Voice of Supply Chain – Jun. 2021
Featuring: Tamra Pawloski
Welcome to the Voice of Supply Chain Show. We’re giving everyone a few more seconds to join us here.
We’ve got Tamra with us today, with her cool background and branded shirts, so she is ready to go.
Already, alrighty, so Voice of Supply Chain is a show that we host every single month to tell stories of people doing really cool and unique and innovative things in the industry. And one of the things that we like to do in this show is tell personal stories and get to know some of the leaders and how they’ve become where they’ve grown and accomplished what they have. A lot of that starts from childhood or certain personal experiences that they’ve had. So that’s really a focus of telling those personal stories. So, I am super excited to have Tamra with us today. Her and I have been connected for a few years now, both involved in the Global Women Procurement Professionals and been a big advocate and proponent of her and her career, as she’s moved through the ranks. So, Tamra, thank you for being here and really looking forward to learning some of those things that maybe not everybody knows about you.
I was so excited to be here and to thank ISM New Jersey for inviting me to do this. You know, it’s—I miss my home state. Now that I’ve moved for my new latest position, but really miss everyone there. So, hello back to everyone in New Jersey.
So, a couple of housekeeping things: at the bottom of your screen, you will see the chat function. We see Kathy has kicked off the chat, so feel free to put any notes or comments for us. And then there’s also the Q&A. So, we want this to be interactive, and if you have questions that you’d like Tamra to answer, feel free to put those, and I will make sure that those get asked throughout as well.
So, with that, we’re going to go ahead and kick off the interview today. And I want to start, Tamra, about talking about your childhood. And I’d like to talk about, first of all, your favorite childhood memory. You know, this is something you, you know, when you think about your childhood, there’s so much you can talk about. But there was one thing that my parents used to do with us on a Saturday afternoon. We’d start, and it would go into the evening. And my dad would—so there’s four of us, right? So, I was the oldest daughter. I have an older brother. And my father would do, every Saturday, we would wash the car. And at the end of washing the car, my dad would then take us to a drive-in movie. And it was so much fun because we would, you know, and of course, the first movie on the drive-in was always, you know, the G-rated, and then the next one was either PG, and if it was R, forget it, my dad left the theater, right? Left the drive-in, right? But what that—why that resonates with me is I never even thought about what my father was doing at that time, but he was building a team. And as a team, we cleaned the car, and then as a team, we got rewarded. And so, that was one of those memories that has stayed with me because, and I oftentimes do this with my son now, although driving up to it was easier in New Jersey because we had drive-in movies closer to us there, drive-in theaters. But we still do it here where we wash the car, and then afterwards, we either go for ice cream or something together. And so, it was just a great—you know, that has resonated with me because it was also a learning moment at the same time.
Is there a movie that stands out that you remember, whether good or bad, that you thought, “Wow, that was something that I really remember as watching in a drive-through?”
It was the very first Star Wars movie, right? So, picture that in a drive-in, right? And all of us are—we’re in our car, and all four of us are huddled together, and we’re trying to peek through because some of it was—you know, was PG at the time, so we’re trying to peek through and see some of the scenes. And so, because my dad was like, “You’re all asleep,” right? Yeah, we’re all asleep, Dad.
So, it’s funny that you say that. I live in the Bay Area, and we don’t have drive-through theaters. Aren’t really a thing. Real estate is so crazy and expensive here. But I know that because of COVID, it’s something that’s a tradition that started coming back more. So, it’s kind of cool to see that full circle from your childhood and drive theaters, you know, coming back into existence again. So, very, very cool story.
Another childhood question I have for you is, what in your childhood shaped you to be the person that you are today?
I think it was really—I come from a dual-working family, so my mom and my dad both worked. And I think I was one of the first generations where the mom did go to work, right? And so, it was—it really shaped me to see what not only what a powerful person my father was when he went to work, but also my mom, right? And as a woman in the industry, and especially in the IT, as we’re going to talk about a little bit later, you know, especially in the IT industry and, you know, in insurance where, you know, mostly they were male-dominated industry as well as profession, you know, seeing my mom go out and work hard. She was a biochemist, so she’s extremely smart, too. And so, doing the work that she was doing and coming home and also taking care of the family with my dad as a team was really, I think, a turning point for me to say, that’s what I want to be like. I want to be able to, you know, have that drive to not only be successful at home but also in the business area, in the business world.
So, I know that you’re a mom now, and I love following the adventures with you and your husband and your son on Facebook. What is one tradition that you learned from your parents that you’ve passed down to your son or will be passing down?
So, one of the things my parents would always do is we always had Sunday supper together, no matter how crazy, because, you know, think about it, four kids. You’re going in all different directions. So, one of the things that we always stuck together was Sundays, no matter what. It didn’t even matter if you had a boyfriend or a girlfriend or whatever was going on. You were home for Sunday’s supper. And that’s the one thing that we do as a family still, no matter how crazy life gets, how many directions we go in. We always shut off all the electronic devices, which, by the way, is the hardest thing probably for—I say my son, but I’m going to say me too—to do because I’m so connected. It’s like wired to me. And so, but sitting down and just talking and being able to have that communication and just talking about what’s going on, and I’ve kept that tradition. And believe it or not, I find it a lot of the ability to de-stress too during that time, just having that chance to disconnect and stick with your family and talking about the things that are going on, what was the week like, what are we expecting to do next week, all of that. That’s where we do all of our planning.
It reminds me, before COVID, when I would go out for dinner and I would see families and everyone sitting on their phones, staring at their screens, and nobody spoke the entire meal. And it made me think, “Wow, are we really this connected?” And it’s important to be able to have conversations and interact with people as well.
Absolutely. So, let’s transition a little bit now into college life. So, you went to school a little dangerous—well, we’ll keep this—we’ll keep this PG-rated here. So, you went to college, and I’m always interested to learn what people learned from college that actually has benefited and helped them in their career. Because a lot of people major in things that they that have absolutely nothing to do with what they’ve decided to choose as a professional or what they’ve fallen into. So, what was the most important thing that you learned from college that’s helped you get where you are today?
So, college is always a great adventure, right? Because you’re leaving your house where you had structure, and you’re now going in to where you could—at the point when you first leave, you’re like, “Oh, it’s a free-for-all,” right? And off you go. But that structure is something that and that discipline is something that you have to have also in college, right? That also resonates through.
So, your work, etc., and I think the one thing that I took from college was it’s hard work. Yeah, everybody talks about how much fun they have when they go away to college and they’re away from their parents for the first time. They don’t have their siblings around and all of that, but I found it to be a lot of hard work. And also, the other part that I took from college is also the networking. In college, you do a lot of networking and, and maybe you think it’s just classroom, you know, getting a project complete with your classmates, but you’re still networking. And you stay in touch, and I still stay in touch with some of my colleagues, you know, from college and roommates, and adore them and follow them on Facebook. You know that I think is really one of the one of the things that I took from college, other than, of course, obviously the studies. And it makes me when I think about college and you mentioned networking, for me too, I think that was probably the most important takeaway, is the power of making the right connections and building your network. And I think what I could have accomplished if I had been on LinkedIn and been more active and engaged. I mean, LinkedIn was around when I was in college; it wasn’t really popular or well-known. But I think about all the social platforms we have today and what an impact it would have made if we had started building those connections, you know, back in college.
So, Tamra, what did you think you wanted to do after graduation? What was your career plan that you were planning?
So, I was going to be an accountant. I was going to own my own CPA firm, and I was going to, you know, take the world by storm, right? And I got into the profession. I did two years to get my CPA. I hated it, I can tell you. It was not—I mean, numbers, yes. My dad is, by trade, he is a math professional, professor, right? So, he is a mathematician. So, math is in my blood. And so, but when I was working in—you know, got my first job out of college and doing auditing and really just deep diving into books, although all very interesting and I love that because I’m a puzzle person, and accounting is like putting a puzzle together and taking it apart and rearranging it so that it works even better. But what I found hard is that I’m also a people person. And so, you know, back when I was first starting doing accounting, you know, you had your navy blue suit, white shirt, and you were very staunch, you had to—forget the nylons, yes, of course, not once you could forget them, right? And so, and so it was—you know, this was an image and a perspective in that position that just wasn’t me. And I didn’t have the passion that I have for what I’m doing today in my career.
So, you wanted to go into accounting, you landed an accounting gig, and you decided, hey, this isn’t for me. So, how did you get into sourcing and procurement?
It was actually dumb luck, to be completely honest with you. So, here’s how it went. A very dear friend of mine, Terry Hamill, was actually working with me in a company. I was doing AP. I moved from being in public accounting into the corporate accounting, and I was doing accounts payable. And so, I was doing accounts payable, and one of the areas that I worked very closely with was purchasing. And Terry and I were working at the same company. She left the company and started at Tel Porter. Well, it was at that time it was Belcour. But she was the director of procurement at Belcour and had a large team. And she called me up and said, ‘Hey, listen, I’ve got an ops manager position opening up, and I really think that you would be fabulous for it. I need you. We need to put new systems in place, we need new processes, all of this, and you have that acumen. So, why don’t you come interview for the job?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m an accountant. I have nothing to do with purchasing, I don’t know purchasing,’ right? And she said, ‘No, no, no, come, come interview for the job.’ And I end up getting the job, and it was the best move that I made. Now, risky move because it was outside of my comfort zone, not something that I knew. I was now going to go into a position where I was managing an awful lot of individuals at a very young age, and I was writing policies and processes for a company that was in existence for quite some time but wanted to revamp their processes and look at what was happening. So, I was making a lot of change very fast, and we had ISO. If everybody remembers ISO 9000 audits back then, they were very—it was very popular, a lot of them have—it was very popular, a lot of that was going on. And that’s actually where I gained my passion, because I started off as an operations manager, really managing systems and the buying side of it, and I transitioned into the contracting and the negotiation side as I continued forward on that path. And really, I sat down, I just read contracts, understood. At that time, procurement wasn’t really the discipline it is in business today, and I’m so glad because it’s—you know, organizations like ISM that really escalated and elevated the supply chain and the procurement position. And so, you know, it’s great to see that this is now even—you can go to school and get a degree in that at various different schools.
It makes me think of one of my favorite hashtags, which is making procurement cool, yes. And I—I think we’ve—you can tell by the terminology, when you think about the title ‘purchasing’ or ‘buyer,’ and then you think about the transition and evolution to things like ‘procurement’ and ‘strategic sourcing,’ ‘digital transformation.’ I feel like that making procurement cool hashtag is becoming more and more relevant.
So, Tamra, one of the things that has really stood out to me about your career is your focus on IT and tech sourcing. And there’s so many job opportunities, you know, that have come about in the last year or so, and a lot of that has been driven by COVID. And the two roles that really stand out to me that I see more and more of than I do anything else, the first is marketing procurement. I’m in the marketing world, so that one, you know, I pay special attention to. But the other is IT and tech sourcing. So, I’d like to hear about how you got into IT sourcing and then what skills that you had at the time that helped you excel at that because I—I know I get questions lots of times from people who want to transition into IT sourcing, but they—they don’t even know where to start. They have a background in the industry, but they don’t have that specific category experience. So, talk to us about that a little bit.
Yeah, so—and that’s actually—and it’s morphing too because technology is changing so much. So, let me talk about the past and what kind of skill set you need now versus back when I first started. And the way I got into tech sourcing really was because I worked for a tech company.
So, Belcour at the time was the technical arm of the regional area bell companies, so there was a lot of patents, there was a lot of licensing that we did of our products out to that, and so understanding the license structure is is paramount, even today when we’re talking about software as a service. And so, I often say I grew up in the tech, bit tech world and I grew up in the procurement tech because that’s really what we offered and our offering was, and so it was easy for me to become an expert in that area because I had no choice, right? Because that was really our focus. And if you—and I will tell you, though, because of how technology has changed, I had to change a lot of what my skill sets were as well throughout this—you know, in this discipline, in this category. It’s not—you know, much like marketing, right? Marketing now is digital, there’s a lot of that happening, there’s—you know, it’s not only the paper and the print anymore, and it’s not only—you know, there’s still the message still has to be stated, but there’s so much more to it because technology is taking over every category area.
We were just—my team and I were just talking about this, right? Because we’re kind of doing a brief about all of our different categories, and one of the things we talked about is that technology is in every single piece of what we’re talking about and what we do. And so, when you think about the skill sets, when I first started, really understanding the contract and understanding how we’re deploying it. So, you do have to, although I am by no means am I a technical expert when it comes to deployment of the software or anything like that, but you do need to understand how the technology is being utilized. So, ask those questions. So no matter what you’re doing, if that’s what your plan is to move into the technology side, please make sure that you’re—you know, sitting with your stakeholders, you’re dealing, working with your IT organization to truly understand how that software is being used, because you then will be able to negotiate more efficiently and more effectively if you understand how we’re utilizing it.
Because in all honesty, when you think about software and to solve—let’s stick with software because there’s other technologies now, as in—you know, Internet of Things and the drones and all of that great stuff that I classify as technology, but if you stay on what I’ll call traditional software side of it, we’re really being granted the use rights of intellectual property from a company that owns that. And so, that’s really what you have to make sure you’re understanding and then how do I use it. So think about it, Sarah, from your side, from a marketing perspective, you know, you have to—even, you know, the jingles and all of that, you have to gain those rights to utilize that. Same thing with the software, same thing with the technology, right?
And then, when you get into the hardware side of it, hardware is changing a lot too because you’re talking about moving into the cloud. So really transitioning that and understanding what does the cloud mean, right? What does a hybrid cloud mean? So, I continue to have to educate myself on what the latest and greatest terminology and terms and even how we’re doing all of this in the market, so that when we’re in and understand or negotiating with a supplier, understanding the needs of the stakeholder and then speaking with the supplier on all of that, I will tell you, they know, they know everything about it, right? So you want to be just as educated as they are.
So other than spending time with the stakeholders which you mentioned, which in my world in marketing, it’s so important to spend time with the marketing team and really understand their needs and their end goals, where else do you recommend people go for information? I mean, of course, you can Google anything, but are there any associations, websites, conferences, things that have stood out to you that you have found really beneficial in particular for IT procurement?
Yeah, so there is an organization, ocgurus.net, that IT procurement is one of their core areas of focus, and so they do an IT procurement conference every year, and that is excellent. And also, what I would recommend is your suppliers put on conferences as well. And so if you are, and I—you know, I hate to say this, use this verbiage, but if you’re an IBM shop or if you’re a Microsoft shop, which means you’re utilizing a lot of that technology within your environment, it is imperative that you’re attending their conferences so that you can understand what is their roadmap, what are their strategies, where are they going with the products, because that will in not only educate you, but then you can take that back and help your stakeholders who may not have been able to attend those sessions.
That’s one thing. The IT conference. ISM also has a great—you know, network of individuals who, like myself, are in technology. And so, even just going out and asking those questions on the blogs and on the webpage in ISM and and if you know to get some help on maybe a specific project that’s coming up that you may not have known. We also utilize, and I’ve also utilized throughout my career, Gartner, because they have a lot of really good write-ups on technology and they’re pretty current too. There’s some that are, you know, they may be a year or two and for technology, a year or two may be old already, but they’re also a really good source. And then there’s just, in general, to your point, doing the research online and looking to see who is who, who can you resonate with because there’s a lot of podcasts out there right now that talk about negotiations and IT and learning about all of that, even on, believe it or not, YouTube. You can go out there and learn all about, you know, my different Microsoft products, you know. And that’s just an example, right? So, there’s so much out there that unfortunately you may get overloaded, but I do think that giving yourself, you know, an hour out of your week to do that is really important.
Yeah, and I apologize, that’s that as one I wanted to mention and just flew out of my head. So there are a lot of really good avenues for us in IT fulfillment.
So, 11 years after you graduated and you got into procurement, you actually decided to go back and get a master’s, and I think this is really, really interesting because I host some clubhouse rooms that are focused on supply chain, and probably the number one question my team and I get asked on clubhouse stages is, should we go back and get a master’s, and should we spend time and money to get certifications? Is it worth it? So, I would like to hear from you one, why you chose to go back and get your master’s, and then pros and cons and advice you have for other sourcing professionals who are gauging, does it make sense to go back and get a master’s?
Yeah, so my father, what I did not mention when we talked about my childhood, is my father was a headmaster of a private school, so education is super important in our house, right? And so, when we talk about it, it wasn’t necessarily if I was going to get my master’s, it was just when, and I chose to do it at the time I did because, you know, it was one of those, I was at a turning point in my life. I was young enough yet that, you know, did I want to get the certification or did I want to go get my master’s? And I elected, personally, that I wanted to get my master’s. And I have my MBA with a discipline in technology management because I was at the time still working for Belcore and in that role with technology. So, I thought it, you know, in general, I guess I have to be honest there, I didn’t think of the, or should I go get my master’s, it was more like, oh, when am I going to make time to do that, because I was the director of the department, and fitting it in was like squeezing, you know, that balloon where the one side goes and the other side goes up, you got so much going on, right?
But I will tell you it was the best choice I’ve ever made, and one of the other things my father has always said to me, there’s things that people can take away from you, but they can never take away your education, so anything you learn is yours because it’s up here. And so, you know, so with that, I felt it was really important, and I, you know, I do counsel any of my mentees that master’s is something, it may not be right away, right? And I will tell you, I would actually state that it was great to have that working experience and then put it into the educational theoretical side and really relate the two together and be able to really, you know, get the most out of that experience because I did have the experiences within the workplace to bring to my education and bring into, so I can, I could actually think about, okay, well wait a second, this is what this theory says, oh wait, here’s here’s a practical way that I’ve used it or could have used it in my work, right?
And so that’s why, you know, ten years later I chose to do it that way, and it wasn’t popular back when I was in college to go right into master’s at that point anyway. And but as far as advice, I do think that as you’re moving into different organizations and as you’re looking for advancement, master’s is something that you should definitely be thinking about because, you know, educational levels are important to companies. And so I do think that, you know, depending on where you want to be in your career, it is, it does give you a slight advantage for having your master’s.
Do you think, can you attribute your progression or increase in income directly to your master’s? And the reason I asked that is Procurement Foundry actually did a salary compensation survey, so they went out and studied their membership, and they actually found that certifications and master’s don’t really help you make more money or move up in your career in procurement, and I thought that was really interesting because people assume, ‘I’m going to go pay all this money to get a master’s and I’m going to make more,’ and their results didn’t necessarily correlate. So, would love to get your perspective being that you’re focused on technology.
Yeah, and I would actually agree with that. I think hard work gets you your salary and gets you to the next, but it does open doors, right? Because if you think about when large companies post positions, most of the time they’re posting it with some form of education they’re expecting or some certification. So from a salary increase, I agree, it’s based upon your hard work once you get in the door. But that degree and that certification helps you get that foot in the door. And so I do think, you know, asking that question just a little bit differently may have given different results because, you know, even as I post positions for openings that I have, there is an education level that’s expected and certifications that we look for. And if you don’t, you don’t make that first blush through the door, right? And it’s just the way that, you know, larger companies work when they’re looking at candidates because they get so many in the door, and this just gives you one of those legs up.
So, you transitioned into working as a Technology Sourcing Lead at Chubb, and you were there about a little less than 11 years. And when you left, you served as the VP of Software, and that’s a pretty big jump in just 10 years. So, walk me through your career progression journey, and the reason I’m asking this is I think it can be very useful for other people who are looking to move up the ranks as quickly as possible.
Yeah, and at the time, 10 years didn’t feel that quick, so now it does feel quick, right? But I will say, you know, so let’s talk about that. So, at Telcordia, I was the Executive Director reporting into the CFO. I chose to go to Chubb and take a step back, so I actually went back in my career and went back into, I was actually in a cubicle. Now I’m always in a cubicle because that’s the way we’re set up, but back then, it was the first time I was in a cubicle because I was always in a management position, and I went from being a manager to being an independent contributor. And I did that for a purpose. I wanted to reset myself. There were a couple of things that were going on in my life personally that I needed to de-stress somewhat in order to have a successful personal life in what I wanted to accomplish there. And so, I did. I took a step back at Chubb, and so I went into Chubb knowing that I was going into a position that I know I was going to nail, right? I knew I was, and they took a chance on me. And yes, I did take a pay cut. Yes, I realized that I was now going to not be the one who was setting direction and managing budgets and managing people, which was very difficult for me because I love my role as a people manager. And so, taking that step back, which was a risk, though within eight months, they recognized it. I got promoted within a year and a half. That was after I came back. While I actually went out on maternity leave during that time, and ISM New Jersey knows this because they saw me waddling around with my son in my belly, right? So, they all experienced that with me. And then when I got back, the Vice President of Sourcing job came up, it came in, and I was promoted within three years from when I walked in the door. But they knew I had that potential when I walked in, and I was very fortunate. I had two amazing mentors and bosses, and that was another thing through my career, I think I only had one boss that was, you know, questionable, but I’ve had some really amazing people to learn from, including here at Corteva, I have Craig Reed, who’s our Chief Procurement Officer who I report to, who is just an amazing individual to learn from. He has so much knowledge in this particular discipline that, you know, I am, I’ve been very, very fortunate in that respect. And so, it really was, and I will tell you, it was a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication into understanding where I wanted to go in the company and having those conversations with my manager to let them know I wanted to do more, right? I was ready to do more. I stepped back. I didn’t want to be a people manager for a while because I, you know, I was, you just started, I was a new mom. And so, I wanted to, I wouldn’t give my all to it, but when I was ready and I was back in the workforce and I was ready to be a people manager, I went back in, and I said, I’m ready. Next time I, I wanna, you know. So, raise your hand, too. It’s always, it’s also up to you to plant where you want to be in the mind of your management. And so, always, you know, raise your hand if that’s where you want to be. And I do want to just caveat to say that if that’s not, if you’re not looking to, you know, be the CPO or be a people leader, it is okay to be in the role that you’re at and to do the best you can possibly be in that role because that’s also very, very needed and very important to the organization.
Yeah, Tamra, so two takeaways I’m hearing from that is don’t be afraid to take a step back in your career and take on an opportunity. So, you can focus on learning a new skill set. You don’t always have to move up. Sometimes moving vertical or moving back will actually propel your career further. And the second is don’t be shy about letting your boss or management know that you, what jobs you want or what projects you want to take on. And some of the people that I admire and respect most in my and my career have said that same thing. They got passed over for promotions because their bosses had no idea they were even interested in that opportunity. So, I, Lavar, I see we have a question from you, and I want to acknowledge that I’ve seen that, and we will get to that once we transition into talking about what Tamra’s actually doing today. So, Tamra, to close out the conversation about your time at Chubb, I, I love storytelling, and I always like to hear train wreck stories. And the reason for that is things always don’t work out the way we want, and I think some of the best lessons that we can learn are from things that didn’t go well. So, I’d like to ask you to share a train wreck story about your time at Chubb, and most importantly, what did you learn from that, and what can somebody else learn so they don’t make that same mistake or have that same experience?
Yeah, we had a very, very important negotiation that was going on for an application that was going to be customer facing. And so, we did the whole, you know, we did the sourcing events, and we had the vendors in to do their presentations, and we had this whole, we followed the life cycle of a sourcing event, right? And we did all of that. We get to the end, we go to pick the supplier, and I did not finish all the due diligence before we selected the supplier. And so, one of the things that we then found out is that there were some items that we thought was just a gimme, right? Like, you know, all of the individuals had their H1B visas, right? Their H1 visas, and they could work in the United States, and we had a requirement that they had to be on-site, right? And all of this, fortunately for me, I was working with some great stakeholders who also participated in a lot of this, participated in the whole process through, and we got to the end, and, you know, one of the things that I learned from that because it ended up, it was a train wreck because we were like, ‘What are we going to do? This has to go. This is customer-facing. We have a timetable. We’ve got to meet it. We’ve got to get it up, you know?’ And so, you know, panic, first thing you think about, the first thing you do is panic, right? Like, ‘Oh my God.’
What am I gonna do then? You take a step back, take a breather. I always tell my team, even today.
And some of you that know me, just breathe, right? Just breathe. It’s gonna be okay. We’ll figure it out, we’ll fix it, and that’s what we did. We jumped in and we made some modifications to the scope and what we were trying to do. We did bring in another third party to assist, where that party, and they were, they participated in it as well. And so, you know, the lessons learned there are: make sure when you’re building your strategies, there are a lot of what-if scenarios. Keep thinking of those what-ifs, take the time to even put them, you know, now you know, on a virtual whiteboard, but once we all get back into the office, on a whiteboard, and really just understand what the what-ifs could be, and make sure that you have a plan for those and you prioritize those, and you understand, you know, what’s important to the stakeholder, because that’s really what will make the success or the failure of whatever project you’re working on. And so, keep that in mind because it was a lesson learned for me, and today I do ask all those questions, and we ensure that we have the strategy all mapped out. Yeah, are we fortune tellers? Can we see the future and know what all this, because technology, you know, changes so much? No, but we hit as much as we possibly can, and unfortunately, in some situations, you know, I’ve been involved in two litigations, because you know, we thought we got it right, we thought we documented it effectively and efficiently, and we didn’t. But understanding that you give it your all, and it’s going to be good, it’s going to, you really, you really are going to be able to address those train wrecks, that we’re talking about here, and you know, I, I have so many of them, that, that was just a real brief example, because I know there’s some other things we want to get to, but, but you know, if anybody wants to hear more, because I, I’ve learned so much throughout the 25 years that I’ve been doing all of this, that I’d be more than happy to share them. Sounds like we’ll need to do another separate train wreck-only episode where we can hear all the wild, crazy IT sourcing stories, but to me, I love hearing those, because you learn after you make a mistake, and it’s one of the best teachers, and it helps other people, so they can avoid those mistakes or situations as well, but I’ll tell you, Sarah, when you’re going through them, oh my God, I’m going to lose my job, oh my God, what’s going to happen next, what, without, you know, and so when you’re, when you’re going through it, you don’t realize, so it’s always great to do a post-mortem of it and and document those lessons learned, so you don’t forget it, even if it’s in your own personal journal.
So after your time at Chubb, so again you were there just a little under 11 years, you took a role, a new job at Corteva, which is where you are today, and now you run indirect materials and IT services, and I’d like for you to share a little bit about what you’re doing, and then we’ll get to Lavar’s question. Sure, so the first thing I did, though, when I came in, Sarah, is I did rebrand my group, because it was hard to say, well, what are you actually doing? So, the team that I manage at Corteva today, we have the global responsibility for programs, services, and technology, and so, when you think about the indirect side, we have a lot of, you know, so the travel program, our credit card programs, obviously all of the technology from software to services, from a technology perspective, and then professional services, consulting services, legal services, all of that that you think about that helps to run the corporation, that’s, and, of course, HR is big in there, and we have benefits and all of that that falls under. I have an amazing team that supports all of those. All of that is roughly about a $2.2 billion worth of spend, so that’s what I’m doing today. It is exciting. It’s a new industry for me. I went from an insurance financial industry and, you know, so, technology industry to, or sorry, telecommunications industry to insurance industry, and now I’m in the agroscience industry, and this is an amazing company. I did my research before I joined and was so impressed, because we are two years old, as of last, as of June, and we are really a spin-off of the Dow DuPont merger, and it’s amazing to watch this company grow. I am honored to be part of that, and you know, our mission statement in and of itself was one of the reasons why I decided to come to Corteva, and that’s to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume, ensuring progress for generations to come, and just in itself, it gives me the tingles just to say that, because you know, it’s the impact that even in the space that from procurement that I’m in, and I’m not on the direct side, but the space that I’m in makes an impact into what Corteva is doing, and makes an impact into the EBITDA for our company, and so it’s so important. The work that we all do in procurement, and so I hope each one of you that are watching this are realizing that the work you’re doing does make a big difference, especially to the company and to those who may be the beneficiary of the company that you work for.
So, Tamra, Lamar has a question. His question is, do you currently leverage technology spend analytics and price benchmark solutions? If so, which resources do you think are best? So, I will tell you here at Corteva, however, I am extremely fortunate. I have a market research team that I put my request in and they actually provide me all of that back, and they have all those memberships to the various different ones. But from a technology perspective and understanding, I kind of, I mentioned the Gartner one, and to your point, Sarah, it is expensive, right? It is, it is one that your team, your company, really would have to make an investment in, but from a technology analytics tool, we have several of them, but our major one that we use today is Power BI, and we have an Ariba engine that runs all of our that gathers all of that information in, and so from that perspective, we’re really working on from, as an SAP Ariba standpoint, as far as our day-to-day procurement and the activity within that procurement does. Now on the IT side, we work a lot on the different analytics tools that we offer out, because we also have a research and development arm, and so there are a lot of different areas when you talk about technology and what are you really thinking about and where are you focusing it on and how do you get those measurements. We also have a partner that we utilize that helps us with finding and getting that research for us as well, so we do have a third party that specifically we utilize to gather and garner some of that market data as well. So, I just want to make sure you know, and I think all companies should determine what their bandwidth is for all that because there’s a lot out there, right? And so, just even internally understanding how your spend trends are dealing with forecasting, you know, that is really important, and that all comes from that whole Ariba side of the house. I hope Lamar, I answered your question. I know I didn’t give you, as you know, specifics, but I think that there’s a lot out there; you put it in, you’ll see it in the search engines. There’s a ton of different companies that can help. Thank you, Tamra. So, we’ve got about nine minutes left, so I want to close out with a couple of questions about your role today and how I think we can add value to the listeners. My first question is, what skills should somebody have today – not last year, not 10 years ago – today, 2021, to be a good IT sourcing leader? Empathy because there’s a lot of change going on in everybody’s industry, so I’m going to say that’s across the board, whether you’re in IT or not, and because I also have, you know, in my role today, although it is part of it, there’s a lot of HR areas and there’s the research and development and some of the other areas. So, let’s talk about skill sets for the procurement. Negotiation skill sets – I don’t care what where you sit within the company, you need to be able to always have that skill set, whether you’re negotiating internally with your, you know, chief financial officer or your chief operating officer about some of the things you’re having discussions and you’re doing negotiations without even thinking about it, right? So, negotiation skills still top of my list, uh, for that. In IT specifically, I do think you need to understand what technologies are out there, not that you need to be an expert in it, but you need to understand how different technologies work together, and that comes in the role as well as you continue to move forward. I’m having that knack of just being able to talk, but talk with IT individuals. You know, just recently, I hired into my group two individuals from IT, and I did that purposely because they have the expertise and the knowledge; they were actually doing procurement in the roles that they were in MIT. So, we just, we brought them over, but they’re also now expanding that out and helping and mentoring the team members that were not necessarily in IT, but the understanding of because IT works a little bit differently, right? There’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure on them to make sure that everything is running efficiently and effectively. Think about COVID and how we’re doing all of this technology stuff, and we’re all, you know, integrated and we’ve got all this infrastructure that’s taking such a large amount of resourcing right now. And I don’t mean people resources; I mean resources from the internet, from connections, and all of that stuff. And so, it’s really important that you also understand their strategy, so sitting down and having the acumen to listen, that’s another important skill set because you have to listen to what their requirements and they need. The other part that I will tell you I think is very, really important is to understand how the interpretation of the language. You’re not the lawyer, right? I like I always say I play a lawyer on TV, you know, I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on TV. But it’s important for you to understand because you have to give guidance. IT as well, you know, as other areas within the company, have people coming in and out of the organization, and as new individuals come in, they may not be aware of what the contract restrictions are or what they can do with the contract, and they’re going out looking for other resources. So, being able to communicate what’s in there is also very important. So, communication skills, listening skills, and a lot of this sounds like soft skills; they are, and because they’re really important, and that’s no matter what. And then the other part of it that I would say for any procurement individual nowadays is data analytics. If you don’t have an opportunity to, if you don’t if you’ve never taken a class on it or you’ve never done a course on it, I would highly recommend that. There’s some, you know, you can even go out free on YouTube, and nowadays with COVID, there’s a lot of free courses out there on data analytics, which is really important as well because you’re always looking at data and doing and looking at that information and understanding it. And so, that’s also really important to be able to have that skill set because you will bring something to your stakeholder that they will see as an advantage for you. And gosh, I could keep going because there are so many great areas of skill sets that I think are good for the procurement organization in general. And I know you, Sarah, specifically asked me about IT, really from, as a skill set. What is your passion?
Right, because your passion comes through. And so, if it is that you’re passionate about— I know this is going to sound really strange, but those of us who are in technology will totally understand this— in telecommunications, and you love all the stuff about wireless and wireline and networking and circuits and switches, and how that all works together and how that engine works and keeps the company running, then become an expert in that. Really, understand that market and show that and do that. You know, and again, this goes back to the statement of, you know, a lot of times we sit back as procurement individuals and we do listen, and we have our experts, our stakeholders come in. But it’s also good if you have that understanding and expertise to bring that to the table as well.
What I’m hearing from you over and over again is soft skills matter, and I’ve personally noticed a big shift in the last three years in the industry where that’s becoming a big priority. It’s not as much your experience or niche category knowledge, but the ability to communicate and interact with people. And I’m hearing that from you, and that’s really relevant and important for IT sourcing as well.
So, three spitfire questions for you, Tamra. As we close out, you do this to me every single time, you spitfire questions. Biggest pet peeve, do I have a biggest pet peeve? Oh, those people who say they don’t like chocolate. What’s your favorite thing to do in your downtime? Oh, spend time with my son. And what’s your dream— okay, so those of you who know me, this will probably come out of left field, but I want to own a bed and breakfast down in the Smoky Mountains. And I’m actually trying to figure out if that’s something that’s going to come to fruition. But yeah, I want to open a bed and breakfast.
So, Tamra, for those who would like to connect with you, where should people go? Is it LinkedIn? Is there another social platform? Email? How can people reach out if they have further questions or want to network with you?”
“Absolutely. So, LinkedIn is probably the best way to get in touch with me. My email address is Tamra.polaski at corteva, where is that right there? corteva.com. So please feel free, especially if there was something Sarah and I were discussing today that you want to hear more about or there are more techniques or some of the other areas that we touched on, please feel free to reach out to Tamra on LinkedIn or shoot her an email. If you’d like to network, she’s an awesome resource and leader in the industry. So, I highly recommend you follow her on LinkedIn.
I want to thank Tamra so much for being our guest today. I want to thank Kathy and the ISM New Jersey team for hosting this series. As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a monthly series that we do, and Susan Walsh is going to be our next guest. That is going to be on August 18th at 2 p.m. Eastern. She is the classification guru and fixer of dirty data. So, as Tamra mentioned, data analytics is becoming really important in procurement, and she’s going to talk to us about all things data.
With that, I want to wish everyone a wonderful afternoon. This recording will be available in the next 24 hours if you want to go back and listen or share it with your colleagues and network. Thank you so much, Sarah. Thank you, ISM. Thank you, Kathy. Thank you.