Voice of Supply Chain – Nov. 2021
Featuring: Jane Zhang
Welcome to the Voice of Supply Chain, brought to you by ISM New Jersey and SourceDay. This is a show that takes place the third or fourth Wednesday of each month. The purpose of the show is to tell the stories of people in procurement and supply chain doing extraordinary things. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder. I am in a new role now, so first time you’re probably hearing SourceDay on the show. I’m now overseeing marketing for SourceDay. We automate purchase order changes and enable supplier collaboration for manufacturers, distributors, CPG brands, and retailers. If you want to talk more about women in ERP or what’s happening in the manufacturing world, you can connect with me on LinkedIn and follow my hashtags #WomenInERP and #ManufacturingMaven.
Today, our guest is Jane Zhang, co-founder and co-CEO at ETCH Sourcing. Jane and I have been friends for several years now. I think we actually met at a SIG conference, so really excited to have her on the show. I think she has tremendous energy but also a really unique perspective about sourcing and what it means to be an entrepreneur.
This show is meant to be interactive, so do not be shy about sharing your thoughts in the chat and Q&A at the bottom. So feel free to use those throughout, and I’ll be making sure to monitor and ask questions as they come in as well.
So with that, Jane, I want to start off all of my interviews I do going back to childhood days. So tell me about a favorite childhood memory.
Favorite childhood memory? Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me, Sarah, and Kathy as well, and a big thank you to both ISM New Jersey and also SourceDay for having me on the show. It’s fantastic to be here. Yeah, favorite childhood memory. I’d say it’s a funny one now because I am the Canadian who hates the winter, but it was when I first moved to Canada. That first, I think I was about six and a half, seven when I first moved to Canada, and experiencing the first snowfall. That was really cool back then. After having been in Canada for as many years as I have now, I am no longer as excited about snow when I see the first snowfall. But the first-ever snowfall I ever did see and experience in Canada at the time was a very fond memory of mine, for sure.
So, Jane, what in your childhood shaped you to be the person that you are today?
I think one of the things that really played a big role in influencing my personal development, I think over the years, is really—I am a first-generation immigrant. So, my parents and I, we moved from China when I was seven to Canada, and that came with a whole set of challenges of arriving in a country where you don’t speak the language. And we really arrived in a time where there was not a lot of Chinese immigrants’ presence in Calgary at the time, which is my current headquarters and where our company is based out of. And at that time, you kind of had to struggle through learning the language, learning the culture, learning and adapting in a lot of ways. And I think that’s really contributed to how I approach problems and how I kind of approach life in general. Because having had that experience very early on, you learn how to become very adaptable, very fluid.
What’s a tradition that you learned from your parents that you’ve continued on today?
I think we’re not very traditional people in my family. It’s interesting to say that. We’re definitely not very big holiday celebrators, which is something that I think my parents have always kind of taught me, just to celebrate each moment as they come. So, we don’t really wait for major milestones. We don’t wait for major holidays. We just, as things come through and as life kind of proceeds, you learn to celebrate in the moment. And I think that’s something that has kind of continued on. So, we don’t really, in our family, like birthdays, holidays, the statutory days. Those are not big milestones. Instead, what we focus a lot more on is if something really great happened today, let’s celebrate it on that day. If something really challenging happened, let’s deal with it in that moment and in that day. So, we’re quite, I think, different in that sense.
Then, who is the most influential person from your childhood, and why?
I don’t have one. I do have two—my father and mother, obviously. I think with moving to Canada and being, you know, watching them kind of re-establish a life in Canada and really having given up amazing career paths, amazing potential, just amazing jobs in China, and moving to Canada to start everything from the ground up. And the amount of grit that, you know, it took for them to not just, you know, while I was learning a new language and adapting to school, they were doing all of that and also in an environment where their credentials were not being recognized because they were overseas and foreign credentials. So, that was really influential for me growing up as a child because I really got to see how they fought through all of that and went on to create and to generate a lot of amazing good for themselves but also for the communities that they later on established. So, that was really huge.
So, let’s fast forward a few years now and talk about some college days and college experiences. One of the things that I think you and I both can connect with is you—we both majored in marketing. And so, I would like to find out why did you choose to major in marketing?
It’s, you know, I loved marketing—well, from the business selections, let’s put it that way. Because, you know, coming out of high school, you’re, you know, 18, 19. You’re in that space where you’re like, okay, I want to do something, but I’m not quite sure what I want to do. And at the time, I had a very big passion for creativity. I had a very big love for arts, creativity, writing, literature, all of that. And so, my first intention was like, I want to go into animation school. I want to go into drawing. I want to go into writing. And, you know, rightly so, my mother convinced me that we probably wanted to focus a little bit more on something that would be more broadly applicable. And so, we looked into business, and marketing was something that always drew me right away because of how it really applied creativity. It was very much applied creativity, applied art design, and also with a layer of psychology. So, that’s actually what drew me to marketing. And I always say it’s funny because even though I learned so much about marketing, I am still twice as susceptible to all the marketing strategies out there.
What’s the most important thing that you learned during your undergraduate program?
During my undergraduate program, I definitely went through a lot of group projects. I think all of us do in business and school. The way that these programs are just generally structured. I think one of the best quotes I ever had from one of my professors back in undergrad, and it was during a marketing research class, and it was just around the fact that people are fundamentally—you know, when you’re trying to get information out of people, you want to design things as simple as possible. And so, that was something that I learned during marketing research because when we think about, you know, we want to understand the market, and similarly in the roles that we do now today when we’re looking at procurement process design, we’re conducting interviews. And we fundamentally tried a lot of times. We try to overcomplicate things. And we try to ask people for all these large-scale definitions, interviews, all of this stuff, whereas fundamentally when you’re looking at gathering that information, the simpler you design something when you go to gather and ask these questions. And that’s why I love the way that your questions are designed, Sarah, because they are very simple and they are direct. And being able to really capture that for people, I think, is one of the best lessons I learned during my undergraduate program.
Perceived worst advice received in college that has turned into useful advice?
That’s an interesting one. That’s a hard one. I think it’s back in college. I mean, I was always one of those very keen students, I’ll put it that way. I, you know, maintaining a very strong GPA at the time was very much a priority focus for me. And at the time, I think there was advice that, you know, ‘Hey, look into other areas, look beyond just academics,’ and at the time it was like, okay, well yes, but also, you know, as a student, my first and prior my first priority should be to maintain my grades. And I think over time, having adapted that, having adopted that in a lot of my extracurriculars and really expanded that within my undergrad and then into my graduate program, so on and so forth, that’s really been a great advice because you really, out of that, you really get to experience all sorts of different dimensions and really leverage their status during college as a college student and to really be able to open a lot of doors and have experiences that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have.
What did you think you wanted to do after graduation?
Go to Japan. That was a simple answer. I had studied Japanese for, I think, two and a half years and had this idea that I was gonna go to Japan and teach English at the time.
Yeah, don’t quiz me on my Japanese anymore. It’s completely gone. It’s completely gone. I might be able to order a dish or two or, you know, a glass of sake at a restaurant, but right now, that was one of the things after graduation, I was like, ‘Wow, you know, that would be great to just take out some time and just go to Japan, teach English, and just, you know, freely develop my Japanese in that sense.’ That was definitely one of the first things I wanted to do. I have not been to Japan yet, but it’s on my bucket list. I did end up going to Japan many, many, many years later for the sakura season, and I would 100,000% recommend it. It is absolutely a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous country.
Why did you choose to go back to school to get an MBA?
So, I went back to for my MBA before two reasons. One, because I wanted to really get an international angle around how business is done. And so, when I went back to get my MBA, I had a very targeted, focused structure to how what I wanted to get out of it. And so, I had actually structured my MBA so I spent almost half of it entirely overseas in Europe, going through Germany, going to the UK, going through the rural areas of the UK, conducting a couple of projects, things like that to really get an understanding of how business is done internationally. That was a big part of what drove me to go back. And the other thing was I wanted to get more expertise on specific topics. So, I had graduated with a marketing degree, and I wanted to get a little bit more granular into some of the financial aspects. So, I have a dual major, dual specialization in my MBA. One side is in finance, so very much more on the heavy meat and potato side of business. And then the other side was one of my biggest passions and something that you and I share and I know we both talk about. And actually, we had a session with ISM New Jersey last week about this, sustainability. So, I actually have a focus on global energy management and sustainability as part of my MBA. And that was part of connecting the whole idea of connecting sustainability with how businesses operated and how businesses run today. So, that’s been a really, really big focus for me as well.
In my previous role, I was heavily involved in sustainable packaging, and it was really awesome to see something as terrible as COVID have a really great impact in the sustainability space when it comes to packaging because people really started to care and think about, ‘Wow, I’m generating a ton of waste. Maybe we should make our packaging more sustainable.’ So, it was really fun to be a part of that industry and witness that change. And the work that we do now today in sustainable procurement, working with large organizations to really transform how they purchase, that has so much impact on the world in terms of positive social impact, positive environmental impact. And I have seen these organizations and these corporations really unlock their purchasing potential and leverage that buying potential to drive good in the world and the environment that they operate in is absolutely fantastic.
So, you graduated with a marketing degree. What was the best and worst part of your first paying gig after college?
So, best part of my first paying gig after college is probably getting paid. We like getting paid. It was great. But it was my first job after college. I think I worked in business development at the time. And so, because I had graduated marketing degree, it was actually with a smaller organization, which really I connected to a lot more many years later when I went off and started the firm that we operate today with ETCH Sourcing. But at the time, it was I joined, and in all honesty, it was a very small team. So, even though it was like your job is business development, your role is essentially everything and anything possible that the engineers don’t touch because we had a team of engineers, and that was the primary service that the organization was supplying. Everything else that was non-engineering, that was business-related, fell into my bucket. So, essentially, that was actually I think something is the best and worst part. The worst part was like that was a lot of things at once for somebody who just graduated that I had to learn very, very quickly. The best part of it was I got to see how businesses run on even though it was a smaller business, on all the different layers of complexity, all the different sides of the operations, and really push myself a little bit further than I think I would have if I had just gotten a very structured role within a corporation right away. I think what it forced me to do was become very self-sufficient in learning and establishing a lot of my skills, my capabilities, finding sources of information that did not come to me naturally. There was no guidebook for how do you do certain operations because our founder was an engineer. So, you know, if we wanted to redesign a website, we want to build a marketing strategy, there was no guidebook that was really supplied to me, no formal training aspect. So, a lot of time spent looking for information, looking for ways to develop my skills, and looking for channels and becoming very self-sufficient in that aspect.
And I see we’ve got some questions coming in from the audience, so Rodrigo, thank you for your question, and we’ll get to those in a few minutes. And if anyone else has anything they’d like to ask, feel free to put those in the Q&A as well. So, Jane, why did you leave your first gig?
Well, I think I’d hit a plateau in terms of where I could grow. And it was a small organization, and I think with the founder of that organization, he was very happy to keep it in that very small space. And, you know, for him, it was, as long as I’m making my paycheck that I want to take home, I’m happy. I’ve got my team of three or four engineers, and I’m not looking to really extend, not really just looking to grow. And it was an amazing first row to really grow as, you know, my skill sets. But once you get to a certain point, and it was after about a year and a half that I was in that role, I kind of gone through the full gauntlet, and we explored a lot of these things. And an opportunity had opened up within a large corporation that was focused around um business architecture. And so, really designing the connections between how bigger teams would operate with each other, and that just really fascinated me because I was going from an environment where there was basically three or four individuals, another in a very close office. So, communication was never an issue. You know, alignment was never an issue. To now we’re jumping roles and we’re going into an environment where it’s a big corporation, and there is a whole team that is being built dedicated towards getting engineering and business to talk to each other, which was a very interesting concept. And I love that part of, you know, understanding the whys behind where the gaps were occurring and then building the right blocks so that we could actually close those gaps. And that was what kind of pulled me away from that first gig.
And then tell us, you’re getting into where, as I like to say, falling into procurement story.
I love that, and it’s so true, right? With so many of us in the industry, we talk about it’s like I was saying the other day to one of the area chairs at the post-secondary that we’ve taught at for three years now. It’s so fascinating that there’s now a supply chain and supply chain and procurement is really coming to the forefront in business schools. Like that was never a consideration of mine when I was doing my undergraduate degree. It just never even crossed my mind to say, ‘Okay, you know what? I’m going to study supply chain, I’m going to study procurement.’ It just never crossed my mind because you had your big three. It was like marketing, finance, and accounting. That’s what you studied when you went to business school at the time. But now, if you actually look at some of these post-secondaries, and especially the one that I was chatting with, the area chair, on their mark, they have like marketing, I believe, and then finance, and then right now it’s actually procurement. So, procurement and supply chain, that’s actually one of the top three areas that new generation talent is actually focusing on, which is super cool to me because that was not what I studied. I very much fell into procurement. I think the more I talked to my peers in the industry, a lot of us just kind of fell into it as well. How I kind of discovered procurement in that sense, our organization, and it was a big corporation. I’m sure this is going to sound very familiar to a lot of big corporations, maybe to a lot of our participants. It was a big corp that had been operating for many, many years on handshake agreements and very light procurement processes. Procurement run off this edge of the desk by engineering or by operations or whoever was buying whatever. You know, you had no really supplier lifecycle management. You had no quality assurance. None of those pieces were really there. No centralized strategy that would bring together all of the data and intelligence and really allow the organization to leverage a lot of the buying power that they were actually in charge of. And so that organization that I was working in underwent a transformation where they brought in a VP of supply chain. They brought in procurement, formalized procurement, strategic sourcing, all of those pieces. They started to go through that transformation. What that resulted in is, one day, I was at the city of my desk, and one of my engineers comes over, and he goes, ‘Jane, there’s a bunch of guys in suits, and they want to stop my new product development process because they want to run an RFP. But I already did an RFE, and I know exactly where I’m going with. So, can you go talk to them?’ I was like, ‘Okay, sure. I’m happy to have that conversation.’ And it was a very interesting thing because we sat as our business function at the time in business architecture to design the pieces of the process to get something to market, to get a new product out to market and out the door. And I sat down with grabbed one of the procurement guys and was like, ‘Okay, come on, come on. Let’s map this out. What do you guys do? Talk me through it. Like, what is this three bids in a pie process that you’re trying to force the engineers to go through? Because in the engineer’s mind, it’s like, ‘I went to the trade show. I did the technical comparison. I did the evaluation. And then I did a very brief commercial evaluation. I did the evaluation. Why do we need to go through this procurement process again? What is the procurement process?’ And so they had drawn on a board and very, very wide whiteboard the entire end-to-end procurement process, which made a lot of sense to me. And I was like, ‘Okay, well, I know exactly where this is going to fit in our current new product development model. But also, this actually looks really interesting. So, if you guys are hiring, I’m totally interested in getting involved in this.’ And that’s actually how I entered procurement at the time.
So, when you were on the procurement side, before you started your own company, what skills were most important during your practitioner procurement career?
That’s what I love about procurement, actually. I think it’s why I started an organization in procurement. And I had somebody tell me this the other day when we were out for a drink. It’s like, ‘I’ve never met anybody who is as passionate about procurement as you are.’ And he’s like, ‘You know, it has that connotation where it seems like it’s a tactical role within an organization, but it doesn’t have to be. And that’s the beauty, I think, of procurement. You have so many skills that are actually required. If you want to be really, really effective at your job as a practitioner, you need to know how to negotiate a contract. You need to know how to review a contract. You need to know how to actually conduct spend analysis. You need to know how to project manage, because you’re project managing the end-to-end process. You need to know how to write requirements, how to do business analytics. You need to know how to stakeholder manage, but not only broadly within your organization, but also vertically. You need to know how to summarize, how to report, how to influence. There are so many skills that are actually required. And every single time you take on a project, all of those skills are put into place. And so, you know, when you think about the procurement function, it can be very tactical, or it can be actually very strategic. And when you actually leverage all of those different skill sets that you build, it becomes so impactful for an organization. And it becomes so impactful for what you can actually generate for an organization. So, all the skills, I think. And most importantly, the ability to herd cats. I think I need to make you a herding cat t-shirt or hoodie. I think that would be great.
What was the most… Again, I’m talking about when you were on the practitioner side. What was the most difficult part for you about being in procurement?
I think the most difficult part of being in procurement was getting past the biases, I think. There’s definitely, especially in organizations where procurement is very new, or procurement has historically been fairly tactical, getting involved and getting that broad understanding of what it is that you actually have to offer out to your internal business units. Because fundamentally, procurement is a support organization. We’re a support function. We’re here to support the business in driving more value for the organization. And getting that messaging out there and having people see you not as a roadblock, not as somebody who’s going to come in and add time, add process, add paperwork, so on, so forth…
Not as somebody who just, you know, gets involved with the talent of ‘Hey, here I’m going to throw you something over the fence. I’ve already negotiated everything. Can you just put it on paper for me and just place the peel?’ Getting past those biases and transforming those business relationships was probably, I think, the most difficult part of procurement. However, I think that is also the most rewarding part of procurement when you actually work with business units. You start to solve their problems. You take that problem-solving focus and you start to engage these business units on their terms. You know, not just focusing on ‘Hey, I’m procurement. I have a cost savings mandate.’ That’s great, but most of your business units don’t care about your cost savings mandate. What they care about is, ‘Are my suppliers gonna pick up the phone? Are they gonna deliver? Is the quality gonna be good? What are we going to, is this going to satisfy what I need as a business unit?’ And when you start to help them solve those problems, you see kind of that transformational point where it’s almost like a tipping point. They go from very defensive to, ‘I see you as tactical too.’ You start to get invited into partnership conversations, into um, strategic conversations. You start to get involved and they start to come to you for a consultation because guess what? You’re procurement. You see everything across the organization. You have access to all the spend data. So, you can now start to add value in a much more meaningful way through that partnership, and I think that is one of the most difficult parts but also one of the most rewarding parts.
What would you say is the biggest impact that you made during your procurement roles?
Oh, biggest impact? I think it goes back to that. It’s transforming the views on procurement within business units. I think there was a quote a friend of mine said as we were, when we had established etch and my co-founder and I, we had decided, you know what, we’ve actually met in um, uh, in that corporation and we decided, okay, we’re gonna branch off, we’re gonna start edge, we’re gonna do procurement the way that we think it should be done. And we want to disrupt procurement. And when we had made that shift, we gave our notice, and it was an extended notice, so we gave an extended notice period, and we kind of went through all the transitional pieces, all that stuff. And on the very last day of, like, the last hour of the last day, so Friday afternoon, I think at 4:30 p.m., I was on, I remember this conversation because I was on the phone transitioning, um, and planning, working with one of my security business units because we were, we had this amazing, you know, plan for executing, um, an opportunity to really bring in a lot of efficiency in their area. But I was, of course, leaving, so that that was going to be a project that was transitioned off, and we were having a conversation around it. And I got a Skype message from one of my friends who was waiting for me to go for my farewell beers, and she’s like, ‘Can you please stop building bridges?’ And you are literally clocking out in, like, the next two minutes. She’s like, ‘You are building bridges on the Friday afternoon before you leave.’ And I think that was probably the biggest impact, and I like to think that that was the biggest impact that, um, I had during that time, is establishing those relationships, establishing those foundational changes of perspective, how procurement is viewed, and how procurement is collaborated with within the organization.
So, Rodrigo submitted a question and I think this is a good time to pose it. So, thank you for this question. The question is, ‘Hi Jane, thank you for sharing your experiences. At the moment, I’m transferring my procurement skills from working in the public sector in Mexico for more than 14 years to the private sector in the United States. I studied economics and also have postgraduate studies in politics. What would you recommend in order to consolidate a career in a new country and corporate environment?’
Absolutely, uh, it’s a fantastic question, and I think in the roles that we do today, we work with corporations that have global operations, and we’ll go from, you know, working with a client that is US-based to working with a client that is, you know, China-owned, and you have all the different cultural changes, you have all the different, um, corporate changes as well. I think the interesting thing about procurement is the fundamentals don’t change. Your how you do procurement, once you become a master of the procurement process, that doesn’t change. What does change, though, is the nuances of the organization that you’re working with. So, I would say one of the biggest things there is take your time to really understand the cultural implications of the organization that you’re working with. How is procurement viewed within that organization right now? Because the difference between public sector and private sector a lot of time is not just pace, it’s also, you know, the amount of requirements, the amount of mandates, and, um, when you look at kind of the policies that you know you absolutely must adhere to, the fierce adhesion to policy in public sector may not actually be reflected in private sector. And those are the kind of the little nuances that you really want to understand. You want to understand, take the approach of understanding the business, understanding the business units that you’re supporting, understand kind of their history, how do they view you today, and then start to take that approach of ‘I want to solve your problems, whatever they are, big or small. I’m here to solve your problems. Let me start to work together with you.’ And be a part of what you are going through as a business unit. And I think that is going to get you a lot further than if you try to force right away your procurement standpoint. You must comply with this procurement policy. I’m not saying don’t comply with procurement policy, not by any means. Considering that we do, we do right for current policy, um, but taking the approach of knowing that your job and your role as procurement is to help them navigate your world in the most effective manner so that they can accomplish their business objectives. And Rodrigo, I know Jane well enough, so I’m just going to throw it out there.
I think if you want to touch base with her on LinkedIn and maybe set up some time, she could be a really good resource and help you navigate as you transition into this new new world in the US. 100%, I’m more than happy to have a chat with anybody who wants to reach out.
So I want to talk about now the world of entrepreneurship, since you decided to leave corporate and co-found a consulting firm in Canada. So I know that this is something I’ve had many friends talk to me about who have been procurement practitioners, been on the supply chain side for a long time and have thought about, ‘Gosh, maybe, you know, I want to look at starting my own company or doing some consulting.’ And there’s a lot of uncertainty, and I think it can be very scary to people to leave a very, what I would call, more structured environment into something that’s completely unknown and can be very scary and challenging. So, what is the… Let’s start off by having you talk about the best part of having your own business.
The best part of having my own business? Well, I don’t have to get approved vacation. Nobody approves my vacation. But on the flip side, you know, I keep saying nobody approves my vacation, but nobody gives me vacation either because I work for myself. So, you have that desire, if you have that desire to push forward, I find that a lot of times you actually end up spending more time than you would and working a lot harder than you would in a corporation. Even if you were a high performer in a corporation, that’s kind of just how it kind of evolves. But the difference is that, you know, because you love what you do and creating the environment where you know, our people can love what they do. And I think that’s the best part about it. I get to work with some absolutely phenomenal people. My teams, my clients that we work with are just absolutely amazing. And creating the environment that kind of enables our team members to be able to grow, to be able to enjoy what they do, and really fully expand. And, you know, watching their journeys and unfold is super, super rewarding.
So now I’m going to flip side it, and I’ve worked in startups my entire career, so I know that it is not all pretty. What is the worst part of having your own business?
The worst part of having my own business? Well, I think initially, to start, it’s definitely challenging. You have to be prepared for the fact that you’re going to lose a lot of those nice cushy safety cushions from a corporate standpoint. You lose a lot of that, those comfortable perks, I’ll call them. They definitely go away. But then, seeing the organization grow and then growing your organization to the point where you can start to bring a lot of that back, I think that’s super rewarding. But definitely, the worst, I wouldn’t even call it the worst part, but the most challenging part is the start. It’s definitely the start. It’s the first, you know, two, three months where you’re sitting there like, ‘Oh my goodness, I just… all right.’ Like day two after we quit and started the company, we’re sitting there at a cafe, and I remember looking at my business partner, like, ‘Okay, so now what?’ And you know, building that unknown is super exciting but also knowing that at that point in time, we have no fixed income at all whatsoever, and it’s now up to you to bring all that, and it’s up to you to grow that. And as you continue to grow the organization and people join, it’s amazing to see how fast and how far you can go with people who really want to share in that journey with you. And I think that’s pretty fantastic.
What’s the most important entrepreneurial failure that has made you a better leader and business owner?
Entrepreneurial failure? I think every failure is… This is going to sound so cheesy. I’m like, I feel like I’m going to be like quoting a motivational poster, but it actually is true. It’s like every failure is an opportunity. People are understanding. And you know, you can say that, you can see that on a poster. You’re gonna… There’s probably people who write motivational speeches about that very concept. But I think living it and embracing it is a totally different thing. Because the entrepreneurial journey is like, your highs are super high, your lows are super low. And there’s been moments where you know, you’ve been chasing a client, you thought you were finally gonna get that like awesome thing, and then everything changes, or structure changes, something changes, budget disappears, whatever changes. And now you’re back on that like very low point. And having to live it is a different sensation, because when you live it, you can let it kind of overwhelm you or you can learn how to deal with it. You can learn how to manage it, because you know those types of emotions you really don’t experience until you’re there. And then learning how to manage them means that the next time it comes, it gets easier and easier and easier. And you learn how to really adjust yourself and really adjust how you react to things and how you react to situations. And that’s the big part of Etch. We have an amazing team of people but fundamentally, we need to be strong cores for our people. And learning how to manage on my emotions through all of that rollercoaster craziness is absolutely one of the best things that I’ve learned. And it definitely sucked when I was experiencing it for the first time.
So talk to us a little bit about this company that you co-founded. So, what does ETCH Sourcing do?
Yeah, that’s fantastic. ETCH Sourcing, we are a boutique consulting firm. We’re based out of Canada, and we have a regional office in Montreal, and our headquarters is in Calgary. And what we specialize in is all things procurement, category management, strategic sourcing. And there’s really three core focuses for us. One is around managed procurement services. That is essentially the deployment of our teams within organizations, client organizations, to really take on the work of doing the procurement, running their procurement, helping them manage that spend, getting their arms around to spend, compliance, risk, whatever challenges that they’re having within their organization. Our teams come in, and we actually act as an extension of our clients’ procurement teams. We don’t really see ourselves as ourselves ever in any of our streams of business as outside consultants. We really want to come in and be part of an organization’s team and part of an organization’s growth and sharing that journey with them. So that’s one aspect of it. The other aspect that we really drive very, very strongly towards is sustainable procurement. And really that is the function of embedding sustainability into your procurement function, whether it’s again us performing and running the RFPs on behalf of our clients or whether it’s helping our clients modify their existing procedures, processes, tools, build the right training, and really deploy that within their organizations across their organization to really lead to some tangible results. And then the third part is really around technology adoption. So we never get involved from the technology implementation perspective. I’m terrible with code. I cannot code to save my life. But what we really specialize in is because we are industry professionals, we do come from industry, and we do do day in and day out procurement, we understand when a technology is deployed, how to most effectively integrate it into our day-to-day. And so that’s what we help organizations with that are going through technology transformations as well.
One of the things you mentioned at the beginning when you were describing your consulting firm is that you are a boutique company. What are the benefits of working with a boutique consulting firm versus one of the big ones?
I think flexibility and agility is a big one.
When you look at the bigger firms, they have a lot of internal processes. They have a lot of internal, um, pieces they have to pass through. For us, you know, if it feels like the right thing to do, let’s do it. And when we work with our clients, we are not bound to very specific, uh, frameworks that exist in our, in our processes. And so it allows us to be very adaptable and it allows us to react very quickly. And it allows us to adjust how we work with our clients very quickly.
I mean, one of the things that we pride ourselves on a lot is when you work with us, you rarely ever, ever, ever see a change order. Now, I say rarely because there are times where, you know, we think it’s one thing, we get in and then it’s something entirely. So those scenarios do exist, but it allows us to be super adaptable. It does allow us to adapt and change, shift gears very quickly without needing any sort of the red tape, any sort of processes, anything, anything like that. And it allows us to react in a very quick manner to really address the problems.
And, you know, when I think back to what we really created Edge for, for my co-founder and I, we decided we wanted to disrupt two things. We wanted to disrupt one, how procurement is done and seen, and two, how consulting is done and seen. Because technically by definition, we are a management consulting company, but we always hear from every single client that we work with, they’re like, ‘You guys are not like consultants that we’re used to. You’re not… That’s not how you guys, your teams engage with us. That’s not how we see you. We don’t see you as an outside consultant. We don’t see you as an outside service provider. We really see you as part of our procurement team. Like, you are procurement. You are a particular function.’ And that’s what we are super proud of. That’s what we strive for.
So many of those that are with us today are on the practitioner side, so they’re actually running, leading, involved with supply chain and procurement teams. How… How should or when should somebody know that, ‘Wow, this is the right time to go out and bring a consultant in, versus, no, you know what, we should do this in-house?’ I know that this is something that my colleagues have struggled with a lot, is figuring out that right time to engage and work with a consultant.
Absolutely, I’d say, you know, start with the conversation and start with, and it’s almost like finding the right partner in that consulting firm practice. And what I found a lot of the times with our with our clients, and you know, I’m looking at managed services in this case, a lot of times you’ll feel like, ‘Oh, if I bring in a managed services provider, they’re going to be a threat to my team in terms of our existing capacity, our existing head count. They’re going to take our jobs.’ That’s not the case at all. What we actually do when we come in is we help you understand your objectives, and then we help you execute those objectives. And that actually frees up your teams to do more valuable work like strategic work, bringing in, focusing on your bigger files, things like that. And we can help you get control of all of the noise, all of the firefighting, and all of the things that are happening on a regular day-to-day basis, because that’s the procurement world we live in. Like, there’s always a fire popping up somewhere. So we can help you get control of all of that and really allow you to focus on finally building that fence in the backyard that you couldn’t build because the kitchen was on fire for all of these years. So that’s really what we do.
And I would say, you know, from a timing perspective, just start the conversation. Start the conversation with, uh, with an organization that you feel resonates with you, and start to explore those problems. Like, these are the challenges that I deal with. What can you guys do? What do you suggest at this point? And, you know, I’ll be very candid and I’ll be very honest. If I think, ‘Okay, you guys aren’t quite ready yet for a transformation,’ or, you know, ‘Why don’t we start here and let’s start small?’ Because I believe in quick wins with every organization that we work with. We want to be able to demonstrate quick wins. We want to be able to demonstrate value. And that’s our tagline for the organization. We want to create lasting value. So we want, no matter what engagement that we do with our clients, when we walk out of there, there needs to be something tangible that’s been left there, rather than a concept or theory or anything like that. Like, we want to leave behind tangible value that you’re going to see day in and day out. And that is the reason why a lot of our clients actually keep us around very, very long term. Because they… They like that. They like to see that continued value generation. And, you know, to be able to have a firm like ours say, ‘Okay, not only can we show you the value generation, but also help you advance the position of procurement within your organization.’
Okay. One of the other things you mentioned when you were describing what your consulting firm does is the focus on sustainability, which is a personal passion that I have. I try to live a sustainable life. I come from the sustainable packaging space, so it’s something that’s really near and dear to my heart as well. But there’s a lot of organizations out there that don’t even know where to get started on this whole sustainable journey. And sometimes it can be really overwhelming, given everything else they have on their plate, to even have to think about or comprehend how to incorporate and build out a sustainable program. So what do you recommend for procurement leaders to do to just get started with sustainable sourcing?
I would say, you know, encourage people to get creative. I mean, that’s the first thing and first and foremost. Um, with sustainable sourcing, it’s what I think is considered very addictive. Once you kind of do it and you kind of start it and you run an initiative and you’re like, ‘This is awesome. Not only did I save the company, you know, 30 million dollars in a year, I also actually reduced landfill waste by, you know, 10,000 tons a month.’ That’s like… That’s super win. Like, that’s like the really good feeling that you want your people to have. And that’s where you’re gonna get the engagement, you’re gonna get the talent retention, you’re gonna get the talent development out of an organization.
So when procurement leaders are looking to get started on sustainable sourcing, I mean, just start to have the conversation from a cultural change perspective, because a lot of the times procurement people don’t even feel like they’re empowered to take that position, to say, ‘Hey, you know what, this… I know I’m looking at a contract renewal, but I can actually look at this a little bit differently in a… one from another lens.’ And we have put out a lot of resources that are completely open, free to use, all of that, to help organizations get inspired. And it’s really something as simple as, you know, looking at your data center storage costs, like storage contract renewal. Are you putting in place energy management? How do you start to put in place energy management from a step-by-step process? And how do you measure your impact at the end of it? I think these are the ideas themselves might seem super simple, but sometimes it’s just getting that little spark in someone’s mind and having them say, ‘Okay, you know what, this could work. I think this could work. I have a contract coming up for data center management. I’m going to bring that topic up in my conversation with, um, my business unit when we’re talking about this contract renewal and starting to integrate that and starting to carry that through the process. I think that’s the first shift from a cultural change perspective, really letting people know that this is important and having people hear that from your leadership, from your procurement leadership, to say, ‘Yeah, actually, this is really important.’ And, you know, here are some places where you can go to get inspired.
I’m not saying you have to have to have to have it in every aspect of your organization, but, you know, it’s a possibility. Start thinking about it. Start thinking about ways that you can actually start integrating it. And that kind of gets you started. And then you go under, undergo this journey, and this, and it is a journey. It’s absolutely a journey that we love seeing organizations undergo, where you start to become more mature in how you adapt it. And it becomes part of how you do business, and it becomes integrated into your day-to-day procurement. So it’s not just, ‘Here’s procurement and then here’s sustainable procurement.’ It’s just, ‘Here’s procurement, and sustainability is embedded in it, and that’s just part of how we operate.’ And that is… That’s where you get very, very truly powerful results out of sustainability.
Now you also launched a free resource this year to help procurement practitioners with sustainability initiatives. Where can people go to find that resource? And maybe also be useful to drop that in the chat as well, but I think it’s something that can be really useful to people, and it’s at no cost to go in and get some resources and ideas.
Absolutely. So if you go on our website, and I will actually drop the link to, um, to this at the end of the webinar, but if you on our website, under the Community um tab, we actually have, uh, created a sustainable procurement database. And this is a database that we created that has currently, I think, upwards of 50, maybe 60 different ideas and collections of ideas that map categories of spend and areas of spend to UNSDGs and impact areas for sustainability. And it carries, and for each of these ideas, we have actually built out a roadmap for how organization can implement the idea. And it comes with a level of effort assessment, whether it’s like quick simple win or, you know, you’re talking you need to engage a lot more people, you need to get a lot more buy-in from your organization to be able to implement some of these ideas. But again, what we’re trying to do with this database is to incite people to start sharing ideas. And it’s completely open source…
So, if anyone on this panel has an amazing idea or an amazing example of a project that they did in their area, we have a form at the bottom that collects these ideas, and we’ll reach out to organizations that send these in and add to constantly to this um database and add constantly to this, this collection pool of ideas. And so yeah, that’s something that any organization can just go to to get inspired. And like I said, as soon as you have that little spark in your mind of, ‘Oh, you know what, I could actually start to build this in,’ the first time you run it, it becomes super addictive. People just want to do more and more.
What are your thoughts on AI and how it is impacting procurement?
Um, so for A.I, I think where it needs to be leveraged, like every other tool in procurement, we’ve seen such an influx, actually, of procurement tools, which is again stellar to uh, hear and stellar to see because it means that we’re getting traction as an industry and we’re getting recognition and people want to build tools for us. You will want to go to school and study procurement, and that’s fantastic to see. But it is fundamentally a tool, and A.I is a smarter, more intelligent tool that’s going to bring in more efficiency in how we currently do things. But a tool is just a tool. It has to come with the right processes, it has to come with the right procedures to help people use the tool. And again, the world’s best hammer is, you know, moot if it doesn’t create any value if it’s in the wrong hands or it’s being swung the wrong way. So that’s really my perspective on A.I and tools. It can be an amazing, amazing force in the right hands with the right guidance on how to use it. But at the same time, do not expect A.I to solve your procurement challenges. You’re still going to need to develop out your procurement talent. That is still the central point, and people are the core of your procurement foundations.
What has surprised you the most in supply chain or procurement?
How much I would love it. I think definitely how much I would love it. I did not go into procurement thinking that this was going to be a forever role, and I did not go into procurement thinking I was gonna start a business in procurement. Um, before I started with procurement, I think I’ve always kind of gone through these cycles within my professional career where I would get very good at something, and then I move into something else, go into another skill set. But what surprised me the most about procurement was how varied it is and how… how at the same time you can build your core skill sets to become very, very strong in it. Your challenges are still going to change. New contracts change, your fires change. We’ve dealt with everything from very tactical contracts to, you know, million-dollar, multi-million dollar audits, to trying to resolve highly confidential and negotiate non-existent tangibles into a massive contract. So these challenges change constantly. The tools and the skills that you’re applying are constantly maturing, but the challenges that you’re faced with are ever-changing. I think that was definitely a very pleasant surprise for me.
Um, before we go into my closing random, I call my Spitfire round, I want to talk a little bit about supplier management. I know this is something that has become really a focal point with all the supply chain disruption this year. What do you think are some basic tips that procurement professionals should know or that they can work on to help better manage and foster relationships with suppliers?
Absolutely. I think open communication is definitely one thing that I actually stand by, and I do encourage all of our teams, even when they engage with our clients and our client suppliers, to have that open communication. Because you might be at the negotiation table with that supplier, but when you turn away and that you go back into your organization, they go into their organization, they are your voice within that organization. And the more that you can better equip that individual to have those conversations, to represent you within that organization, the better. And especially as we’re kind of moving into, and we’re already in this wave of sustainable procurement, don’t try to be an expert in terms of your supplier’s business. You’re not going to be. They do this day in, day out. That is their core operation. So instead of trying to master and become, you know, for a lack of a better example, the print master and the printer, the print uh, expert in this area, um, why don’t you ask them? Ask them what they’re seeing. Ask these suppliers, ‘What are you seeing? What trends are you looking at?’ Look, we have these targets. How are you going to help us get there? And have that open dialogue with your suppliers. I think that is super, super important when you look at supplier management. And the other thing is, don’t treat it as an afterthought. Like, when you look at your procurement process, and a lot of times we get very busy and we go start to end, it’s, you know, we initiate, and then we get to contract, and then we hand it off to someone to operationalize, and then we go into the next cycle and so forth. But that supplier relationship and really taking the ownership of that supplier relationship, helping to facilitate those conversations along with your business unit to grow that relationship, is super important and should be continued as part of the function that is part of the life cycle. Yeah. And one of the things that I think is really interesting is the pivot from the ‘I’ to ‘We’ conversation. And I think that’s an important cultural shift as companies are starting to embrace collaboration and working more closely with suppliers. And I think it’s really important to drive supplier innovation because if you don’t, your competitors will, and they’re going to be getting the cool new innovations from the supplier community and you are not, and that can really, really hurt and ruin a company. Exactly. All right, so we are now into our Spitfire round here, so I’m going to ask you five questions and just shout off one-word answers or the first thing that comes to mind. Oh dear, okay.
Accomplishment you are most proud of: Edge.
Quality you admire most in yourself: Openness.
What’s your dream? Sustainability.
Biggest pet peeve: People who chew their mouth open.
Favorite thing to do in your downtime: Dance, art, I have many, many, many hobbies, travel, uh, anything really, something new, something that is, uh, that I can learn from.
How can people connect with you? LinkedIn. You can also reach out to us via our website. I did drop the link to the sustainable procurement database in the chat as well. And actually quickly, I do see that Stephanie had asked quickly, would we would we source anything that the clients desire? So within legal limits. Within legal limits, um, so we do work with our clients from everything from direct to indirect procurement, um, based on what our clients’ requirements are gonna be looking at. But as anyone can go on our website, they can reach out to us, and we have a pretty fantastic team. So if you don’t want to talk to me, you can definitely talk to somebody else on my team as well. Awesome. Well, Jane, I want to thank you so much for coming on our show today. Love your energy, love your passion, and I think it’s a really unique niche that you are in, Canada, and really focused on that market as well. So if anyone, you know, has a global team and is needing procurement and sourcing support in Canada, I think it’s a really great option. Join me December 15th at 2 p.m Eastern Time for my final interview of the year with Jo Celina Peratta. She is an awesome rock star, top 100 women in procurement, and has an incredible global story about how she came to be in supply chain and some of the awesome things that she’s done. So with that, I want to wish everyone a wonderful afternoon and enjoy the rest of your week. Thank you so much again for having me. Take care, everyone.