Voice of Supply Chain – Mar. 2022
Featuring: Donna Donato
Welcome to the Voice of Supply Chain, brought to you by ISM New Jersey and SourceDay. This show takes place the third or fourth Wednesday of each month. The purpose of our show is to tell stories of people in procurement and supply chain doing extraordinary things. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder. I run marketing for SourceDay. If you want to talk more about women in ERP or what’s happening in the manufacturing world, feel free to shoot me a connect request on LinkedIn. You can follow my hashtags #WomeninERP and #manufacturingmaven.
Today, our guest is Donna, and we’re gonna jump right into our questions. But before I do so, I wanted to welcome everyone who’s joining us from around the globe. So feel free to drop a note in the comments, give Donna a shout out, say hello, and please tell us where in the world you are joining us from. And let’s throw in another one: tell just tell us a word about how your week is going.
So with that, Donna, we are going to jump into the interview, and I want to go way, way back in time and start with talking about your childhood. So, what is your favorite childhood memory?
My goodness, this is like right straight into the therapy session. So, hi, everyone, and Sarah, it’s so great to connect with you. And Kathy, hello as well. So childhood memory, I grew up in Russia in Moscow, and one of my favorite memories that I keep coming back to is spending time with my grandparents. So every weekend, that was the routine since the age I was seven. I would get on the subway by myself, you know, go through the city to get to my grandparents’ apartment, spend the weekend, explore, play chess, just have like an ah kind of day, you know, and start the week all over again. So spending time with that was really important for me.
Alright, and we’ve got people joining us from all over the globe, so want to say hello to Kathy, Christine. Debra’s joining us from New Jersey. We’ve got Willie joining us from Atlanta. Deborah says her week is going by quickly. We’ve got Kim joining us from New Jersey, and she says she doesn’t have the best weather. We’ve got Enew joining us; she says hello, Donna. So keep those comments coming in throughout. Tell us how your week is going, tell us where you are joining us from. We’ve also got Jackie joining us and Kenneth from Colorado. We’ve got Anna from Florida, and we’ve got Chris from North Carolina. So we are rounding it out.
So, what in your childhood shaped you to be the person that you are today?
I think it’s the need to be resourceful. All right, so I again I grew up in Moscow in the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s before I came over to America. Living with censorship, restrictions, kind of deficit, which, I mean, it feels like we’ve taken steps backwards now as a country so much into the same direction that it brings really bad memories. But what it did also teach me is how to be resourceful—resourceful how to build relationships, how to also have ambition for better, maybe a future, to be realistic, and figure out how to be happy also with what you—you know, what you got. Like, we didn’t have that kind of comparative culture where you constantly looked who has something different. There’s a little bit of acceptance, I would say, probably, you know, that taught me to be happy with my lot. So sometimes, you know, when I get through, I’m not attached to material things, you know, kind of moments in life where you think might knock you out, you know, I feel very comfortable, you know, going through the ups and downs of life and have resilience and resourcefulness to get me through it.
What’s a tradition you learned from your parents or grandparents that you mentioned earlier that you’ve continued on today?
So the one that comes to mind, and our kids make fun of me for it, you know, is the tradition of exploring things. So as I mentioned, every weekend, I would go to my grandparents’ house, and my grandfather was very active and physically, so he would not be able to sit still. And as soon as, you know, we get up and get ready and get our shoes on, he’s like, ‘Let’s go.’ I’m like, ‘Where?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know. Let’s explore.’ So it got so instilled in my, you know, memory that wherever I go now, new place, I like to see the big picture first. So I’ll give an example: go to Europe on vacation with the kids, and like, the first thing we do, we get on this touristy bus so we could see everything at once, get the lay of the land. I like the bird’s-eye view, and then we can go deep somewhere. I don’t like going straight to kind of the depths of something until understanding the bigger picture. So I have a picture in my house with my grandfather with me, saying, ‘Dunka, let’s explore.’ It’s something that’s very much instilled in me.
Who’s the most influential person from your childhood?
I think three that come to mind, but I’ll give you a brief answer in that kind of, you know, a rapid-fire. So, my grandmother, she was a beautiful human being who was very much able to manage conflict, and I’ve seen her. She worked hard; she managed to—she had a family of three kids, one of them was my mom, who was probably more on the difficult side, you know, fiery kind of personality. And to see my grandmother be able to be the best she could be at work, to keep her household and family together the way she did, and diplomatically managed through challenging situations was just beautiful. Like, she never would lose her cool but projected the same kind of strength, you know, not be a doormat in order to avoid conflict. So that was beautiful. My dad, always spoke his mind, got in trouble for it, probably, but he’s an artist, and he was very much authentic to who he is, his whole life. And I kind of—I really appreciated that, you know, like, he doesn’t bend to the flavors of the day, but he has his points of view, and despite the challenges, you know, in Russia particularly, he’s able to express them. And third, I would say my mom, even though, you know, again, that fiery personality was a challenge, I think she also possessed an amazing energy to tackle things that I think others just would shy away from.
What’s one thing you learned as an adult that you wish you knew as a kid?
Don’t rush to grow up. I just—I am so much appreciated being in the present, and I feel the childhood and, you know, seeing right now, again, at our kids, you know, kind of that fear of growing up, I’m saying, ‘Don’t rush it. Enjoy the process.’ Life is—it might seem like it’s going fast, you know, but I think if you’re in the moment and you’re present and you’re not looking constantly ahead, you know, I think you just enjoy and will stretch the moment so much more.
So, after high school, you went to college and you decided to major in something not so common, not so traditional.
Well, that’s a funny story. You’re probably referring to my Japanese major. Okay, I did. So, I did the double major in Economics and Japanese. It’s my life also has been a series of circumstances, right? And circumstances and door openers that I walked through. But I was lucky, you know, to be presented with some of them. So, the story was Japanese: when I was little, I was six, seven years old, my mom actually signed me up for a Chinese language school. So, I studied Chinese for 10 years when I was in Russia. And I loved, you know, the language, the history, and I—you know, I wanted to continue. You know, I was able to read the Communist Manifesto in Chinese, which I wasn’t sure how applicable that would be in my life, but that’s the text we had. I got a scholarship to college in the U.S., and I was like—I was just ecstatic, you know, to come from Moscow to Lancaster in Pennsylvania. But when I looked at the curriculum, they didn’t have a Chinese language program. They did have Japanese. So, I thought, ‘Okay, this is close enough.’ You know, considering that the Japanese written system, one of the three systems, is based on the Chinese written language, I thought it would give me a chance to continue exploring just a different world. And I loved it, you know. I got sucked in into a different culture, perspectives, history. I studied, then I went and studied in Japan. But it was somewhat the result of circumstances and my curiosity, I guess.
The hardest part of moving to the U.S., you know—I moved when I was 18—and that first couple of weeks, you feel like, ‘Oh my goodness, everything does seem foreign.’ And the language—I probably sounded so funny and, well, actually not funny, because I had no sense of humor, you know, when you’re not that fluent in the language. So, you feel like a complete oddball. And, you know, having headaches every day, you know, from just trying to absorb everything. So that was hard. But at the same time, I was 18. Here, it’s so flexible at that time that, you know, two weeks or two months is just a spec kind of in the lifespan, and you get used to the circumstances. I did decide to just hunker down. I remember one day I’m like, ‘Alright, so my conversational English is was good enough, but not good enough for college.’ And the decision I made was, ‘It’s either you’ll learn now or never.’ Like, there was no point in skipping words and guessing at the meaning, you know, of something in the economics textbook. So, I did. I was a complete nerd the first semester and locked myself in the library, but boy, it paid off. So, it was, you know, fun afterwards. So, hard work paid off.
What’s the most important thing you learned during your undergrad program?
Of course, I look both ways when I got hit by a car. So, sophomore year, right before Christmas break, I was already in my groove. I just finished my exams. I was on the way to the theater department, where I worked part-time, you know, singing happy songs in my head on a sunny day and wasn’t paying attention. The next thing I woke up was on the road with an ambulance and people, like, all over me, you know, asking if I was okay. So, I did spend almost a month, because three and a half weeks in the hospital and had to go through rehab, you know, to be able to walk again. But what I did learn at that time is incredible power of kind of community and the connection. I was alone. My family couldn’t come and visit me because of the visit restrictions. But I literally had strangers coming over. And as much as I pride myself on, you know, being cool, calm, and collected under whatever circumstances and resilient, I think it melted me. It just taught me the power of empathy and support. And it’s something that might not have been an academic, you know, lesson learned, but really community kind of lesson learned. So, I remind myself, you know, all the time, kind of okay, don’t forget to give, don’t forget to give and care, you know, about it, about others, whether there’s a response, kind of another line or not. It feels incredibly powerful.
So, senior year, you’re kind of figuring out what’s next. What did you think you wanted to do after your undergraduate program?
Well, a few things converged for me in the senior year. In life, my first idealistic view of the world was that I would learn Japanese, English, and Russian, economics, and bring the world together and make it a better place. So, and I still believe every contribution matters. But, you know, reality also hit. My mom lost her job. I had to support her. So, I was working like 30, 40 hours a week, you know, my senior year. I thought I was still in love with Japanese, you know, cultural language, and I wanted to go to graduate school and continue to study it and see if it takes me further to some international, you know, arena. I looked into what it would take to work in the United Nations or what it would take to be on Broadway. I love theater, and I’ve done that, you know, throughout all my childhood and college. So, it didn’t help that my interests were so diverse. But then what I realized and hit—the reality hit me in my face: if I wanted to stay in this country, I needed a paycheck. So that quickly kind of turned into, like, all right, how am I able to get a job that will support me, continue to support my mom at the time, and still give me the kind of learning and the satisfaction and fulfillment? And I applied to a management development program. And that was a wonderful experience. I got hired by Cigna in Philadelphia at that time. They offered three different rotational assignments in HR, IT, finance, and procurement. So, procurement was the first one, and I was like, ‘Procurement? What’s that?’ That’s how I stumbled into the profession, and why I’m happy that I did.
So, you decided to go back to school and get an MBA. Yes. Talk me through the why.
The ROI on it seemed pretty good. I had to pay nothing, so it opened. But I did put a little more thought into that than that. It was about two years, two and a half years after I started working, and when you first start a new job, new everything, right? City, friends, co-workers, industry—there’s a huge learning that, you know, growth kind of, you know, happens, and you’re able to jump in, expand your brain, you know, absorb everything. And then I’m like, ‘Alright, what’s next?’ So, it’s a little bit probably bored, a lot curious, realize that maybe some accounting and finance classes that I could benefit from now in a more mature stage, and also apply, you know, what I learned right into the reality of the day-to-day work. And I took on the MBA in the evenings. It was again, at that time in your 20s, was an easy task. You know, it was either go to school three nights a week or go hang out with your friends or, you know, do some other things. And it seemed like a no-brainer at the time, and I enjoyed it.
I really, I made new connections, earned a ton, and my employer was fantastic in supporting that as well. Was it worth it? Well, considering the ROI, I would say yes. But if I were to give somebody advice now, like, did it make a difference, you know, material in my career? I don’t think so. I think, you know, you get at some certain point in your career that the experiences that you have are just as comfortable, and there are so many other ways to consume education these days, which is wonderful too. I would say for me personally, it was worth it to get the education that I got, but is it necessary? I would say no. It’s not like once I got my diploma, I said, “I need a raise” or “I need to please take a look at me differently.” That’s just not how that evolved.
So, you mentioned you had your first assignment with Cigna, and you had several rotations, and procurement was the first. What did you do after your first paying gig at Cigna?
After Cigna, I—why didn’t I have saying that for 10 years? I finished the program, and I went back to procurement. It was going through this fascinating stage in the 90s where, you know, it was transforming from being the topic of being PO to the topic of being how we talk to CFO, and you know, changing just the dynamics between what third parties can do for the business and really professionalizing procurement, you know, function. I just was—I kind of just landed smack in the middle of that conversation, and almost defining what transformation looks like, what procurement as a function could be. I loved being at the center of it, you know? I loved being able to learn, you know, from the bird’s eye view. I felt like you could have tentacles on any part of the business. So, I went back to procurement. I love the external world. I love getting to know the suppliers, and it’s like with every conversation that opens up a new Pandora’s box. And it kind of suited well to, I think, my just tendency to be, you know, curious and creative and solution-oriented. So, I stayed, and I managed all kinds of, you know, categories, and then, of all, to relationship leader for several business units. Um, and did some of the pretty, you know, transformational deals. And that was, that was, that’s it. And then I joined Pfizer. So, I went to Pfizer, which was uh, experience of a truly global, you know, leader, and again, procurement has evolved in further and further, and I got the front-row seat, you know, and actually kind of a co-pilot in some cases to in-transformed organization, transform supply relationships. Got involved in business development work, and that actually landed me the next gig of right of taking one of the business units of ISO animal health business into it through an IPO, a new company, and had the chance to set up procurement from scratch there, which was, you know, fascinating and real estate and travel and other corporate services. So, it kind of expanded my, you know, horizon, definitely stretched as well. You know, I almost still said like one year Jueris was like seven dog years, so it was quite quite on par, you know, for the task.
So you mentioned the word transformation a few times. What does that mean to you when, as it relates to procurement?
I would say, even in general, when I think of transformation, it’s something that you assess where you’re today, but more importantly, you set the goal for where you want to be, right? When we are on a personal transformational journey, you know, it’s not a gradual kind of evolution. But, most importantly, what’s your vision? That vision that you have, you know, for you, for the organization, for the function, that is ambitious. You know, that’s ambitious in what it can achieve, and also ambitious in kind of the level of challenge. Like, what’s the size of a challenge, you know? And it has to correspond also to the size of the prize. So, for me, that’s kind of what transformation is. It’s something that is beyond what we could, you know, easily reach today but will have a meaningful, material impact. And it’s an ability to re-imagine the function, you know, and re-imagine how it’s delivered, how it’s perceived, and you know, expect the results commensurate with it.
How should one go about tackling a transformation that seems very overwhelming? And it seems like it would be hard to manage the change management piece at a lot of organizations.
It is, indeed. It is, indeed. It’s probably the most important piece, you know? Um, I have this framework, you know, that I use. I call it the “Case for Change” because transformations, change, and change usually represents that degree of, you know, either fear or anxiety, you know, associated with it. But it has to have a prize. So, the “Case for Change” framework is, what problem, you know, presents itself or what’s the size of the prize, and who’s going to benefit from it, right? So, um, defining those three components, the size of the prize, you know, the challenges, and the key players in it, and what’s in it for them, is fundamental, you know? And then, staying on message to make sure that you also, and be realistic, what it takes, you know, to really do the work, to do it consistently, the level of repetition, probably in order to form habits, the level of perception, challenge you need to overcome, which I think procurement has a lot, you know? Um, it is a daunting task, and I don’t think transformations are. It’s interesting because they do take time. It’s not something you can get in a year. Forget it, right? But if you take too, too long, you know, going to make it a never-ending story, then it’s like not that exciting, either. And it’s actually you have to show the wins along the way that and then reset maybe the bar as well, but managing the momentum and the energy, you know, necessary to do so is so important. It’s a little bit of an art, all right? Not too short, not too soon, and then reset the baseline, so have you identified any key takeaways in regards to change management and how to actually get buy-in from stakeholders?
So, the lesson I learned, you know, personally, and I’ve seen it kind of play out over and over, there’s one kind of school of thought, you know, that you come in guns blazing, here’s what I can do for you, okay? And again, you march into the office of someone and you represent change and you represent probably disruption, right? So, not to not understand those dynamics is a recipe, I think, for disaster, even though somebody is super credible with all the data, you know, that they are, they’re armed with. Doing it a little too cautiously, kind of like, let me earn my seat at the table, too carefully, underplay some things, you know, is not as effective either. So, I think, it’s something in the middle that, uh, I you know, for my teams throughout the years, says, think of what’s your unique value proposition that you’re able to add to the person that you’re interacting with, to your stakeholder, and then, most importantly, align on their interests. Understand them, uncover them, understand them, and align. We often make assumptions, you know, for what people we think they want, like, or where the goals are, and we’re often wrong, you know? So, asking the right questions for what’s really important to the people and aligning on their interests, like in any negotiation, right? Before you go to positions, is super critical for any, I think, change management efforts. So, understand those and then bring and then show how you can help them get there.
What about from a budgeting perspective? I’ve worked with organizations before that will be doing a large transformation initiative. The budget gets cut. First thing that gets cut is the change management piece. Oh, yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s not good, you know? Because that’s gonna undermine everything else. So, it, you know, it’s it’s it’s not that fluffy communication, you know, whatever people assume change meant to be. Each man which is so fundamental to hearts and minds and souls, you know, that take to move the needle on change, there’s you know, there’s no amount of procedures and new systems that will make a difference. It’s really that energy and alignment, so I would say advocate for that, you know? So when you see the budget being changed, no, no, it needs to happen. So it’s just that critical.
So, one of the other things you mentioned is that you have been in somewhat of a startup role in procurement and that you’ve built out a sourcing procurement team from the ground up. And I think a lot of our listeners can probably relate to that, being in a new team or actually being in a similar position. So, would love to have you share some thoughts and insights about how you tackled that and maybe some key takeaways that people could learn from you about when everything’s new, what to prioritize.
Well, first of all, it’s a gift. Okay, if you get a chance to build something new from scratch, it’s not often in our careers that we get a chance to do that, right? If you think of probably most of our career paths, we step into existing situations with existing teams and someone else’s agenda and strategy. So, if you are fortunate to be able to do something from scratch, it’s amazing. So what I would say, again, start with what’s the vision. Right, that’s the guiding principle of everything that the function will do. How will it show up? Because I think sometimes we I say you know vision in terms of really good impactful words, but you’ve got to be able to translate it into how would I know that I’m there? What are the indicators that tell me that I’m there? Then think about what do I need to get there? Is it the types of skills, capacity, support? And there are so many options for any one of those things that I just mentioned, right? So don’t limit yourself in that, and then think of, um, what you know. So you’re prepared. What could go wrong, right? What have I not thought about? There’s nothing I’m going to be able to predict at all, but be prepared, you know that things will change. Circumstances will change. Leadership will change. Market dynamics will change. So, and while we can’t be prepared for everything, know that something will definitely change. So what’s the governance, the principles, the framework that you have in order to still stay on track or pivot if necessary, you know, and test if the vision is still the right one for us, you know. The key indicators still the right one. So I like kind of that iterative process that also gives you a chance to remind yourself that yes, I’m still going on the right track. You know, otherwise you could go really strong in one direction and the world’s changed all around you. You know it’s not gonna be as helpful. And then get yourself really, really good people. I think it’s so important. You know, the the trust, the dynamics, the culture that you can create. Just don’t underestimate the importance of that. It’s the multiplier, I think, that gives the multiplier effect for anything, either positive or negative, right? Because it could be you know if not done right, suck up so much energy, create so many unhealthy relationships, so focus on the people and the culture and create the environment that gives you that multiplier.
How have you found top talent? Spotted it? You know, like I uh, I’ve hired people in roles that they might not have traditionally done, but they have some of those intrinsic qualities, right? I look for people first, learning agility, the growth mindset, is so important. So somebody who has a growth mindset, that’s a must for any of the organizations that I’ve ever worked for. Again, to the point that the world is dynamic, you know, and it takes for us to be successful leaders in the procurement space. The curiosity and learning so growth mindset, key. And then I would say the thought process, right? Kind of the principles by which a person operates, because then you can put them into different circumstances and some of the core principles you know that they live by if they could materialize and show up in different circumstances, but they could be applied to what you need as well. I mean I always write no you know, I’ve made some hiring decisions that I was like ah, alright, I should have you know thought more or trusted, you know, some of the yellow kind of lights. I call them, you know, sooner than later, but some but the growth mindset and the follow-through because it is a series of decisions and actions ultimately, and leadership is what I look for.
So, you’ve found and successfully recruited top talent. How have you developed your team?
I like to find their unique value strengths, you know? We’re not good at everything. And I love to cultivate, you know, the different strengths that people bring and also make them visible to others because we are a mosaic of, you know, the skills that an organization cumulatively needs.
I’m very good at giving direct feedback and coaching, you know? It’s rooted in, first of all, an understanding that I’m there to support and help my team grow, and that comes with candor, you know, direct feedback, and support also.
So in terms of cultivating the talent, I do believe in coaching very much. I believe in immediate, frequent feedback and opportunities, opportunities to stretch. That’s when we’re most uncomfortable, that’s when we grow, you know, so let’s go right in there, you know. Yes, let’s go into the, you know, circumstance, so otherwise you’re just in a repeat loop, you know, of doing what you’re doing, and you know get stuck. And again, even if you just do what you’re doing, you’re behind. But, um, putting people into circumstances that they are uncomfortable in is something that I think has been very successful for growth.
Thoughts on remote work?
It’s, gosh, it’s definitely a topic, right, of conversation for any organization these days. I’ll tell you I think about three dimensions right of kind of organizational dynamics in the company that you know I’m leading right now.
How do we create the right culture? How do we create the right kind of connectedness and collaboration? And how do we support our customers in the way that they find effective? And then there’s a fourth dimension, which is what’s right for colleagues in order to be most effective and productive. I think the last two years obviously demonstrated that we could just, you know, flip the switch and be remote. Great, mission accomplished. Now it’s a matter of picking up the pieces of what we’ve lost by doing that a hundred percent. And I think the degree of human interaction that is still necessary in the business, again, it doesn’t take away from the effectiveness of a structured meeting or a quick, you know, phone call or video call. But I still find it valuable, you know, for building connections, for building relationships, and for certain types of collaborative, you know, moments. I call it, you know, chain a cue here, kind of flexibility with a purpose. I want to make sure that our team has the flexibility, you know, to be able to manage our integrated lives and work.
But we have to be purposeful when we are together to make the most of it.
So you’re a CEO now, and I want to transition and talk a little bit about that because that’s a pretty big shift from procurement. But I want to close out the kind of the talent discussion in procurement and focus on what do you think are the most important things that somebody who’s in a procurement role today wants to advance in their career up the ladder in procurement or supply chain, what skills and things should they be focused on learning and doing to get to that next step?
Such a broad question, right? Depending kind of where you are. Look, they’re at a high level, because you know you have the whole kind of competency matrix and all of that that you know companies I’m sure know have and can follow through in terms of what you need functionally to know and to master, right? So I’m not going to cover that.
But to be an effective procurement leader, I think you got to be curious. You got to be, because that’s what I’m. You know, we all see just around us the dynamic with which the business changes. You know, is so fast, and you cannot stay stale. And the only way to do it, if you really understand sometimes the why, which gets me then to building a relationship with the business, with your key stakeholders. Why they want to do something or not want to do something. So get curious and understand to uncover the objectives, the hidden agendas, the personal agendas, you know, the interests, all of that. Get caring about it because you want for them to care, that you want to solve their problems. And then get creative, right? And create creative comes in terms of you could follow the procurement process and you know master the seven steps, five steps, or whatever. But that’s I would say we have so many more tools in our box right now as working professionals. So figuring out which one to use, you know, what’s the right hammer or screwdriver, you know, or glue, is really the skill that’s needed. It’s figuring out the right solution universe, is just hammering it out, you know, through the standard operating procedure.
How important is technology in procurement today? It’s such a great—it could be such a great enabler, I should say. So, I mean the amount of data that you know, like I have my wish list of like if I could only do this, you know, and I know that humanly is not possible, so I have high aspiration for technology and expectation for it. And I would embrace you know the technology that makes, uh, helps us procurement professionals make better, faster decisions, right? Ultimately, if we could get to the better outcome and get there faster, that would be great, right? It’s confidence. You want to get to something with more confidence. I think technology could help you do that. That’s kind of the marketing sides, market data piece, you know, which I think is critical, and then you know, the efficiency, the simpler way of doing business, if we could not, you know, crack that nut, would be amazing. I think there’s a lot of effort, a lot of money being thrown into it. I think human assist is still important, you know, there’s just no substitute, I think, for the human interpretation of something. But technology could be huge. It could take a huge chunk of the work, you know, that just does not need to be done by humans anymore.
So you’ve transitioned now into running a tech company. So why did you want to become a CEO? It’s, I always looked at whatever I’m doing holistically, meaning even within procurement, right? You’re solving a problem and they’re you could look at anything from a 360 view. And I think when you do that, you’re a little bit more effective at solving, you know, that discrete you know the discrete situation. So what what a better place to do so from the CEO positions? I figured I like the bird’s view, but you also have a chance to influence so much more, right? To drive both the sales, the operation, the customer engagement, the culture, um, so it’s always been on my radar, you know, to be in a role that’s kind of commercial role in nature that drives you know the business direction, the business growth, and uh in essence lets me do what I you know to be in the field that I love and to do it at scale, you know. So when I think about what I get to do in this role, is and I’m leading right now America’s region for a company called Chain IQ, which is a full sourcing services company. Uh, we have the humans and technology and solve problems for our customers at all different levels of maturity. Um, but I get to grow the business, deliver the services, create the culture, right? And it’s really just energizing, and I’m growing a ton. So I love it.
So you were running sourcing for an organization. How did you get selected or how tell me about the transition process of how you transitioned from being a sourcing practitioner into becoming a CEO, because that’s a pretty big jump. What’s the funny story? I was at American Express prior to jumping into Chain IQ, and the American Express, I ran all of you know source to contract globally, transform the organization, and also got tapped to explore a role that’s called strategic partnerships, which gets to that 360 kind of relational view, um, and accountability for a number of large you know partnership partners like Hilton, you know, Microsoft, others, that has a commercial element to it, then Covid happened, you know, the world kind of has changed, and as I was talking to a recruiter about like what are they seeing in the market, and as I was exploring other opportunities, and the recruiter mentioned, it’s like, okay, you know, there’s this company, but they’re looking for the CEO of Americas and the procurement full procurement outsourcing services, I’m like, wait, this is this is what I’m talking about. So I was like, put me in, this is the one, like, I’ve been getting ready for this opportunity. So I would say it was a bit circumstantial, you know, as again my problem, my curiosity, got me to that got me to that level of discussion, and he said, well, I have to put together the slate tonight, I’m like, I’m ready, so I could put it together, I can articulate, and I’ve done my research very, you know, quickly, and it’s an exploratory conversation anyway, let’s go, so the more I got to know the company, the ambition, the vision, the um, and just the growth potential, I I was like, now I really want this, now I really think this could be a great fit, you know, both for me to learn and contribute, so how long have you been the CEO? About a year and a half, so I joined in August of 2020.
Hardest part of being a new CEO? Gosh, there’s just so much to do, right? So everything, like from when to reopen the office and what kind of, you know, guidelines and procedures to put to figuring out the customer issue, to talent, to growth, yes, to renovations in the office and what carpet to pick. So you got to really figure out what to focus on, where you make the most impact, and where to empower your team to do the rest, and you know keep keep the tabs on, you know, on it the right way to provide support and direction, but the strategic focus is probably the most important thing, and then people and talent, absolutely fundamental too to be successful in this role.
So I’ve heard you mention a couple times your focus in prioritizing the customer, how are you leveraging customer insights to drive your strategy? I mean we exist for the purpose of the customer, so listening to I love talking to the customers and really getting to feel, you know, their pain, what they’re missing. So they really give me the insight on kind of where we need to make the investment and the solution. If we just invent it in our own black box, I think it will be you know absolutely deprived of that, you know, um, relevancy. So staying relevant, you know, to the issues of the customers and being able to aggregate it across again different level of maturities, the of the customers, that kind of what they are on their journey has been an incredible input. I think into our solution and the talent that we need, the focus that we need, so I I think it’s the most important conversation.
How do you innovate? I think it starts again, imagine if you know, so imagine if we could do this, if we could solve this problem for you, would that be you know, something valuable? So having you know the I think the courage sometimes to go and to the unknown, know that you might have you know the 70% of something that’s absolutely core and is going to work, and then partnering with the customer or internally, you know, experimenting with what could be in order to get it to the successful outcome, but it takes, I think, a bit of let’s hold our hands and make it work, and commit commitment to make it work with the unknowns that might be along the way.
One of the questions I get asked a fair amount is how do you market to people in procurement? Curious what your strategy has been around that since people in procurement get sold to and hounded day after day after day, yeah. So it’s a slightly different sale to procurement, I would say, right? So I’ve been, you know, most of the company staff are practitioners who have been on you know the procurement and in-house side and I’ve been sold, you know, plenty of times as well. And usually, you’re kind of the gatekeeper, which I hate kind of as a word, you know, it really should be the gateway to value versus the gatekeeper, you know, but just the sheer number of outreach that you get, you know, makes you kind of filter through things very quickly, right? But in this case, we’re selling to procurement to be to make them heroes, right? So it’s a sale where it says you need to have an effective—you need you want to have a world-class outcome, but you not necessarily need to be world-class yourself, so let’s figure out how to get you the right outcome, you know, with the right partnership on the inside, which does include procurement and business and finance, and suppliers as well. And but it’s you’re selling to procurement to make them successful, with the degree of change, though, that you know, it was it was a definitely change that comes to them as well, which is I think is a little different because usually procurement kind of screens out suppliers on behalf of their customers, you know, so the filtering might be a little bit different, you know, this one might be like whoa, I outsource in my job, you know, it’s a little bit self-preservation. So that’s why I’m like, no, no, my job is to make you successful, let’s be really clear about that, you know, and make this the function sing versus selling something else, so just to make that at that point, what problem does your company solve? It is getting to that outcome that companies want, you know, that vision will start with transformation, but the challenge of getting there, we could accelerate it. It depends where companies are, right? Again, I, you know, there are some clients I talk to that have very basic procurement, you know, function and probably something I’ve seen 10, 20 years ago and haven’t had a chance to really lift up their heads or maybe grew too fast, you know.
Over my career in worldwide procurement, global sources, strategic sourcing, and operations, I do think there is a little bit of a perception issue that procurement has had for a long time, right? I mentioned even the perception of being a gatekeeper versus a gateway. I don’t know if the name might help, but I think it’s the actions and behaviors that really make the difference. So, what are you most excited about this year?
I am excited for our company’s growth, and with growth come new challenges and opportunities. You can invest more, perfect more, and innovate more, creating a wonderful flywheel effect that keeps giving back to customers and helps us grow more. I also love that it’s a change in culture. Whenever you add a certain number of people to the organization, it tips the balance of different cultures. I think it can be both a challenge and an opportunity to create the right mix.
So, we have five minutes left. I want to close out. I’m going to do one of my lightning-round questions. You’ll answer with the first word or phrase that comes to mind for each.
Accomplishment you are most proud of? – Now.
Quality you admire most in yourself? – Resilience.
Biggest pet peeve? – People who are not present and not listening.
Favorite thing to do in your downtime? – Binge-watching shows.
A binge show you’d recommend? – Mad Men and ‘Inventing Anna.’
Well, Donna, I want to thank you very much for coming on our “Voice of Supply Chain” show. For those interested in learning more about her and her company, please find Donna and her team on LinkedIn. You can also check out their website. I’ve known Donna for a couple of years now, a great resource leader, very open and friendly, so do not hesitate to reach out to her on LinkedIn. Our next show is scheduled for April 20th at 2 p.m. Eastern time. We look forward to seeing you back again next month on LinkedIn.