Podcast: Managing Director at CBRE – Ben Cook
Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple
In This Episode:
We talk with Ben Cook, Managing Director of Reliability and Maintenance Engineering at the commercial real estate company CBRE. Ben shares his career journey through companies such as Apple, Home Depot, and Kimberly Clark. Ben shared his thoughts on the value of doing analytical work as part of your career, making sure you understand the real problem prior to finding solutions, learning how to lead rather than dictate solutions, how to build alliances, and knowing what is in a solution for all stakeholders. He also discusses his days working for startups, lessons learned about developing critical soft skills, learning how to negotiate, and understanding finance as a way to advance. He sees far more need for holistic thinking, teamwork, data skills, transparency, and the ability to make decisions faster to meet quickly changing customer needs. Plus, Ben shares his passion for developing talent.
Ben Cook’s Bio:
Ben is an avid learner who holds a BS in International Business from Auburn University, an MBA with a focus on Supply Chain Management from the University of Tennessee, and multiple leadership and coaching certifications from The Wharton School, Harvard Business School and the Center for Creative Leadership.
(01:56) How did you get started on your supply chain career journey? What were some of your greatest influences that got you started and helped you along the way?
I’ll definitely date myself by walking you through my supply chain journey, but, I didn’t know anything about supply chain. Until one day, I was reading a magazine article and it was talking a lot about the future of e-commerce before e-commerce was big. This was back in 2000. The article really talked about the future of retail being e-commerce and that would be definitely driven by the need for strong supply chain organizations and capabilities. The more I started reading about it, I thought, wow, this sounds pretty exciting career. For me, it was really about being able to take my passion for global business, which I’d studied my undergrad degree was in international business at Auburn. And so, when I started thinking about companies moving to more offshore manufacturing, doing more things globally as one ecosystem, it was an opportunity for me to take that passion for global business and be able to then go and expand my study.
So, I ended up attending University of Tennessee, which at the time they had the top supply chain program in the nation as rated by a number of the different periodicals out there. They also had moved to a condensed format. So it was a very intensive program, 17 months versus your typical 24 month program. And it was team-based. And for me, I thought there was a lot of value in being in a core cohort where I was working closely with different team members, with different backgrounds. I thought it’d be a great way to prepare me for the real world, knowing that when I got a full-time job in supply chain, I’d be dealing with people from different backgrounds, different educational backgrounds, different ways of life. So for me, it was a perfect way to really start my supply chain career. And I’m really thankful for what I learned at Tennessee and ended up going on and doing some internships there when I was in grad school, worked with Seagate Technology in California, you got to learn a lot about the component supply chain, and get really kind of deep on the supplier side. Then luckily one day, Rodney called me about an opportunity at a Home Depot as a supply chain analyst, and then ended up moving over full-time after I graduated and that started off a series of moves with some pretty large brands and companies that have been focused on driving their supply chain capabilities. It all started with one article, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.
(04:09) You mentioned your network of people, and especially the group and team types of work that was done. How much have you kept in touch with people that were on those teams and project work and what lessons did you learn from establishing your network while you're in school?
Yeah, that work was really valuable. I’d say I’ve kept up with the former professors and administrative staff at Auburn and Tennessee probably better than I have the classmates. I serve on the board there at Auburn and at
Tennessee in their supply chain side. I have kept up certainly with number of classmates. I wish I would have probably done a better job of keeping up with more people. I think we all went our separate ways and again, it was 20 years ago, but, it’s funny. I’ve been to a number of conferences and I’ve run into a classmate that I haven’t seen since grad school. So, I know a Gartner conference I went to about two or three years ago. I ran into a classmate that I hadn’t seen in 18 years, so it’s a small world and it’s definitely a small industry. I’ve learned that really fast. What might be your supplier today could be your customer tomorrow. And so, that’s something I learned early in my career in terms of how to make sure that you’re networking appropriately and that you’re treating people with respect because you got to keep those relationships. It is a small industry though, it really is.
(05:21) Can you share some of the key roles and some of the functions you've worked in and some of the key lessons you learned from a supply chain perspective in particular when you transition between those functions or roles.
I’d love to even just start with my first job out of grad school, which was an analyst there at Home Depot. I think one of the big learnings, and I think most people have a chance to spend some time in their career, hopefully early in the career, doing analytical work. For me, it was highly important because it helped me really get clarity on what problem we were trying to solve. And as a good leader, if you simply go to the team and ask them to pull some data or try to gather information without giving context and trying to help them understand what problem you’re seeking to solve, my experience has been, many cases, you have not quite as good of a solution that can be developed. And so, my big lesson early on really was really getting clarity, asking questions, clarifying questions.
I remember my boss came to me and said, Hey, I need you to go pull X, Y, and Z data. And I went and did it and then turned out it wasn’t what he was looking for. And really, if we had sat down and spent the time to really talk through the problem we were seeking to solve, we probably would’ve had a better solution and would have saved some time. And so that was an early lesson in my career is making sure that I’m taking time to give people context and bring them into the conversation, not just telling people what to do, but getting their input and asking them how they might go about solving the problems. So that was a key lesson for me.
The other thing at Home Depot, had a chance after a couple of years of being there to help create a new organization that we called global trade compliance. So, it was looking at ways to look at supply chain risk management, pulled into the customs compliance function, and a couple of other areas in the business. And that was a great lesson for me in terms of building an alliance, how to put together a business proposal, so I actually went to the business and laid out some of the problems that we were experiencing as a company. And then I talked about different solutions and those solutions led to some organizational realignment and building some new capabilities that didn’t exist. That was a
year-long process that took a lot of different stakeholders across the supply chain and even people outside of the supply chain, people in finance and the treasury and some other groups. And so that experience to me really taught me the lesson of influence. And building a strong alliance to be able to drive change forward in an organization, which took a lot of data, it took a lot of conversations and spending a lot of extra time, just getting people up to speed and helping them see what could be and why the change was meaningful for each of those stakeholders. So, a lot of it was what’s in it for me, understanding what’s in it for people and to drive change, you got to get people to get on the bus and see that it benefits them. And most people aren’t going to support a change if they don’t see a benefit or if they see a detriment.
I loved Home Depot. I thought it was a great company. And I really enjoyed the team that I had there and the people I worked with. But when Kimberly Clark called and offered me the opportunity to join them, I thought it was really important because I had spent time on the customer facing side or consumer facing side and retail. And I thought in order to become a really good supply chain practitioner, be able to continue to be relevant and move up, and add value, I needed to spend some time on the supply side. I did that in grad school at Seagate, but that was just a three-month assignment as an intern. And so, it was very much a well thought out move.
And for me, I learned incredible things there looking at the extended supply chain. Understanding things upstream in a manufacturing facility and linking the challenges from a manufacturing platform and working all the way through the supply chain to make sure that the customer was happy with the outcome. And I’m so thankful for the time there, because I learned an incredible amount and it really made me a better-rounded practitioner from a supply chain perspective. And I carry that with me to this day, having spent time both on the supply and the demand side of the business, I think was really important and has helped me, I think, be a better leader.
(09:18) Ben, you also took a turn and shifted into the startup world. What were some challenges that you faced and some of the key learnings and experiences that you applied from your corporate experience to help with the transition and be successful in the startup?
The startup was definitely a huge change for me. It was something that I’d been thinking about for a number of years. I’ve really enjoyed working for big corporations. I think from my perspective, I missed out on the tech boom that a lot of people got to experience in the late nineties, early two-thousands. I’d always look back and thought, wow, it’d be fun to go work for a startup. I think it would challenge me in a different way. Especially from a leadership perspective. And so, as I thought about it and evaluated some different opportunities, for me, it was definitely a risk, leaving big corporate, going to a startup. I had some people try to discourage me from doing it. I had a few former colleagues and mentors that said, Hey, you’ve got it made. You’re working for big blue chip companies. If you go to a startup, you have a hard time getting back into the
If it doesn’t work out and for me, I really wanted to understand those risks, but I also didn’t want to make a decision based on fear, playing it safe. For me, I thought it was a great opportunity to go take a risk and go into the startup space. And it was a huge, huge transition. I will say a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this. It was not as big of a jump as probably a lot of people thought it would be. I was at Apple for five years. And even though Apple was a multi-billion dollar company, when I joined them, they still ran like a startup in many cases because they were scaling, they were scaling and doubling in size every 18 to 24 months. And so, a lot of the data and the systems and things that you would anticipate being present there in some cases wasn’t, or it was much more scrappy decision-making because we’re moving so fast. And so, I think the time at Apple prepared me for that transition, whereas if I hadn’t worked for a company like Apple, it probably would’ve been a tougher transition. I was used to getting into the details on stuff. I was used to creating my own spreadsheets. I was used to really go in deep into the data with the team and not just managing things from the boardroom or from the corner office because Apple really placed a premium on execution and expected leaders to get to the details.
Probably the biggest change for me was from a leadership perspective. I went from focusing deep on supply chain and operations, to being more involved with dealing with investors, dealing with the board of directors, dealing with fundraising, for example, I spent a significant amount of my time focused on fundraising. So, pitching to perspective investors. And I think it gave me a whole new appreciation for the CFO and the financial teams, because when you have to pitch to investors, then you have to answer to people that are giving their personal money for a venture. It gives you a whole new appreciation for finance and being frugal and making sure that you’re managing money. And sometimes that can get lost in a big corporate environment where you don’t feel as close to the moneymaking decisions or to the investor base. It puts a lot of personal accountability, and it makes you think twice. And if you don’t believe in the service or the offering, it’s hard to go out and raise money effectively. So those were some of the learnings for me.
(12:33) What kind of skills, both hard and soft skills matter to you the most when you were tasked with leading major supply chain organizations?
I think people still undervalue the soft skills. Hard skills are important from my perspective, but I’ll be honest with you, those soft skills make or break deals. For me, having empathy and seeking to understand people. So, I’m a big Stephen Covey fan. I remember reading Seven Habits. I remember one that jumped out at me, which was seek to understand and then to be understood. And so for me, a big part of my personal success in business has been really taking time to listen to people.
Whenever I bring on a new team or change companies in the first 90 days, I always take a lot of time to get out, talk to people and hear their concerns and start to look at patterns as you go out in the field and talk to people and talk to
the operators. And so, for me, it’s really an attempt to understand what people’s positions are and to not try to formulate a response, but to really give time to understand and listen with empathy to what people’s concerns are, what challenges they face.
I think the other piece is understanding cultural differences as well, especially in today’s world as we go to more global economy, global supply chains. I think sometimes people underestimate the differences in culture and how understanding cultures is beneficial. It really comes into play when you start dealing with a suppliers globally and other business partners and understanding different nuances and culture, making sure that you’re up to speed on some of those nuances. And s,o I’ve learned that the hard way, quite frankly, there are times where I didn’t understand the cultural element. Everyone was agreeing. And then find out that we were probably further apart than we were going into the negotiation. And so, understanding that it’s cultural differences and recognizing just because someone shakes their head yes, and says, yes, doesn’t always mean yes. Or that I understand what you’re telling me. And so really the cross-cultural communication, I think, has been incredibly important for me as a global leader.
And then just to get into the hard skills, some of these sound basic, but statistics, basic statistics and mathematics. I learned that early on with Six Sigma training at Home Depot. Having those skills to look at data trends, data analysis, using statistics and different statistical methods, I think is incredibly important. Basic problem solving. I get this from a lot of college students that I’ve mentored, they ask what’s one thing I should work on. I always tell them problem solving. Really starting with getting clear on what are you seeking to solve. If you can’t explain the problem you’re trying to solve in one or two sentences. You probably don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish. And I see companies frequently still want to get out in front and throw solutions out without really fully understanding the problem they’re trying to solve.
Or something I highly recommend, negotiation skills. I’ve taken courses in college, but I’ve gone back on two separate occasions and spent my own money going back and taking negotiation courses and I think those are incredibly important. All of life is negotiation, whether you’re in procurement or not, you’re always going to be negotiating something usually deliverables or initiative set and goal setting. And so being able to effectively negotiate for a favorable outcome, I think is incredibly important and in a hard slash soft skill that is important to develop.
Attitude is number one. If someone has bad attitude, they could be the smartest person in the room. They lack empathy. Those are not the kind of people that are going to be successful. And so being able to really understand the soft skills and layer those in with the hard skills are incredibly important and things that I look at when I hired people, whether it’s an individual contributor or a leader.
(16:10) If you look back, what do you wish you would've known as a student, both as you were starting as a student, and then when you were graduating?
Looking back. I think Steve Jobs said you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So, as I look backwards, I would have taken some more finance classes. I probably would’ve gotten a double major in finance. I’m constantly reading and learning and my financial support teams, I’m constantly asking them questions sometimes they’re probably more basic than they would like, but, I think finance is definitely one that’s incredibly important when it comes to supply chain and being able to connect the dots.
And quite frankly, I think if I look at case studies or where companies have made a major pivot, and upgraded their supply chain capabilities, it was nine times out of ten because someone was able to connect with the CFO or the financial team and get their buy-in and involvement, not to look at supply chain as a cost center, but an enabler of revenue growth. And a lot of times that requires capital investment. And historically, it was seen as a necessary evil, cost center overhead. So definitely, finance would have been something I want to double down on.
A better understanding of computer science. Not necessarily learning how to code, but understanding how to put together algorithms, understanding how to connect the dots between system platforms. I’ve been through three or four SAP transitions and those were all painful. Is a great tool is great platform, but those things are tough because you’ve got to take it apart, your whole system infrastructure, and then build something back together. And so, I think having had some more experience in that space, I’m reading up constantly trying to read up on machine learning and AI and stuff that didn’t exist back when I was in school. But it would have been nice to probably had a deeper base there. So, I would recommend any supply chain student really make sure that they’re getting adequate focus and preparation on finance and systems, because those are two big components of supply chain and sometimes get overlooked by some of the other areas that people tend to focus on.
(18:35) What's your philosophy on mentorship, you've been both a mentor and a mentee. What would you advise to someone that's seeking out their first mentorship, thinking about who would be the ideal candidate? How do you engage that person and how do you set the mentorship up so it's a win-win?
Yeah, great question. If I look at mentees that I’ve had along the way that have done the best and have really excelled in their career, there’s a pattern I see there and it’s someone that’s, first of all, hungry, they’ve got an attitude that they want to learn, that they’re not there just to get a job from the mentor, but they’re there really to learn from them and be challenged.
So, it takes a bit of desire to learn so that having creativity and really a desire to learn some new things are really paramount to a good mentor, mentee relationship. And I’ll give you just a quick example, a young gentlemen that I was mentoring at Auburn University a number of years back. And I’ll never forget, he was the best mentee I’ve ever had because he always showed up prepared. So, he was on time to our calls. He was prepared cause I typically we give out some type of homework or takeaway assignment, and he was eager to learn. I’ve had
some other mentees in the past that weren’t so eager. They maybe showed up to some of the calls, sometimes were prepared other times weren’t, and many cases were really just looking to kinda check the box cause they wanted a job and they were looking for somebody to give them a job. And I would say, please don’t approach the mentor, mentee relationship that way.
I think you want to show respect to your mentors. And you also want to make sure that you’re really being challenged by the mentor and the best mentors I’ve had are the ones that are maybe the most uncomfortable at times. I’ve had some mentors, I left the conversation, I was upset, sometimes offended or frustrated. And then, a cool-down, looked back and I thought, wow, that person had the guts to challenge me and push me. And it may have been uncomfortable for them, but they put their comfort to the side cause they wanted to see me succeed. As a human being and as a professional. I think those are the types of things that are most important. I think the other piece is finding a mentor that you can relate to and sometimes personalities don’t necessarily match up. So, you’ve gotta have that comfort level with somebody that you can respect, but also to be able to develop a friendship with as well over time.
And I will tell you, any success I’ve ever had life I’d go back to specific mentors at points of time in my life that really challenged me, stretched me. A boss I had at Kimberly Clark one time sat me down and said, Hey, you’ve got to start transitioning out of being a manager to a leader. And I said, what does that mean? And he said, you gotta quit telling people exactly what to do. And you’ve got to get them on the bus and get them excited. And you’ve gotta be more of a cheerleader than a drill Sergeant. And those were the kind of types of feedback that I’ve gotten in my life that have really carried me over and I think made me a better leader over time.
(21:17) From your perspective, what are two or three of the biggest influences you see changing and shaping supply chain careers in the coming years?
I definitely see a shift to more of a holistic supply chain thinking. And what I mean by that is if I go back to early in my career, typically in a company you’d have a head of distribution or warehousing, you’d have a head of transportation. You’d have a head of customer experience. It wasn’t called customer experience, but usually customer service. I typically had a head of procurement and in many cases, these individuals had conflicting goals and metrics. And so, a lot of transportation groups goal was to get the lowest rate in place. Not necessarily capability to know total cost of ownership. So, the success was getting a low rate on paper. And then when you started to look at the impact of that, the distribution center was burning over time because on the day that the trucks were supposed to arrive, they never showed up. And then they show up two or three days later, it was unplanned. And then all of a sudden, now the distribution person’s upset. Cause they’re getting hit on their labor productivity metric. And so, I have seen a real shift, in multiple industries now where you’ve got a chief supply chain officer, somebody head of supply chain and he, or she is really driving alignment between the different business functions, so that they don’t have these conflicts
that you’ve seen in the past. And so I’m really encouraged by that. People are going to continue to have to think holistically. So, if you’ve been in transportation your whole career, that’s fine, but you’ve got to start to make sure that you’re not having bad habits or metrics maybe in the past, influenced the future. And so, you’re pivoting and making sure that you’re thinking with your enterprise hat on and thinking about your business partner upstream. So if you’re transportation okay, what’s important to my distribution partners. How are they being measured? And how do we work together to make sure that we don’t have a conflict.
And a lot of times that takes sitting down, initiating a conversation and being transparent with people. I’ve seen in companies where you had a head of transportation and distribution of customer care, get together, recognize there are metrics are conflicting or they’re not optimized. And then they go back and make a case to, to make changes there. And when the companies do make those changes, I see significant improvement.
I think the other piece, is just the importance of data, the ability to have clean data, but then turn it into actionable insight. And the world’s moving a lot faster today than it used to. We don’t have months to solve specific problems now. Sometimes they have to be solved in minutes. And so, the ability to also not have to get perfect data, but have the courage to be able to gain and glean some insights from what’s available and then make tough decisions and own the outcome. And I think that’s only going to increase in importance here as we move forward because we went from the consumer a decade ago, looking at a calendar for when they were going to get their product delivered now to looking at their stopwatch when you’ve got these immediate delivery options out there. So, the consumer’s thinking a lot differently and as supply chain practitioners, we’ve got to think on the stopwatch and not on the calendar.
People laugh about this, but, there could be a case made in the future there’s enough data and enough patterns that with machine learning, you can start to predict what people are going to want as well. So instead of waiting for the customer to click the button, through deep analytics and data, especially the metadata that’s out there, the companies can start to potentially shift things ahead of schedule. You can see consumption patterns basically. A lot of consumables and things can be put on autopilot or auto replen now, and you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
(24:39) You had touched on this a little bit in a couple of your answers about trying to continuously improve and learn, but with supply chain careers needing a lot of continuous improvement because of change. How do you keep up with the changes yourself and how do you advise others to keep improving?
If I’m self-critical, I probably won’t keep up enough. There’s certain number of hours in the day. And so one of my personal goals this year is to get more white space where I can spend more time reading and researching things. I read a lot though every year, I had something and it may sound odd to some people, but I self-reflect on New Year’s Day. I like to really self-reflect and I look at myself from
a personal standpoint and professional standpoint, and that typically drives specific goals that I want to achieve for the next year. Whether it’s a family goals or work goals. And then that usually results in a book list. Every year I try to read at least 12 books during the year, some years, I’ve gotten up to double that, reading a book every couple of weeks. I’ve learned over time I it really is about the learnings and putting it into practice. So sometimes less is more and taking time on a book, and really applying the principles is more important than just getting through X number of books. So, I read a lot. I like to listen to podcasts, so I like to listen to various supply chain podcasts. I think the one thing though is I used to spend a lot of time just focusing on business reading or supply chain, and I’ve seen an increased goodness that comes from reaching out, reading things outside of business or supply chain. Things that are related to philosophy or psychology, especially now with the world that we live in, really understanding diversity and inclusion and reading things that would help me make sure I don’t have any kind of cultural bias or subconscious bias. So, challenging myself that way to make sure that I’m thinking beyond just the world of supply chain and really thinking about areas outside of that.
I love reading the business books, but I find sometimes when I take a break and go a different pattern, I get thoughts and creativity that I wouldn’t have gotten just from staying on the path that I was on.
And just really network the networking piece is big as well. I still try to network and connect with people that I haven’t talked to frequently. And I’m finding that we share a lot of the same challenges and we also have some unique challenges and we can learn from each other.
(26:50) What separates oftentimes the good from the really great leaders is that ability to hire the right talent. How do you go about evaluating talent for your team? And then what are some of the key things you do to bring out the very best in your employees?
Yeah, great question. I’ve evolved in this space. As a leader, my favorite thing I’ve ever done in my career is really hiring talent, onboarding people and seeing people take it to the next level and progress in their careers. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that when I think of purpose in life as a leader. The greatest satisfaction comes when I’ve had somebody work for me and then they go on and do bigger and better things than I’ve done in my career. That gets me really excited to at least have even just a little bit of influence there.
What I’ve learned is that it starts with attitude. You’ve got to have the ability to really understand who someone truly is. When you get in a situational interview, sometimes people can get rehearsed. They can anticipate some of the questions, but the ability to really dig in and understand what someone’s values are, I think is incredibly important. Some of the biggest hiring mistakes I’ve made my career have been where I’ve hired someone that didn’t share the values of the company, or the team. And I would’ve gotten to it if I really had dug deep enough and maybe followed up with some of the references. I think it starts with really understanding what makes people tick and are they aligned with the values
and the culture of the company?
The other thing is just being approachable. Some of this I’ve learned the hard way, but you’ve got to have empathy in the interview process, whether somebody is entry-level or they’re going for the C-level job. The interviews can be tough. They can be grueling. And so being able to be approached and just kind of conversation like we’re having right now, where someone feels at ease and approachable tells you a lot about a person. And so, I’ve found as a leader, being able to be approachable and make it more of a conversation and not an interview. Not hitting them with a million questions, but having a conversation and getting to know the person, I think goes a long ways and tells a lot.
And then I think finally, most importantly, it’s getting other voices. We all have blind spots. Sometimes we don’t want to admit it, but we all do as humans. We all do. I found at times where I was tending to seek the same type of person over and over again, because maybe someone with certain traits had been really successful for me. And so, one of the things that I’ve tried to do to eliminate those blind spots is to have a well-represented interview panel, so a very diverse panel, and background, ethnicity, gender.
And I think you make a better hiring decision. And for me, it’s creating a culture now where when someone’s hired into the company, it’s really a team decision. And so, what I find is when the team really digs in and the team is held accountable for the hiring decision, not just the hiring manager, I find that you get better hires. As a team member, if you’re held accountable for the success of an individual and you feel responsible, you’re going to be more likely to really challenge and push. Whereas if you’re at a company where it’s just seeing the hiring manager makes the decisions, in many cases, it’s a check the block exercise. And a lot of times people have this kind of, even if it’s not spoken, I’m not going to challenge your hire as long as you don’t challenge mine. I think the only way to get away from that is having these hiring decisions that are owned by a collective team. People from different functions, backgrounds, and ways of thinking.
One of the coolest experiences I had early in my career was I had direct reports interviewing me. Which historically I’d only had my boss and maybe people that were senior, or in some cases, peers, but having direct reports also interview the perspective candidate. I think you can gain a lot of value out of that, because at the end of the day, there’s even a company that thinks more like a servant leadership. You want that leader to be able to connect with those frontline workers and people that are going to report into them. And so that’s something I’ve tried to do as well. Some people don’t like it. Some people come to an interview and feel like it seems odd or different, but I find there to be a lot of value in that you got to have a healthy culture that in my opinion, to be able to pull that off and make sure that it works well.
(30:33) We wanted to ask about some major challenges that you faced, and how you went about approaching it and solving that kind of challenge, particularly lessons learned, and how you've been able to improve your problem-solving abilities because of it.
I’d say probably the biggest challenge. One that I’m most proud of, and feel like it was a tough challenge and I felt like the team ended up executing well, and we created something really great out of it. I did work for a company, at one point where they were having rampant out of stock issues and customer service issues. When I started digging into the problem itself, one of the things that I tried to do was take the emotion out of it because I’ve learned, at least in my career there, a lot of times when a new leader comes in, they may find a problem and the easy button is to hit the reorg button. Okay. We’re going to reorg, we’re going to split teams up. We’re going to take accountability. And while sometimes that is a necessary action, until you really understand the problem deeply and understand all of your different options and then get feedback from stakeholders, in my opinion, you’re not going to be successful if you don’t take that path.
I had a situation where I uncovered a problem, was able to socialize and get people to recognize and accept that it was a problem. And did that through benchmarking. So being able to take output metrics, and show that the company’s performance was well below its peers. And industry base. And that helped diffuse and neutralize the number of parties that normally would have gotten really upset and excited about it. So we just said, Hey, let’s step back blank, canvas exercise. Here’s the problem. Here’s the data that supports. It helps us accept that it indeed is true, that it is a problem. And then start to work together with stakeholders. Now that takes longer. So yeah, it would’ve been easy to go in and say, we’re going to reorganize and we’re going to get moving and here’s goals and objectives. So that would have taken a month. This particular problem took a year to get everybody on the same page. It ultimately resulted in a major, major reorganization. It ultimately resulted in major capital investment, and a whole bunch of IT initiatives. And it was very successful within a year of going down this path and changing the direction. We immediately started seeing results, but I’ll tell you, and I think the point of this is you’ve got to invest time on the front end. To save time on the back end, it’d be more productive. And sometimes people either don’t have the bandwidth or the ability. And I think that’s why it’s important.
Anyone, whether you’re coming out of college or you’re a seasoned professional, you really need to understand what problems the company is hiring you to solve. And you really need to make sure that you’ve got the backing and that people are realistic on timelines to get it done. And so, I’ve typically tried to really do that and dig deep. I think the times in my career where I’ve probably been less satisfied are the times where I didn’t have that executive support to make those decisions. And, looking back on it, had I spent more time and made sure really the people’s commitment were there and it was going to be backed up with a necessary investment, different decisions could have been made. I find that particular situation could be replicated across every company I’ve been at.
I remember another time, when I was with another company where procurement went out and found an alternate supply base and they forgot to look at the logistics infrastructure. We found out we had a really low cost of manufacturing, but virtually no way to get the product out of the country. No one on the
procurement team went out with the intent to develop a solution that was sub-optimized, they just didn’t understand.
And so, I think going back to being educated and having a good stakeholder base, you got to educate people and take the emotion out with facts. I think facts are friendly and emotion kills. And so my goal always is to get the emotion out of it. And sometimes it takes extra time to get those facts though. Cause you’ve got to dig deep and make sure the data is accurate and that you can present it in a manner that’s truthful and doesn’t have a bias or an underlying condition.
(34:20) Have you ever had a big, uh, oh moment, that was a big challenge to you, something that you ended up having to take up the line and be the one who gets to let somebody know that it's a big challenge that you're going to get to address.
All the time. And I would say, I think a good leader is going to have the backbone to know when to fight those battles and when to step up and raise their hand. There have been times in my life where the team has come to me and said, Hey, this is a huge problem. We’re not going to be able to overcome it. And there are times when I’ve said no, look, we’ve got to find solutions around it. We don’t have time to go back and reset the strategy. We’ve got to get it done. And we’ve got to put our heads together. And even if we’re not perfect, let’s deliver 98% on it. 97%. It’s better than not starting at all.
I’ve had some very uncomfortable conversations at times, where the CEO or someone very high in the company wants an outcome delivered. But the data I’m looking at tells me it can’t be done without a certain investment or the technology doesn’t exist today. And so, as leaders, you have to be responsible and know when you’ve got to step up and really kind of say, Hold on a second. Let’s reset expectations. And here’s why versus just being the good soldier.
I think you’ve got to distinguish those times where you just got to get it done and get creative and find ways to make it happen versus times to take a time out and say, no, hold on a second, let’s reset expectations. Because at the end of the day, just simply saying, yeah, we’re going to get it done. And hope is the only plan is irresponsible. A good senior executive is gonna want to know those cases where, Hey, this may not get done. And let’s really talk about the risks around it.
(35:55) The floor is yours to share the best supply chain career advice you've received that helped you boost your career.
Yeah, thank you. A couple of things. One, the customer’s always right. I think Sam Walton talked a lot about that when he was alive. But, I think one of the biggest pieces is starting with the customer. Whether you learn it in Six Sigma or lean or any other type of philosophy out there, if you’re not really thinking about what your customer wants and you’re not trying to deliver on what your customer wants, you can have all the activity in the world, you could be spending all kinds of money on your supply chain capabilities, but if it’s not delivering value, you just
wasted a lot of time and you upset the customer. So, I know that sounds basic, but, I think it’s really call to action to all of us in supply chain and to always take a pause, reach out to our business partners and let’s interact with the customer. Where we can. I always find that you’re never going to go wrong taking time to listen to your customer, making sure that you understand what he or she expects.
Another one that was meaningful for me as a leader. I sat down with my boss one day and he said, and we were going through all my initiatives for the year. And he said, wow, you’ve got some great initiatives. He said, how many initiatives do you have teed up? And I think I got to number 25 and he stopped me and he laughed and he said, look, I admire that you want to make things happen and that you’re passionate, but you’re going to kill your team. You’re going to run your team into the ground if you don’t do a better job of prioritizing. And the analogy he used was life is a marathon and you don’t win it running a sprinter’s space. And so, you’ve really got to make sure that you understand your team’s bandwidth. You got to make sure you’re prioritizing those A items that have to get done to drive the business. And then if there’s any extra bandwidth than you can get to the other items. Trying to put 25 initiatives on people is not going to be meaningful and you’ve got to start to stagger things out in a more strategic manner. That has really helped me take pause. Not that I’m perfect, but when I’m goal setting with the team, there’s no more than three or four goals for the year. And those are tied to specific outcome metrics that we can track and there’s a target against those. I think that’s incredibly important.
And then finally, I think the last piece is we can learn from everyone. I learned stuff all the time from entry-level hires that are coming straight out of undergrad or grad school. There are things that I learned from them. And so, I think as leaders, especially leaders that are seasoned, we gotta make sure that we’re constantly working with people throughout the organization and learning, everywhere we can. And just because someone maybe doesn’t have any industry experience doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them. And so, having the humility to seek out new ideas, fresh ideas, and I’m finding that I learned an incredible amount from people that have very little industry experience, but they’ve got great ideas, ways of thinking about things that maybe I don’t. And so, I think as leaders, having the humility and creating forums where we’re bringing people in and making sure that we’re actively seeking input from all levels in the organization.
And that just because somebody doesn’t have 10 or 20 years of experience doesn’t mean they can’t be on a big initiative, a key initiative. Now I’ve had that early in my career where I got put on the key initiative where I was least qualified had the least amount of experience. And in some cases, was able to deliver a nice outcome because I may have thought about it a little differently. And didn’t think in terms of the constraints that someone had been looking at for the past 20 years.