Transcript: Voice of Supply Chain – October 2023

Voice of Supply Chain – Oct. 2023

Featuring: Joanna Martinez

Welcome to our monthly Voice of Supply Chain show, brought to you by ISM New Jersey, run by the fabulous Cathy Perna and my company and team, SourceDay. The purpose of our show is to tell stories of people in supply chain doing extraordinary things, and these are stories that are not things you’re going to read in an email, open up a magazine, or read on social media—just some really incredible people doing behind-the-scenes work every single day.

I am your host, Sarah Scudder. I run marketing at SourceDay. Our supply chain software allows buyers and suppliers who work in manufacturing to collaborate about direct material purchase order changes in real time. If you want to know about what’s happening in the supply chain space and manufacturing, feel free to follow me on LinkedIn. I post lots of supply chain content, specifically about manufacturing, on a weekly basis.

So, our guest today is the fabulous Joanna. I want to say I have known Joanna for at least five years, maybe longer. I have hosted events throughout the country that Joanna has spoken at. I consider her to be a very dear friend, just an awesome person, and has kicked major, major booty in our industry. We’re going to kind of deep dive and walk through her career path and learn some of the things that she has experienced and talk about what she’s doing now because she’s working on some really exciting things.

So, Joanna, thank you for coming on today.

Thank you, Sarah. I’m thrilled to be here.

If you are joining us live, feel free to drop us a note in the comments, tell us where you are joining from, and then let’s do a random personal fun fact about yourself that people wouldn’t normally know. Drop that in the comments as well. And then, if you have any questions for Joanna, drop those there, and I will make sure to monitor those as we go through our conversation.

So, Joanna, we’re going to go back in time. We’re going to start from childhood and work our way through your career and all the experiences that you’ve had. Weirdest thing you did as a child?

You know, it’s funny. I once asked my mother when my children were little and they wanted to hear stories about my youth. I asked my mother to tell a story, and she told this great story about my sister, and I looked at her and said, “Mom, that I didn’t do. That was Janice.” And she goes, “Oh, but you were there.” It was so boring. It was really hard to come up with anything. But the thing that started me on this career path was when I was, I don’t know, a young teenager, and I was making brownies. It was a holiday coming up, and I was baking brownies, and I didn’t have the right size pan. So, I had all the possible baking dishes out in the kitchen, and I was calculating the square inches in each one to try to figure out how close I could come to what the recipe called for. And my father came home from work and saw me. He always wanted to be an engineer himself, and he saw me and said, “I’ve got my engineer.” And from there, he kind of gently prodded me in that direction.

Most influential person in your childhood and why? Oh, that was my grandmother. So, my father’s mother was a Lithuanian immigrant. When I asked her what propelled her to come to the United States, she said that her beloved cousin had already moved. It was New Year’s Eve, and she didn’t have any plans for New Year’s Eve, so she figured she would pack her stuff and go to America. I don’t think that was true, but she was paralyzed in her 50s, partially paralyzed by a stroke, and she used a cane. She couldn’t write; writing was very difficult for her. She had to write with her left hand.

Grandma was the first person in the family to get on an airplane to go visit some relatives. And when we, you know, she was here, she was there, she was doing all this stuff. When I asked her why she did this, she said to me, “Well, I can be old and sick at home, or I can be old and sick at a party. Which would you rather do?” And I swear to you, I know she would never have used exactly those words, but that’s what I heard in my brain. And that, to this day, resonates with me. I love that. Nothing like a good dinner party or going out to an event and meeting people.

So, Joanna, one of the things that really stands out about you to me is that you’re so family-oriented, and you’ve done so much in your career, but you are very, very close with your family. I know that you and your daughter do a ton together. You are very close with your grandkids. What is one tradition that you continued with your family that you learned or brought with you from childhood?

Playing games after dinner. My mother, my aunts, my grandmother, my sisters, and I would sit and play Scat, a card game that I actually don’t remember how to play anymore. I just remember it was a nickel around, so we had to save up our pennies and nickels to be able to play. Now, we’ve graduated to Rummikub, Dominoes, and some other games like that that I really enjoy playing with my kids and dominoes, which is a very simple game with my grandchildren. I love that.

So, I was a Scattergories and Monopoly family growing up. We played Scattergories probably two or three times a week and Monopoly quite a bit. I can relate to the game cabinet in the living room, where everything collected.

Well, the thing is, though, that we were not that intellectual a bunch, so Monopoly would have never worked in our crowd. Nobody had a good enough attention span, so I think you had a kind of unique, interesting career path in how you wound up going to college and what you decided to do in college and then transitioning into procurement. I’d like to talk through that a little bit. So, where did you attend college, and why engineering?

So, I did get a lot of encouragement along the way from my dad, who was a machinist and would have loved to have been an engineer, but that just wasn’t in the cards for him. Also, in school, whenever they did an aptitude test, I would come out high in math and sciences, and so I got some pushing from there as well.

I had no money. I had enough to be able to live at school for two years. I didn’t have enough money to live for four, but I could live at school for two years before I would have to commute. So, Rutgers, because it was so close by to where I lived, would enable me to have that college experience for a while and then change to being a commuter.

So, I entered Rutgers as one of five women in a freshman class of 490, and yo, it’s the only time in my whole life there has never been a line in the ladies’ room. I have until recently been on the Advisory board for the School of Engineering, and even today, although the percentage has gotten much higher, it’s closer to 30% now, you still—I still chuckle every time I go past the ladies’ room.

So, you had four or five years surrounded by lots of men. It sounds like in school, what’s the most important thing you learned in college?

Well, first of all, let me say that being surrounded by lots of men is not all that it’s cracked up to be, so that’s number one. That’s number one, right? It’s not… It’s like you’re in an alien world.

The other thing I would tell you is that I learned I was terrible at slide rules, which is when I started freshman year, they were slide rules. The SR-10 calculator had not yet been invented. And when it was invented in my sophomore year, I couldn’t afford it, so I had to wait. The person who eventually became my husband kept saying, “Let’s keep saving, let’s keep saving. After Christmas, the price will come down.” And we were then able to buy calculators.

But I had a fake ID, and the fake ID passed me off as a math grad student, so I could get into the math lab and use the IBM 360 computer to do my homework. So I wouldn’t have to sit all the time and try to do these calculations by hand. I would actually be able to set up the calculations and send them off and get them done by the big machine.

I have to ask, what did this computer look like?

Well, you know, there were a lot of rooms between me and the computer, but it was a big machine. It was really cold in that room from all the air conditioning needed to keep it down.

The other thing I learned, Sarah, in engineering school, to get back to your question, is the most important thing is how to solve a problem. Whether you are a double E major, whether you’re a mechanical engineering, chemical, whatever it is, you learn how to approach problems and you learn the methodology to go through it. Whether you take a couple of engineering courses and decide it’s not for you, if you leave with that knowledge, that’s like gold for the rest of your life.

So, you went to engineering school. What did you think you were going to do after college? What was the career path you had mapped out for yourself?

Well, probably the only time if my mother were alive today and you asked her about me as a rebellious person, probably the only thing she would remember is the fact that I did meet the great love of my life at the age of 18, and I got engaged. He actually wanted to get married. He actually proposed in sophomore year of college. I said, “Oh no, that’s not going to go down very well. We better wait a while.” We waited a while, and it still didn’t go down very well. So I got married three weeks after graduation.

I was not then or ever focused on being a CEO. I didn’t make those career choices. I wanted to have the best blended life I could have, right? I wanted it all. I wanted the kids, I wanted the fabulous husband, I wanted the great career, I wanted the international travel. I wanted it all. I remember reading a quote from Barbara Walters who said, “That’s totally possible. You just can’t have it all at the same time.” And because I married so young, to be honest with you, I really did have all these competing things going on. So I strove to do the best I could in each category, understanding that it was unlikely for me to achieve the pinnacle of each. And that was good with me.

In the end, the family, you know, and I really appreciate the compliment, Sarah, about my family because I think I really nailed it there in terms of a group of people who love each other, take care of each other, and appreciate each other. You just like being together, and that’s not always the case. You can’t choose what family you’re born into, yeah, yeah, yeah.

So you were married three weeks after you graduated, and there’s a lot going on there, a lot of dynamics. How did you land your first job after you had your degree?

So, I actually started working all through school, right? I needed to work because I didn’t have enough money. I had been hired by a pharmaceutical company that will remain nameless because I really got hired because I was a woman, and they knew, because all these things were happening, and the women’s movement had started, and the company was being directed to hire more females. But they had no idea what to do with me. In fact, they expected me to have lunch with the secretaries, with the assistants, and I learned over time that most of the assistants were having affairs with the managers. And I didn’t think… I had no clue as to what was ahead. But just in terms of being able to get even a decent assignment, that wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t going to happen there.

So, lucky for me, I found an ad in The New York Times, and I got a position at Johnson & Johnson. Now, I had worked at J&J, one of the divisions during school for a while, but they didn’t have anything, they didn’t have any openings when I was graduating. So, I couldn’t go there. I ended up in another division, and it turned out to be one of the best career moves I could have possibly made.

You have to understand, Sarah, coming as I did from a working-class town and a working-class family, I didn’t know anybody who was a vice president, I didn’t know anybody who ran a company. The richest person I knew was the funeral director in town, and so I didn’t have any of that exposure that so many young people have today. I marvel sometimes at my one of my sons who just works in Corporate America and doesn’t hold back or isn’t afraid or isn’t nervous about communicating with anyone, where I was paralyzed in the beginning when it came to having to deal with upper management.

So when I look at your resume, which seems kind of pale and outdated now, I should say LinkedIn profile, it strikes me, and it’s interesting to me that you worked at J&J for what I would consider to be a pretty fair amount of time, and you worked in several different roles at the company, so you stayed, but you did a lot of different assignments and tasks. I would like to have you talk through some of the most important lessons you learned as you pivoted and kind of built out your career at J&J.

Well, first of all, let me say that working at Johnson & Johnson, and between the time I worked during school, which they actually gave me credit for when I got hired after graduation to the time I left, I was there for 18 years. Working there was an absolute privilege. What a fabulous, fabulous company.

So, one of the things at J&J is called the K, and the KDO. CDO. You, the C, the KDO. One of the founders, one of the Johnsons, created this K back, I think, in the 1930s, and it lays out the priorities. Our first priority is to the doctors, nurses, professionals, and patients who use our products. They must be of the highest quality, and that kind of paraphrases what the beginning was. And then it goes through employees, the communities, etc. And it was so important to the company that in 18 years, not a week went by that I wasn’t in some kind of meeting where there was some kind of problem, and someone would say, “What would the KDO have us do? What… Let’s be guided by the K here.” I mean, it was that compelling a document and that pervasive in terms of guiding the direction of the company.

So, I learned ethics there, and that was important to me because I really needed it in future roles. So, that was very important. The other thing I learned was resilience. J&J reorganized all the time. It is a very decentralized model, and companies would be formed around a potential new product or an idea, and resources would be put on it. And at some point in time, when the product was more mature, it might be combined with similar other products to get some better economies at scale. So it’s about putting all the resources behind it, and then thinking a little bit differently about how we’re going to attack this.

Because of that, there was constant churn. You’d be in a model, and you’d be… I was in the Dental Products company, and the Dental Products company was all about toothbrushes and dental hygiene, which, by the way, is one of the best businesses I’ve ever worked in. My mom’s a dental hygienist, and my uncle’s a dentist.

Oh, okay, cool. Bristles, bristles, a staple, and a brush, I mean, and a handle, you can’t get simpler, but the creativity that I saw going in and the way people tried to find points of difference was really great fun. So because of this constant churn, constant churn, you got a chance to work in businesses. Some of them were very entrepreneurial. Some of them had been around for a long time and were in the more stable part of their curve and maybe had a lot more process and lots of rules, and you had to follow in a much more formal environment than some of the ones that were more entrepreneurial.

So I got a chance to do so many different things. In fact, when I speak sometimes, I talk about the fact that I lost my job 18 times. Now that doesn’t mean I was on the street 18 times, but that means over the course of my career, 18 times, I was in a situation where the job I left on Friday wasn’t going to be there on Monday, and I had to convince someone that I was the person worth getting the new job or worth being sent to a new opportunity.

Joanna, one of the other things you mentioned that I want to make sure we touch on here when we were prepping for today was the four-day workweek. Tell me about that.

Just that I did get these great opportunities at J&J, and one was to be the manager of a facility called the Development Center. The Development Center was terrific because the company was experimenting with different things, and one way they were able to improve productivity without adding a second shift was by switching to a four-day workweek. Some employees worked Monday through Thursday, others Tuesday through Friday. By having even the people on the production line working those hours, they were able to get more hours of work, one fewer startup, fewer shutdowns, fewer breaks, and things like that than you would if you were running multiple shifts. It was a great facility. Now it was very tiny.

We were developing products that were going to hopefully become blockbusters, and we actually had a product that became a blockbuster, which was a retinol acne cream. It started out, started life as an acne cream, but a few years down the road, it was discovered that it actually had an effect on wrinkles. It was actually an anti-aging cream. So the facility was shut down. So we had done everything right. We had done everything well, but the facility, the volume was moved to a much larger J&J facility because we were incapable with the equipment and the space we had of handling the manufacturing of that product going forward. And that helped me realize that it’s like, it’s nothing against me, it’s nothing, nothing personal. The company made absolutely the right business decision, and it had an absolutely, like, for a while, very negative effect on me. Now, I wound up finding another job within the company. So in the end, it was all fine, but I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, nor did any of the rest of the team know.

So why did you decide to leave J&J?

Yeah, well, I was always curious about something. There were fabulous resources there, and you know, they would take J&J executives who were maybe in between roles, you know, maybe someone very senior, maybe someone who had just come back from an ascent at Harvard Business School and was getting ready for their next assignment. And you could tap into that very knowledgeable set of resources, and you could get help. So if you wanted help benchmarking or other kinds of things, you know, there were ways to get some assistance. And I was curious to know what it would be like in an industry where I didn’t have that kind of opportunity to get help, where I really had to do it on my own.

The other thing, to be honest with you, is that I used to, at least every 18 months, every 18 months at a minimum, I would look for another job. And it wasn’t because I didn’t love J&J, I adored it. But you need to keep your skills current. And over time, you’re developing the skills that your current employer needs. You’re not necessarily developing the skills that are going to help you get that next assignment. Because I was living in that environment of churn, I knew that I needed to make sure that someday the chips were not going to fall on my side, and I was going to wind up with the need to be competing outside of the Johnson and Johnson family of companies. And that I would need to be ready and have the skills to do that.

So I would listen to what people were looking for, and when they were looking for quality, when quality programs were big, I volunteered to be a quality trainer. And when in global, you know, was kind of coming up, was rising, I volunteered to be on a global assignment. I would do things so that I could get the line items on my resume that talk to the kinds of things that were being looked for on the outside.

Well, I have gotten an incredible offer, like just a monumental change in terms of potential income from a company, and I wasn’t going to accept it. I had no intention of accepting it. The day that I was driving to the office to turn it down, I got stuck in traffic. And when I got into my office, there were Post-it notes all over the office that said, “Emergency, emergency, call this, call your husband, call your husband, call your husband.”

His the company he worked for had just been sold, and I was sitting with a curiosity about the outside and a job offer in hand where my increment in salary would almost exactly equal what we were about to lose with his job going away. So I thought it was ordained from the heavens that I should go give this a shot. So what tell me about what happened next? You took the job.

So I took the job, and that became, so I went into the spirits business, and it was one of the two situations where I walked into a new position when people were leaving in handcuffs. So I twice, so that’s become a very interesting stakeholder engagement challenge when there’s just been an arrest, and it’s had to deal with fraud, and it’s had to deal with procurement. You know, this one wasn’t particularly in the procurement department. The next one I went into was that way, but this one was a group that was very aligned to procurement, and you know, lots of people very nervous and watching my every step. So I learned a lot about stakeholder engagement there because it’s one thing to walk into a role where everybody’s neutral or maybe where people miss the person who was there before you because they were a nice person. But it’s a whole another thing when they, you walk in, and they right away assume that you’re going to steal something from them.

And what was this role that you stepped into, this big new role?

Well, it was, I was in charge of supply chain for a piece of the alcoholic beverage, the adult beverage business, and I was responsible for all of the purchasing for North America, except for grapes. I never purchased grapes for the wine business, but everything else for the wine business.

The most important thing you learned when you were there at this new company and this kind of big new role?

So, you know, in the end, first of all, the ethics, the ethics. I mean, that takeaway from J&J about the way to ethically approach things was paramount, and that was the way I became successful there and in other roles. I just made sure that everything I did followed the highest ethics.

Now, a funny story about that. The standards in this industry were very different than the standards were in the pharmaceutical industry. So I remember receiving a very generous L.L.Bean gift certificate from a supplier for Christmas, and I sent it back. Now, I sent it back with a nice note, but I sent it back. Well, that caused all kinds of hubbub because little did I know that I was sending all kinds of gifts to other people, including that supplier, and I just didn’t know because it happened automatically. So I started in October, I think back at the end of September, they had organized all of the people who were going to get gifts. My name was signed on all these things, but I didn’t know it, and so I had a little bit of egg on my face and a little bit of explaining to do as to why I was saying, “I was too good to receive the gifts.” And I have to tell you that the person who yelled at me was wearing an L.L.Bean shirt. I couldn’t help but [Laughter] notice.

You were there about 10 years, yeah?

Yeah, about 10 years.

Okay, and then what next? That’s 10 years is a long time in my book.

Yeah, so I had the chance to take a position in financial services. Right. And so to me, by the way, at some point, I realized that I could stay in an industry vertical, and I think that people listening to this conversation are probably, whether they realize it or not, either have been faced with that or will be faced with it. I decided not to try to stay in an industry vertical. I thought that selling myself as someone who could take positive things from one industry, from several industries, and bring them to another industry was a way to differentiate myself. So instead of having a resume that was all consumer products, all beverage, all pharmaceutical, you know, all financial services, I sought to say, “Oh, I’ve seen this in this industry, and I’ll bring it over to this other industry, and this is why I think it’s a good idea for you.” So that was very important.

So why did you accept this? You were out of a company for 10 years, and you decided to make a change. Why did you decide to say yes to this new opportunity?

Well, first of all, I lost my job because the company was purchased. It was part of becoming part of a global entity, and people from headquarters were coming out to run the Americas. So I had a job opportunity, but it wasn’t anything that I wanted. And so I opted to go, so I was not working. I had two opportunities. One was in the food business making a fast-food item, and it was very, very. They had just brought in a team to turn the business around. It was very exciting, but when I asked people what happens when you come and work here, the answer was 20 pounds because they gave food away. I mean, it was food all day. You would walk through the hallway, and you would smell dessert items, fast food dessert items that were not such a good idea for me to be munching on all day. So that was one, and the other one, quite honestly, in terms of a family decision, is that my mother was turned out to be dying. Now, she was very ill. She lived in New Jersey. And so by taking a role in New York City, I could commute in from Connecticut because by then we were living in Connecticut, commute in from Connecticut, work, take the bus to New Jersey, spend the night with my mom, and then turn around and go back and go back home. So I was kind of doing that, skipping around a little bit, and that was a great enabler for me to be able to do that.

I will tell you if I may share a funny story that’s just come to mind about getting that job. So I was networking, right? I was going to some networking meetings, and there was a facilitator at one of the meetings, and I told her I was so excited I had this big interview coming up, and I knew I was a finalist. I knew who the other contender was, and I knew, quite honestly, that his background was almost the same as mine, but bigger. The spend was bigger, the savings were likely bigger, and the company had a higher profile than the company I was coming from. So I knew that might be a bit of a detriment, and she said to me, “What are you doing to set yourself apart? What are you doing to make sure that you are not the same as he or any of the other contenders?” And, Sarah, that has since become my favorite, my number one favorite interview question.

But the answer was nothing, kind of that I was going to go in and be brilliant and have them decide that to hire me. So I called two or three people that I knew, some respected headhunters, quite honestly, in the procurement space, and I said, “What do you think of this idea?” Because I really didn’t want to do it. It was August. I wanted to spend the afternoon in the pool and not be prepping for this interview, and everybody said, “Do it, do it, do it.” So I sat down and I did a little one-sheeter, a PowerPoint saying, “Here’s some bullets. This is what I’ve heard you say. Here are the categories. This is what I’ve heard you say. This is what is industry standard here. And this is what I would do in the first three months.” And I kept it to very few words, so it’d be easy to understand. So I walked in with a folder, and it’s August, as I said. It’s really hot in New York City, high-rise where the sun is. It’s the afternoon, so the sun’s not overhead anymore. It’s kind of at an angle, and it’s beating in through the windows of the office that I was in. And the president and the chief operating officer of the company gets stuck in a meeting. He’s a little late, and I’m boiling. I’m like so hot from sitting in this office. So he finally comes in, and he sits down, and he introduces himself, and he’s warm, and he’s lovely, and we start to talk, and he almost immediately closes his eyes and, I believe to this day, fell asleep.

Now, I’ve never had the nerve to actually ask him that, but I can tell you that having… I did get the job, and having worked for him for a number of years, I discovered that he did have some narcolepsy tendencies, and that you were much better off having a 7 in the morning meeting with him than you were at 3 in the afternoon. So it was because, generally, he’d be kind of nodding off by then. I have to ask, what do you do when the person that you’re interviewing with is sleeping? Well, I was about to tell you. I whipped out my trusty piece of paper, my trusty PowerPoint, and I said, “You might want to know after all these interviews how I would handle things. Let me tell you what I would do,” and I talked to him as if he were awake. Now, maybe he was, but he didn’t open his eyes. I mean, I was well through it. I was maybe 70% of the way through it before his eyes kind of flickered, and he sort of seemed to come through. Years later, he said to me, “I’ve never forgotten your interview,” and all I could think was, “I bet you don’t remember it the way I do.” But he was such a fine man, I didn’t want to be disrespectful, so I just kind of let it go. It’s one of the great mysteries of my life, I suppose.

So, you leave the meeting, and you were thinking, what were you… Were you confident that you were going to get the job offer after he slept through part of the interview?

Well, I was, and I’ll tell you why. He had an easy way out, right? He had the paper. He had me talking. He had me talking, pointing to the paper. It wasn’t like, I think if I had been sitting there with my hands folded, that might have been a different situation because he would have had to maybe be… He would have perhaps been a little bit embarrassed. But in this situation, where I sort of created a safe zone, if you will, that he could nod off for a couple of minutes and then come back to. And I even did a little summary at the end so that he could catch up a little on the other things like, “Here, here, and here. I wouldn’t take any action right away. I would need to learn more, but I feel pretty confident that here and here could be deliverables quickly.”

You took the job. You accepted. What did you do in the first 90 days? What were these things that you said you were going to do?

Well, this was another situation where, to be honest with you, I had to re-build confidence. The other thing I did is that I forgot about any of the big numbers and deliverables and things like that because I knew that wasn’t the issue with the company. The company, Financial Services, is very policy and process-driven. So I learned that if something were important enough that I could get internal audit to agree a policy that people would generally follow it, and that I needed to create confidence in the procurement organization.

The other thing I needed to do was solve some problems, and I actually should have mentioned that earlier because I did that when I went into the previous employer as well. When you’re new in a job and you go and speak to people, everyone has a problem. Everyone will throw something at you, many of which you will see as de minimis. Oh, I call the travel just for help, and they never answer in the three rings. It’s always a minute and a half that I have to be on hold. Whatever it is, those are the first things you need to fix because if you want to capture the hearts and minds of the people that you’re working with, of the ones that you eventually want to lead into different decisions, different suppliers, different kinds of activities than they’re doing now, they need to feel confidence in you. What better way than to help them with their agendas, not yours? Theirs, because helping them with theirs will help you get there.

The other thing I needed to do was solve some problems, and I actually should have mentioned that earlier because I did that when I went into the previous employer as well. When you’re new in a job and you go and speak to people, everyone has a problem. Everyone will throw something at you, many of which you will see as de minimis. Oh, I call the travel just for help, and they never answer in the three rings. It’s always a minute and a half that I have to be on hold. Whatever it is, those are the first things you need to fix because if you want to capture the hearts and minds of the people that you’re working with, of the ones that you eventually want to lead into different decisions, different suppliers, different kinds of activities than they’re doing now, they need to feel confidence in you. What better way than to help them with their agendas, not yours? Theirs, because helping them with theirs will help you get there.

What type of leader would you describe yourself to be when you took the CPO role? I’m a very “roll up the sleeves” leader. I learned at J&J by being out on the manufacturing floor. I learned when I had contract manufacturing roles that I had to be out at those manufacturers. I learned that the best thing I could do with my time was to spend it—this is in procurement now—was to spend it building bridges between the suppliers and the marketing side of the business. That, in fact, we could get further faster if I could capture the excitement, the priorities, and the R&D staff and everything of the supplier community. So, I actually spent a third of my time with suppliers in some way, and as much as possible, I would be out at their headquarters, meeting with their executives, walking through R&D, seeing how things are manufactured, you know, etc. And that would help inform and help us create some good ideas that would bring benefit to both our companies. How would you say that your leadership style changed, if it did at all, through your time there while you exited and took your next CPO role? Well, from one CPO role to another, it really evolved over time. There wasn’t a “I wouldn’t do this again; I would do that.” It was about having the confidence to not interject yourself in the middle of things but to allow alignments to take place under some rules of engagement with suppliers and the appropriate people in the organization and not being the bottleneck in the middle. The other thing that evolved over time is an appreciation for how we don’t get anywhere without having brilliant, hardworking people on the team with us. So, I’m very proud of the people who were technically reporting to me who are now in great roles in other companies and other businesses because I like to think that I had a part in nurturing them along and exposing them to some great projects and great opportunities. So, you transitioned from that CPO gig into a new one. What happened there? Why did you leave? Well, it was the recession, right? 2007-2008. I was in a situation where Financial Services can be very lucrative, and it can be very not lucrative. Given the fall in the assets under management, I could see that it was going to be a long while before any bonuses came my way. So, I had another industry sinking fast, and that was the real estate industry. But there were two things happening there. One was that the auditors were telling them, “You must have a CPO. You have too many billions of dollars of spend that are just unmanaged.” So that was number one, so they had a burning platform to bring in a CPO. The second thing was I could negotiate a deal for myself that would give me guaranteed bonuses for some time forward so I wouldn’t have to pull the kids out of school. I mean that’s an exaggeration, of course, but yeah. Yeah, so it was that way, plus I had also done what I needed to do at Alliance Bernstein, another phenomenal company, another set of really smart, engaged people, and another one that taught me a lot. I’ll tell you, it taught me, and I’ll tell this to everyone, the one position of them all, the one company of them all that I got the most value out of was working in financial services because every one of us should be in a situation where you are surrounded by market data, by different kinds of funds, by people doing analysis on different kinds of opportunities and things because it’s very easy for us in our day-to-day work lives to forget about the fact that we need to be saving for the future, we need to be thinking about retirement and the goals that we have for later on, and working there and being surrounded by charts and graphs and things like that made me up my game in terms of getting the right help and making sure that our family’s financial situation was a good one. Favorite project you worked on at Cushman and Wakefield? Well, I created something, actually we created something, an online buying tool, now e-auctions. I’m a big fan of e-auctions. I am still a fan. I think that some of the tools that are out now take a little longer and call it something different, but they’re really e-auctions. I think that even some of the predictive procurement tools are like the next generation of an e-auction kind of thing. But back in the day, I was a fan, and I got really good at being able to evaluate different categories to see whether all of the components were in place appropriately to do an auction. One of those areas is a lot of the building and project management goods and services, materials and services. And there was someone managing projects out in the central region, out in Texas, actually, who got it. Most people didn’t want to hear about it, but he got it, understood it, thought it was logical, actually branded it, called it Optin. And Ops stood for online pricing tool and created marketing brochures around it and used it as a point of difference. So I wound up segueing more into working with the facilities management and the selling side of the organization. So I went on client calls, and there were some other pieces in the end. I had like a four-point program, but it was exciting to see your idea being used with clients and being accepted by people on the sales side. So you were actually involved in spinning up a tech product that they sold? Well, they sold the service. We didn’t sell. I didn’t. I was using a third party. In fact, someone once asked me who my most important supplier was, and it was that supplier. It was the technology supplier. It wasn’t someone providing us with the consulting services or the nuts and bolts that go into the kinds of things that our clients needed. It was the supplier who understood what we were trying to do and allowed us to flex the contract enough to be able to make that happen. Hardest part of your job when you were at Cushman? We talked about favorite project and biggest impact, but what was your big struggle when you were there? So Ernst & Young told the people at Cushman & Wakefield that they needed to have a CPO, and there was a small procurement team.

I mean, when I left, there was a large procurement team. But when I started, it was small, and I understood, you know, what I was going into. I walked in one day, and they were gone, and I said, “H, why are all these?” There was someone from HR sitting in my office, and I said, “Why are these people gone? Like, what happened?” And she said, “Well, we hired you. Like, there was such a lack of understanding that it wasn’t you. It wasn’t… I wasn’t going to spend my time filling out purchase orders. In fact, I said to them, ‘If that’s what you want me to do, this is a terrible use of, you know, my time and my brain power.’ So what you need to do is let’s figure out a way to focus me on bringing some deliverables in that we can then use to fund more people coming in, and that’s what we did. In the end, we found a credit with a consulting firm. They were able to come in and do a spend analysis for me. I was able to target on a couple of things. We got some suppliers to help us. They were very, very true to their word. The CFO was very true to his word and allowed me to then start to create the staff, so that we had a very highly functioning group by the point in time that I left. One group of people focused on the corporate side, but a much larger group focused on the client side. And if I recall correctly, the company was acquired by private equity, and it was kind of a nice TR time for you to transition out of the org. Well, it was, so, you know, you get handed a gift sometimes. And when you’re an empty Master, you know, you’re in a different situation in life. My husband very much wanted to be retired. It was the perfect time to go and look to do something different. So I started doing some direct Consulting. Like, I would come in, and I would do a project, and that was terrific. It was very lucrative. It was very terrific. But in order to have a real business, you need to work 24/7, at least in the initial years, and that was incompatible with the lifestyle that I wanted to lead. And so, after a couple of years of doing it, I said, ‘All right, I’m just gonna stop this now. I’m gonna finish these projects one at a time, try to bring them all to a completion, and I gave myself a time frame. Like, during this summer. I forgot the year. But during the summer, I wanted to finish everything because I had a book that was partially written. I felt like every time somebody said, ‘How’s the book?’ I would say, ‘Almost done’ or ‘getting there,’ and I was afraid that would be in my obituary: ‘She had a book that was almost done.’ So I decided to focus on that and then focus on doing a couple of other interesting things, but on a very much smaller level. So, I still remember reading your book on a flight. I want to say it was a two- or three-hour read. I’m not a big reader, so I like shorter books. And one of the things that I really appreciated about your book was that it was told through storytelling. And to me, that’s very relatable. So I really enjoyed hearing the stories throughout the different chapters. Thank you. So, I had the stories. Interestingly, because once I left J&J, and even a bit at J&J, I was often mostly in a situation where there was some dire financial situation in the company. So margins were being squeezed, volume was down, economic conditions were not good, etc. And no one had money to send me to conferences. But I found that I could trade speaking at a conference for, you know, the travel expenses and conference fees and things like that. So, I started speaking a long time ago, and would make little notes when something happened that I thought was germine to my message. I would write it down. Now I really wish I had written it down in the same place. Like, that never dawned on me. I would write it down, and then go, ‘Oh, where did I put that?’ So, I don’t quite have them all, but I have a lot and a lot that are still very relevant. I think one of the most interesting things that I took a note when you and I were prepping is you told me that you can’t write. I can’t. I have decided to publish a book, right? So what I learned about myself over the years is that whenever I had to write the minutes, whenever I had to write a letter to someone, I would be paralyzed. Absolutely paralyzed and staring, even when, as things got automated, even to write a card, a couple of sentences on a birthday card to a friend is very hard for me. But I can edit really well. Right. All of us in Corporate America, anyone who listens to this podcast, is likely to be really good at editing. So I spoke the book. I laid out a very rough outline. I hired someone to transcribe it. I was doing a consulting project in New Jersey at the time, and I was driving back to Manhattan a couple days a week. And I had, I would put Post-it notes on the dashboard with, yeah, two or three key words, and then I would just speak it and record it, get it transcribed, and then I would edit it. That’s how I got over that. So, I want to make sure we cover this next topic, because I think it’s really interesting for our audience. You are doing something that I would call being a practitioner Analyst at acceleration economy. So, I’d like to have you kind of explain and walk through what this is. Okay, so first of all, I made a decision when I started consulting that turned out to be a really good one. And that was that what I really wanted to do was the roll-up-the-sleeves projects as much as I could. I knew I know, based on my background, that I could find some company that would bring me in to do strategy stuff. But that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I thought I could add a lot of value by working with the team and putting my CPO ego aside and actually working on projects. Well, didn’t I get fortunate, because I got a chance to work on all kinds of technology projects, you know, moving something to the cloud, working with robotic process automation, working with artificial intelligence. So, I know something about this new digitization space, right? I’ve done pieces of it, you know, over the last couple of years, and that has turned out to be just an amazing background for me to leverage on to be able to, you know, use with acceleration economy. Now, acceleration economy is made up of a lot of smart people who do things in the technology space. They do education, they put on webinars, they work with companies and help them bring their staff up to speed from a standpoint of technology. So, they educate, they consult, they do a bunch of things. And I do writing for them. So, there will be a topic, a technology topic on the cloud or something else, and I will write from a CPO’s point of view. So, I’m writing one right now that I’m going to finish today after we’re finished here. That’s about something in the cloud, and I’m writing it because I suspect my fellow CPOs might not be aware of some of the considerations that they should be thinking about as they consider using this kind of technology. And so, I’m going to write from that aspect, and I adore it. It keeps me fresh. I work on the kinds of projects I’m interested in working on. I don’t work full-time. I play. I go to watercolor on a Monday morning in Canasta and happy hour on Friday afternoon. I mean, life is really good. But I love what it does for my brain. I love being engaged. And, Sarah, I had the most incredible experience at ProcureCon a couple of weeks ago, where I had done a little test of my own. I put on my CPO hat, and I used three different generational AI models, and I asked the same questions, and I looked to see where did I get the most robust RFP? Where did I get the best suggestions in terms of suppliers that I should be using for a particular problem? And I did that, and I presented it, and I got two pieces of the… Two people came up with the same feedback, and it was like, “Wow, you’ve really inspired me. I don’t understand any of this, but if you can do it, it was kind of like, ‘You’re so old, if you can do it, I can do it.’ And, you know what? That’s okay. That’s okay. I was glad to be an inspiration, however it comes.

So, we are coming to what I call our Spitfire round. I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you’re going to answer with the first word or phrase that comes to mind.

Accomplishment you are most proud of. Oh, man, opt-in. The opt-in tool, the online pricing.

Quality you admire most in yourself. Resilience and tenacity.

Favorite TV personality. I did really enjoy Ted Lasso, but other than that, I’m not a TV girl. I’m too busy doing this stuff.

What are you binging? Oh, really good wine. I am down in Sarasota, so yes, I am binging really good wine. But that’s about it.

Biggest pet peeve. Well, you know, I have had people say to me who just don’t understand why I’m doing this, right? Why would I be doing this and not doing other kinds of things? And, you know, I’m not good at sports. I adore this. I adore this as part of my life. But I get a lot… I’ve had more than one person kind of pat my hand and say, ‘Oh, dear, did you just make really bad financial decisions along the way, and is that why you’re doing this? Because, like, you’re poor now.’ And I go, like, ‘Do I look poor?’ You know, like, really, really, is that the best you can come up with? So, I suppose I have very few pet peeves, and you will never see me put something on LinkedIn that says, ‘Here’s my rant.’ But yeah, when I think about it, that kind of little dagger through the heart on that one.

Favorite thing to do in your downtime. So, there are two things. I love to do. I have two fabulous young granddaughters, and I love horrifying their parents by doing things with them that their parents likely would think twice before they would let them do. So that’s number one. They call me Jonana, and we do an annual event called Camp Jonana, where I let them have way more freedom than anybody knows because nobody else is invited. The other thing, quite honestly, is that I sadly lost the great love of my life, and actually, in the last year, had horrific… horrific, just horrible things happen in our family, one after the other after the other after the other, a lot of loss. And resilience helped me a lot. I now get dating advice from every savvy 40-year-old I know.

So, Sarah, I think you’re too young, but I’ll probably ask you at some point in time, anyway. And I have become a real expert at finding the scammers online. So, I… that’s the other thing I do in my downtime when time permits, is that I go and report people to various things to get them off so that they’re not preying on other individuals. I feel… I see a YouTube channel in your future. You know, I thought about after the scammers. I actually… I made one really big mistake. One really big mistake. And that was someone that I thought had the classic… He was… He was a classic scammer, based on… And I developed this criteria. I look for… Blah, blah, blah, blah, BL, this and this and this. And I was sure he was a classic scammer. And I said that. I said, ‘I’m done with you. You’re a classic scammer.’ And he goes, ‘No, I’m not. And I’m coming to New York to prove it to you.’ And he did. God bless him. He got on an airplane and came up to prove to me that he was a really fabulous person.

All right. Join us next month on November 8th for our next interview. I recommend following and reaching out to Joanna, an incredible person who produces some really interesting content. And Joanna, hopefully, I will get to see you in person speaking at an event, either end of this year or hopefully sometime next year. I hope so, too, Sarah. Thanks a lot.