richard, Texas yet since I’ve moved to Austin, so I’ll have to see how far that is away from me. Joshua from Chandler, Arizona, Greg from Florence, South Carolina, and a couple of others that are saying hello that just say LinkedIn users. So, welcome, welcome to the show today. If you have questions for Michael, please drop them in the comments, and I will make sure that we try to address those as we continue our conversation today.
So, Michael, you were us… you were a… you were a smart kid. You decided because you had some people being not so nice to you that you wanted to get it together and go to college. Why did you choose to major in finance? That was actually plan C, believe it or not. So growing up, my parents had seasoned full box, I guess, to the University of Illinois, which was a couple hours away. So, you know, I had the luxury of going to home games my whole life. So I was a die-hard Illini, and my dad went there and several other family members, and my sister who was… is two years older than me, she also went there. So to me, it was just kind of a natural, you go to college and I’m gonna go to Illinois. And what kind of cemented it for me was at the time, at least they had the number one accounting program in the nation. And whether that means anything or not to a kid coming out of high school from Bloomington, Illinois, you know, that firefighter that, you know, that made me feel good about myself. And I knew I wanted to be in business. So I went there and quickly found that accounting was not very exciting for me. I could have told you that by age two. Yeah. So, and what, you know, I mean, my dad was an accountant and then he went to law school and then he focused on law but did taxes. I thought more that could be a good base and then go to law school and then try to do the old Jerry Maguire thing. But yeah, yeah, I figured out that wasn’t going to be for me. And I ultimately decided to actually transfer schools, transfer to the University of Miami, because they had a sports management program within the School of Business. So I still get to be majoring in business, or within a business school, but focused on sports management. And while there, the school decided to move it to Liberal Arts, and I didn’t want to shift colleges, so I made it my minor and then picked up Finance as my major, which luckily, it was a… was a pretty good fit and I liked most of the classes and it worked out well for me. But it wasn’t pre-planned from Junior High type thing for me.
Well, Larry thinks you’d make a good firefighter. Well, we’ll continue. We’ll consider this as a retirement strategy for you, there we go. What was the most important thing you learned during your undergrad program? The power of compounding. The power of compounding and other people’s money, yeah, yeah. Thank you, Dr. Sanders, my favorite finance teacher. He was an old school Wall Street guy, but yeah, literally compounding interests and using other people’s money. I feel like I already have the title of our show, ‘The Power of Compounding’ is set. So, what did you think you wanted to do after graduation?
I just wanted a job because it was tough at the time. I mean, so to date myself, this was not very far removed from 9/11. So that year, like our career fairs were canceled, the job market was tough. I had envisioned going to, like, New York City and doing some sort of investment banking track. And of course, you know, given the circumstances, like people were not hiring. So it was tough to try to find something that I thought I would want or like. So I didn’t want to have to come back to live with Mom and Dad, so I was just trying to find something decent as a starting point that would give me some kind of foundation, leveraging hopefully, you know, my knowledge and interest in what I went to school for. Okay.
You graduated. What job were you able to get? So I know in one of the posts you’d put sort of a little fun facts about me, it was about working with the football team, yeah. And, you know, so I was asking everybody I knew, professors, coaches, hey, if you hear of anything or you know anybody, you know, happy to get a resume. And one day, our offensive line coach, Art Kehoe, comes to me, he’s like, hey, hey, I know a guy, and there’s a place they do stuff, I’m like, okay. He’s like, yeah, I think they’re looking to hire somebody, I’m like, great. Can we get me the contact info or set up a meeting? And I knew nothing about what I was going to get into, but he helped set up a meeting in the offensive meeting room for me to meet this person who happened to be a consultant for the company. And he was explaining all these things about can liners, which at the time, I’d never even heard, can liner, a new garbage bag. Cutlery, straws. And I’m sitting here thinking, how did I get it from, you know, independent study MA type projects to garbage bags? And needless to say, I was willing to be open-minded and explore. He set up the formal introduction with the powers that be, went on a lunch interview, and we decided to kind of give it a feel-out, I think mutually. And that happened to be for the company that managed the supply chain for Subway North America. And they were looking for somebody to take over the packaging category, because that individual was moving into protein. And you’re saying this to a vegetarian. I haven’t had meat or fish 28 years, that’s right. So, yeah, so that just was a… it was a natural fit, and I loved it again, didn’t know anything about what I was getting into, but it just using numbers. And there was a huge project also that just… that I was thrown right into, setting up their first redistribution center, which was starting as a dry ready center based in Texas.
And, you know, someone’s gonna be all the packaging products to start with, so it’s gonna be all my stuff. So, I had to renegotiate all the contracts. I had to figure out all the different, you know, rates on freight, going full truckload to one place versus all the LTOs of nationally, and it was a pretty… it was pretty amazing. So wound up in a good place, kind of fell into it. Your very, very first job out of college was purchasing, being a buyer, and your category was packaging, that’s right, okay.
How did you figure out what to do? I mean, that’s a lot. I mean, that’s a big job and a big project right out of college, having no supply chain background.
I mean, I certainly had guidance from the person who was, you know, my mentor, my unofficial mentor, and, you know, moving into protein. I mean, he was there to help answer questions. But I just was resourceful. And I mean, I don’t know, I took to it pretty easy, you know, bigger picture things, of course, I needed some guidance. But if it was, hey, for this to work, I did all the calculations, and again, back then, right, spreadsheets and workbooks, you know, and we had to calculate what did the freight per case have to be for this to work, or what is the net cost per case have to be to back out to what did I have to go negotiate to take it from there and then go negotiate. Like, that was fun for me, and that was easy for me. They didn’t always make it easy, but, like, I enjoyed it, so I had guidance, but they were happy to just let me sink or swim.
So, Larry is a big fan of this power of compounding as well here. We’ve got the rule of 72, and then he’s giving us a formula to figure out the number of years it takes to double your money. That’s great, thank you, Larry. So, you have this entry-level procurement buyer role, what next?
So, I did very well there, was saving millions of dollars, and it kind of builds a little ego, you know, a little hotshot ego that I shouldn’t have had, thought I should be, you know, promoted, paid more. I’m doing the same job with this person who’s 15 years older than me was doing before I got there. Again, like, you learn, right? You’re young, you learn. And I was like the youngest, everybody else there when they formed, like, they were more seasoned professionals that created the company, and, like, I kind of was concerned, silly, and it doesn’t matter, but I was concerned that, you know, I needed to make a change in order to advance. But not only that, like, I couldn’t do packaging, I’m gonna get painted into a corner only as a packaging guy, and, you know, nobody will consider me for anything else if that’s all they think I know. So, I looked, do you think that’s true now that you’ve advanced your career? No, no, I think it just depends on what you were interested in, you can go and get anything. So, definitely not, and I think that was definitely just an early career myth and misunderstanding. So, I was looking for, like, what is completely different, what is completely brand new, new commodities, new industries, and I went to Knight Ritter, which is a newspaper predominantly company at the time. They also had some online assets and CareerBuilder.com and some other things, so kind of on the media side a little bit, yeah. And then when you join, at least the way it worked there was what everybody on the team wanted to give up, you know, the new person got. So, I didn’t step into some category. I didn’t go there. It wasn’t a posting for, here’s a marketing category that you would be responsible for. It was a whole mishmash of different things, which was good. I kept the poly news bags because I had direct experience and could help them. No, for those of us who may not come from packaging, what does that mean, sorry, a plastic bag. So, for the newspaper world, if you get a home delivery, it’s usually delivered in a plastic bag. I’d be curious how many of our listeners still get a newspaper delivered in print to their house today. I know I definitely have not for many years, but drop us a note in the chat if you do. I love opening a paper and reading it with, you know, but I don’t get it anymore either. That used to be part of my Sunday ritual.
So, you got thrown into this role, and you were kind of the catch-all for anything people didn’t want to buy, yeah, basically. So, I learned about advertising and printing, and you know, advertising sticky notes that would go on the front page of magazines. You know, we had a lot of different publications that would go out in the various markets, news racks, yeah, pick up a news… pick up a newspaper on a street corner, the plastic bags I mentioned. I don’t know, there’s a whole host of things, which turned into an evolution. You ask people to leave, right? You pick up the load and help until somebody else comes. So, I did ink for a while, production consumables like the printing plates that actually go on the presses, a lot of different things. It was definitely, definitely different industry, definitely different commodities, and a lot of different learnings. It was very, very different and how to succeed in that role versus my first role. My first role, I had tremendous power. I mean, all these suppliers would fight tooth and nail and kill to have the business because of the volume that the subway system could offer. So, I had all this volume and brand and power for negotiating that you could pretty much be a hammer and, you know, do very well. Here, you didn’t have mandates, you really had to influence and persuade and build relationships with the stakeholders and business owners, otherwise they would do whatever they wanted and you couldn’t change it. So, you could have this wonderful program crafted, negotiated, but for anyone to adopt it and actually make it happen and get the benefits to the vendors that you’ve been selling you were going to deliver, you had to build those relationships, which was a totally different thing because I just had to deal with the suppliers in the first role, and then there was a whole supply chain system that it would just… everything else would happen and get to the store level.
So, this looks like somebody who worked with you. Yeah, I would love to know who, but someone from whoever posted that comment, you’re just coming through as a LinkedIn user. Drop us a note with reveal, reveal thyself.
No pressure. So, you wound up at Visa. Talk to me a little bit about why you chose to go work there and then what your career path looked like, because that’s a massive company. You know, clearly, I’m going to go out and for punishment, I joined immediately following the IPO. Craig, how are you? Hey, Craig. Howdy, howdy. So, a month following the IPO, I joined. So, a lot of good things, but also painful things, was being able to be part of and learn from the whole globalization effort. So, it was an association, essentially, several different companies regionally, geographically, and now they had to come become one. So, I was able to find ways to gain exposure to new areas and new things that I hadn’t experienced before. There were a lot of internal changes constantly, a lot of projects that people didn’t want, so you could volunteer and take them. People were happy to give you their work, so that was all great. You know, the global sourcing team at the time, it’s probably, I don’t know, hours now, but at the time, probably 60 people or so, and our leadership would… you know, we’d have changes in our, I guess, CPO basically every two years. So, that was difficult because, you know, for somebody with big aspirations and trying to move up and do big things, it’s like starting over almost. The reason I was able to kind of stick around for so long really was my manager, James Kettle. Without him, I would have left much sooner. He definitely understood me, knew how to, you know, support me, try to motivate me, and, you know, take care of me to the best of how he was allowed. We were actually colleagues at Knight Ritter, and he left to start a function at Visa Latin America when it was an association, and he recruited me over. So, he’s… he was a big part of what I was able to stick around for so long.
Did your career in direct, which is my world now, and then at Visa, you’re 100% indirect, so what are your thoughts on that change? Because that’s a big… a big difference. Yeah, and I’ve actually been indirect ever since. I think I enjoyed both for different reasons. With the packaging side, I really liked digging into the nitty-gritty and getting into the, you know, the formulas of all the costs of the products and having, you know, tracking the raw materials and having the different indices and having escalated the escalator formulas and different ways to mitigate price change, going to the production facilities and understanding the actual process of how things are made and trying to see where can there be efficiencies or where are they taking advantage. Or it’s just… just being able to get into that detail is different than buying a software license. So, I enjoyed that kind of trying to become an expert, so to speak, in packaging at the time. And on the indirect side, I also, you know, again, totally different, but it’s what I’ve been doing for so long that it’s just second nature. We’ve got Michael, another indirect fan. Woohoo! What, what, indirect in the house? I actually, my career was reversed. I started on the indirect side, and now I’m on the direct side. Very, very, very different, and it’s… it’s a whole new strategy when it’s a category that is established and has, you know, buy-in from the CEO and executive team versus something that is more open and more stakeholder-driven. Completely. It’s a whole different animal to manage.
So, you left Visa. I think you were there around seven years, and then you decided to actually take a sabbatical. So why, and what was your biggest takeaway from this time?
So, I mean, things that Visa, quite candidly for me, you know, they’d been getting a little rough. I think I was probably nearing burnout. I’m not going to say how many hours a week I was working, but I was working a lot, including Saturdays. And I had, you know, a wife and a, you know, young children at home. And, you know, with my daughter, I took, like, I don’t even know, probably two weeks off after she was born. And when I had my son two years later, you know, I didn’t want to repeat the same to me mistakes, because you don’t get the time back. And ultimately, I just felt like I was neglecting the things that I should have been prioritizing, my family, my health, you know, wellness in general. Like now people talk about wellness and well-being, and then people did therapy, totally right? Because I was, like, not even a topic of convo back then. That was taboo. It was, like, signs of weakness. But I… I needed to really focus on the things that mattered. And so doing that was the best decision I’d ever made. And, you know, I took, so my son was two, no, my son was just born. My daughter is two. And, you know, I’d take him with me, I’d go on walks every day, I’d take her to school, I’d pick her up from school, I’d go work out, I’d see a movie at 11 o’clock with an empty theater all to myself, you know, go bike riding at the beach, whatever I wanted to do. But those were the main things. I’d cook every, almost every day. You could actually sleep, you could actually… except for when the kids had us up at night. But, yeah, I mean, doing all the things that just I couldn’t or I didn’t get done before. So, for me, that was really necessary. You know, I wanted to be the best spouse and dad that I could be, and I was not before that. So, so, how long was your sabbatical, and then what did you do next?
I want to say it was maybe seven or eight months. So here’s the thing, so after, you know, a nice month and a half of, like, decompressing, people like me, at least, like, you realize, ‘God, you miss work.’ You become obsessive, yeah. I mean, it’s hard to just, like, shift gears from what was, in all, before, the family work was my life. I’ve always loved my work and my career, and, like, everything was given to it. So, making that transition was difficult, all the necessary and totally worthwhile, but I did miss it, and I did know that, you know, sooner than later, rather than later, I’m gonna probably want to start doing something. So I tried to really give, be thoughtful about what do I want this next step to be, what I wanted to look like, what am I trying to get out of it, you know, if I had a Little Dream Board of what this perfect situation would look like, and then how could I make it happen. So I tried to actually be thoughtful and strategic in taking those steps, knowing, at least at the time, I could take about, you know, six months or who knows how long to find the right thing. So I started kind of perusing earlier than I guess I probably would have expected to, just for that reason. And I found LendingTree very quickly, and I found it from an email forwarded by my sister, all right. She saw it online, she forwarded it to me, like, it was really that random. I applied online, I got contacted the next day, and without knowing anyone there, that’s pretty, at least nowadays, that’s pretty rare. Yeah, and everything happened very, very quickly. Like, six weeks later, I was hired, like, I’d done all those phone screens, did the trip to Charlotte, like, everything happened pretty quick, and that was for us to relocate from Miami to Charlotte. So that was the biggest difference, which we were happy to and wanted to kind of move out of Miami because of the kids and cost of living and chaos and stress of the environment. So yeah, so what was next was LendingTree in Charlotte. And I think when I met you in person, you were actually at LendingTree, yeah. Now, yeah, LendingTree. That was really more of a spend management-focused role, correct? I mean, I guess how are you differentiating, like, I… I… So, I was hired to create the procurement function, so you were employee one, that’s right. Okay, so you were this was a startup, basically, within a larger group, building out a whole new team, absolutely. That was actually the dream board, like, I wanted to be able to go somewhere and actually have my vision, to have things I believed in, the ability to make them happen, or if I couldn’t, it was on me or whatever the circumstance, but not just have ideas, but because of, again, Visa, Craig, you understand, lots and lots of different reasons and complications and politics and stuff, great ideas go and die. So, yeah, that’s what I was looking for, and my sister found it for me, which is funny. It was actually, it actually started as procurement, the name, the formal name, and I rebranded it to spend management, not because there was a difference in the actual function itself, but I just felt, and I did some little research and pulled a lot of people, and at least there, with the employee base, most had never been at a company that had any type of sourcing or procurement functions, so it was a little more intuitive, a little easier understood for them in terms of kind of like, what are you here for, what do you do. And also, and I’m not knocking terminology, because it just is what it is, depends what industry you’re in, and you know where you come from, but some people think procurement may have certain connotations, it’s a more tactical role versus a strategic sourcing, which is a LendingTree is all the same thing, right? Because it was a new, brand new team, a team of one for the first year, and then I had my first hire after that. So, you were like Craig Smith in the audience. He’s, he’s still a team of one, so he feels, he feels you, which is how I am now. I did Market, same thing. So, so, yeah, so I mean, I’m not true, in terms of spend management, it really didn’t differentiate, the goals I was just really trying to focus on and align with what my CFO was looking for me to accomplish, and of course, you know, that evolved a little bit over time, and of course, there were iterations to how we did things, better and got more control and influence over everything of our spend, but initially, I mean, like, I can remember him just blatantly saying it, so, excuse the language, but, you know, he helped me to save a shitload of money and save him a shitload of time. It’s like, got it, there’s my focus, there’s your Tweet for the day, so where do I type these goals?
So, you were there how long? Gosh, I should know this, five years and a few months, yeah. And when you left, how big was the team? Only three. Okay, it should have been, it should have easily been, easily five, but you know, trying to be lean and mean, yeah, always. So, what are you doing now? This brings us to your current role now. It’s ironically much like my starting situation at LendingTree, first hire in market to do the same thing, fill out the function. So, joined and, of course, there was nothing, so you don’t have any tools or processes or anything, right? So we have a policy, we have a process, we actually have an intake tool, we have, you know, formal approvals with stakeholders with rules and guidelines and SLAs, you know, we’re tracking, I’m tracking different, you know, savings metrics, and now with the tool having insight into different cycle times and looking for bottlenecks, and so we’ve taken, you know, some big strides, again, as of now, the goal, you know, top-down, is not, you know, make this best in class. Not there’s anything wrong with best in class, but like, the current near-term goals are definitely much more financially driven. Again, that’s fine, and I’m a team of one, so you do have certain limitations based on how much you can do as one person, but I do think I’ll probably add a team member by summer, and we’re already starting to implement our second tool, which is exciting. So, that’s just going to help a lot more, but at the same time, having that somebody has to own it and manage it to get the value out of it, right? So, that’s a lot of work, suddenly a certain amount of dedicated time to not be able to just contract it and, like, get the value, as you know, so, you know, that’s, that’s really, that’s really what we’re focusing on now, but it’s, yeah, ironically, very, very similar. I enjoyed it. I enjoy kind of seeing, I enjoy driving change, I enjoy being able to see improvements and knowing how you’re able to contribute as an individual to the company in a lot of ways. Short of, like, my savings, which, whether they actually, they weren’t real savings, if budgets got spent, you negotiated savings versus what was proposed, but that doesn’t mean the money was spent elsewhere. Like, it did, at least in those companies, drive EBITDA, like, here it is, and that’s exciting for me because I can actually have an impact.
So, what does success look like for you in this new role?
Probably depends on who you ask. So, for finance leadership, it’s definitely savings. It’s savings. I think with our co-CEOs, you know, or just leadership in general, I’ll say, you know, the more influence and the more management of spend that I can be involved in, so I think that making sure that I’m touching everything is really important because anything I touch, I improve, right? Or at least that’s the expectation. And, you know, but my goal is, but I guess fortunately I don’t have, like, in prior lives, the formal list of your 20 metrics and, you know, ranking your top five goals based on all these things and the departmental goals and everybody really focuses on their, their rocks and how they support larger rocks, but for me, I’m supporting everybody’s, right? Like, if they have to invest some money to do whatever project, I want to make sure if they have a certain budget number, it’s within budget, and of course I want as much under budget as possible because that does get moved around and turned into new projects. That doesn’t just kind of disappear and get spent on promotional items in December, so it’s mostly financial.
How are you winning over your internal stakeholders, given this is an entirely new function?
You know, the best way is really just showing them what you can do. You know, when you partner with them, and everyone’s different, right? Some you have to work much more closely with, others are happy to just kind of like, ‘Great, go do this, take this work off my shoulders.’ But when I actually see that you’re capable of delivering results that meet or exceed their expectations, not just in terms of pricing because they usually don’t care about price as long as they have budget to spend, but also in terms of timing, right? Like, they’re usually pretty sensitive to time; speed is always a huge thing. But you can improve all these different terms and also have it done when they hope to have it done, so you then kind of convert people to being your allies and, you know, they spread the word and become a resource for you with others. But really, I would say overall, I’ve been lucky that most people were fairly receptive and open to the notion of somebody helping because they never had that resource before, so it got done how it had to get done, however it got done. Yeah, leadership was involved and obviously the bigger deals, but they’ve mostly been pretty receptive to it. Larry recommends food for winning over people, and brownies, which is much easier in it in sight. I’m gonna go with blueberry muffins, blueberry muffins. Yeah, we are 100% remote, which, you know, we got rid of our offices, so, you know, we have River streets, which are nice, so you get to meet people and try to build those relationships off of just Zoom, the computer screen, but, yeah, that’s probably been the best way.
So there’s a lot of chat around the talent challenges that procurement execs are facing. What’s going to be your strategy as you build out your new team? You said you’ll potentially have a hire this summer. For finding the right people, and then actually recruiting them and getting them to agree to leave their current role potentially and come join your, I would call your team, your little group of, you know, a startup.
Yeah, I mean, for me, it’s the first thing to be leveraging my network. You’ll be leveraging, you know, Procurement Foundry and Larry and everybody that I’ve, I’ve known and met from there for sure, because they have colleagues or know people who may be interested in making a change. But in terms of the type of candidates that I’d be looking for, I really care about kind of core basic skills and experiences. And I, a lot of it that I care about really has to do with characteristics and aptitude. So it’s not so much that they have X number of years of procurement experience. If they have transferable, relatable types of, you know, analytical skills, you can, you negotiate in sales, right? My best, well, first hire at LendingTree, he had no procurement experience. He did derivatives trading and other things. He was a very smart analytical. He enjoyed negotiating, and he picked up on the kind of sarcasm and wit in the job description and responded and kind with his submission, which was, which was great. Because you also look for kind of that fit, right? Of personalities. So, yeah, the personality fit and the skills and aptitude are the biggest things versus like the exact experience of what they may be doing in Market.
Yeah, I find you say that, but then I will see a lot of job postings that are the complete opposite. I’m not surprised. Remind me, I’ll send you. I’ll send you my, I have a draft already of the posting, so I’ll share it with you and see if you think it’s funny or you have any feedback to help make it better. I would be happy to give you some feedback on making it fun and interesting. I think a lot of job postings are a total snooze fest. Oh, and not only that, but you look at it and you’re like, okay, even if I do check all these boxes and this is the target that you want to pay a person that has, you know, this list of here’s the 50 things that we expect you to do, it’s like, wow, that’s a lot. Like, how’s are you gonna set somebody up for failure? Like, are they really expected to do all those things? Is it doable? Did three people do that before you shrunk it to one that you’re posting for? I know, I mean, you’re these sections are like, you know, crazy bullet points. And yeah, they want you to have 10 degrees and 20 years job experience and that’s what this really niche skill set in it. I do, I think it’s kind of outrageous, and I think it scares people from even applying to something that surprisingly, if you actually get to talk to somebody and learn more about it, you know, it could end up being something worthwhile.
So we do have, for our listeners today, for people that want to run a procurement team at some point, so you’ve kind of reached that top level where you’re actually the boss and setting the strategy and building out a team. What should people do to get to that level in their career?
I mean, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes good relationships, and takes a little bit of luck at the same time. You know, these jobs aren’t just available all over the place all the time, and when people are looking for filling it, again, they have this like list, right? I remember one that I was speaking to, an outside firm executive niche recruiter, and everything was perfect, everything was great, but I didn’t have experience managing and it was like three billion dollars of spend annually, and it’s like what the recruiter or in-house recruiters don’t understand is like the dollar value has nothing to do with complete, you just add a few zeros on the end. Well, it’s like I think of like my first job when I handled you know, the packaging like the napkin spend and the bag spend, like these are tens of millions of dollars and it was napkins, it was one skew that you would negotiate once every three years, like it was easy. But so if they’re focused on those types of things, it makes it difficult. So I guess I would say you have to, you know, you have to believe in yourself, you have to constantly try to better yourself and learn and network. You know, I think things like again, a shout out to Procurement Foundry, ISM, yeah, if you can get involved in your local chapter and go meet people and network, and I know there’s debate about certificates and you know, different credentials, but especially if you’re earlier in your career, I think it’s worthwhile. You’re gonna find on these job descriptions, like people want those things, right or wrong. But regardless, if you go through the process of studying and taking the test, you’re going to learn and you’re going to be better for it, so I think those things matter. You know, it’s important to, in terms of like building a brand and, you know, having people know who you are, I think you really have to be true to yourself. You know, don’t try to be what you think other people need or want you to be to fill those roles, have a backbone. You know, it doesn’t mean you fight with people, but once you’re in these roles, you need to have a backbone, and you’re going to have to debate and you’re going to win some things, you’re going to lose some things, and you have to know how to carry forward and still be productive and deliver results regardless, and you still have to get along with everybody. So, I feel like I’ve been kind of rambling, so let me know if you need to kind of get me back on track or throw them on a follow-up, but yeah, I guess it depends on where you’re at in your career and what you’ve already accomplished, but, you know, relationships and knowledge and networking really, really matter. So, we’re going to move into our Spitfire round. I’m going to ask you a series of questions, and you’re going to respond with the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Okay.
Accomplishment you’re most proud of: My family.
Quality you admire most in yourself: I’m real.
What’s your dream? I’m loving it.
Biggest pet peeve: Cheaters, liars, and quitters.
Favorite thing to do in your downtime: If it’s a vacation, it’s a beach destination. If it’s every day, every thing, it’s hanging with the family.
Bucket list item you’re going to accomplish this year: I’ll get back to you.
Favorite thing you’re reading: I’m not.I haven’t for a while. I’ve been audiobooking and short abridged versions of things, but it’s been a couple of months.
What are you binging on TV: I just watched the Dion Sanders Prime mini docu-series of him being at Jackson State.
[Applause] All right, join me next month on February 15th at 2 pm Eastern for our next Voice of Supply Chain interview. I encourage you to reach out. Oh, we have a question that came in, and Michael, we have a couple of minutes left, so I’m actually going to go ahead and bring it up real quick. Yeah, do you believe in consistently having a pending hire take a personality test? The very specific question, I would never require for my process that a personality test is part of the process. If a company does it, they can do it, but I don’t think that should be a requirement.
All right, I encourage you to reach out to Michael on LinkedIn. He’s an awesome resource and doing some really cool things in our industry. Enjoy your afternoon, and we’ll see you next month.