Podcast: Head of Operations for Clarity Cosmetics Inc. – James Jacobe
Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple
In This Episode:
We are joined by James Jacobe, Head of Operations at Clarity Cosmetics. James speaks with us about his career-long focus on how to make operations work better through innovative, standardized processes, quite often applying technology. His very different career path initially skipped a college degree to focus on working in grocery distribution. When his strong potential was recognized, he was asked to get degrees to be able to advance. He talks with us about having those people in your career that help you move up, being a change agent, constantly communicating, and giving team members every chance to excel. He emphasizes the need for a life and career plan that is carefully crafted and maintained.
James Jacobe’s Bio:
(01:43) How did you get started on your supply chain career journey? What were some of your greatest influences?
How I got started, was the opportunity in the late nineties of being part of a grocery retail company that was just getting started into supply chain. The organization that I worked for at that time was a grocery retailer that was looking at it from the distribution logistics side, rather than the supply side, the merchandising, the marketing side. And they wanted to build a program really to get just in time. They brought in some folks from Alix Partners. They brought in some folks from McKinsey. They brought in some folks from Cap Gemini. And they needed people to work with them to really understand and be part of their newly developed supply chain. So, I went in as a supply chain analyst. I went from a director of a building, to a supply chain analyst. And the reason why I made that step was I had worked there for about 16 years at the time. Throughout my 16 years, I saw things every day, how can we make things better? Not only for the people, but how can we make things better for the processes? How can we make things better for the technologies? Luckily, I had been involved in a few implementations, warehouse management system implementations, labor management system implementations. I also was involved in creating cost benefit analysis, being involved in how to look at ROI.
At the same time, ABC was talked about, activity-based costing. So, all these things were happening. And here I was running a warehouse with 436 Teamsters. And I wanted something different. And throughout those years I saw different things. How could I make things better? But I never had an opportunity because I was never in a position only because I was an operations person, but I never had the ear of those other people. So, I said, okay, I’ll take a little decrease in my salary. I went back in and I learned how to be a supply chain analyst. Within a year, I was running supply chain management. Within two years, I had been part of organization creating a brand new 460,000 square foot ammonia, refrigerated perishable facility. And they made me the project manager. I was involved with everyone from the top on down. I’d meet on a weekly basis with the executive committee because I had 60 million of their dollars. At same time, at six o’clock in the morning, I was on a site talking to carpenters, because we had union and non-union onsite.
It was really interesting. And building a building at the same time. They’ve made me project manager of re-engineering of a million square foot, grocery facility. Back in those days, we had sit-down forks. One of the major things was how do we go from a sit-down forks to a standup. How do we decrease the amount of aisles from an 11 or 12 foot aisle down to a nine foot aisle, how many more aisles can we get in a facility? How much more product can we get in the facility to utilize it? We had huge amounts of outside stuff. We just didn’t have enough storage space. So, we were building that supply chain at the same time we were building new facilities.
It gave me a great opportunity to get involved in the supply chain. And I learned more and more. We went from a supply to a demand base and it was huge in that where we started to see how the coordination between the merchandisers, the purchasers, the replenishment folks, and what they were doing with folks versus really looking at how much utilization and space in a facility. And why would you buy 10 truckloads of cereal, if it was going to sit for six months. You throw in the activity-based costing at that time. And that really made it interesting.
That was my introduction really into supply chain. But distribution logistics, which is another channel of the supply chain. I started out that way, throwing cases in a warehouse and then built myself up throughout that period.
(06:16) Was there an individual or two that noticed something early on that helped you get that first more administrative kind of position, something where you could have a little bit more responsibility?
At that time, it’s really interesting that you say that, we had a new SVP that came in from another grocery chain from the west coast. He came into the organization and he was part of all this change. He had done the same things previously at another organization where we were coming in and building a new facility or re-engineering facilities or looking at the supply chain from a different standpoint. He had a boss who was my boss in distribution at that time and he asked me to go up for a position. I’m going to give you a test and I’m going to call you on a Friday afternoon, four o’clock. And you’re going to have a weekend to make a presentation to me. And I’ll never forget it. And he did the same thing with who my competitor was and I had no idea what I was going to do. He called me up at four o’clock and gave me a case. And I was like, oh my God, I learned PowerPoint that weekend. I never knew how to do PowerPoint or did anything with that built didn’t sleep. I built this whole program. I started to learn how to cost benefit and do analysis and everything so I can make this recommendation that he’d given me. So, I went in there on Monday and gave him the recommendation and my competitor had said the dog ate his presentation. So, it was that individual saw something in me that gave me the capability.
And then that same individual said to me, you know, you’ve reached this plateau. Cause you have to remember, I hadn’t graduated from college at this time, so I had hit that kind of director level. And where was I going to go? What was I going to do? And this individual pulled me aside and said, Hey, you need to go back to school. I was 51 credits from getting a degree. I’ve been working in 17 years, had built myself from a selector in a warehouse where I was throwing cases all the way up to running a building. And I hit a wall. And what was I going to do? I was getting involved in supply chain and he said to me, look, you have to do this. You have to go get the degree. And I said, oh my God, I got a three and a five-year-old and I got to go back and get a degree. Are you kidding? I’m running a building with 400 people, do I really have to do that? And he said, yes, you have to do that. At that same time, an international grocery food chain was thinking about taking us over. And it was very, very important at that time to really have that degree from an international, a societal aspect, they looked at you
differently. Even though you could have been smarter, could have been more intelligent, that piece of paper made a huge difference. So I went back and in 17 months I got my degree. And then he pulled me aside and he told me that he would send me for my MBA. He would pay that $45,000 and send me to get my MBA. And, I was like, I just finished my degree. Wait a minute. Well, during that period of time I was getting my degree is when they made me the project manager for that $60 million project. And so here I was having to make a decision. I’m running a $60 million project and talking to the executive team, I’m talking to the carpenters, I’m talking to the project managers. I had an electrical engineer on one side and a civil engineer on the other side. I’m doing all that. And he wants me to go get an MBA. So, I went to my family and I said, family, what do you think? My wife said, do what you have to do. I couldn’t have done it without my wife. I went back and got my MBA and I did it on Saturdays for three years. At night I was with my teams and then on Saturday I was going to school for three years. And it was the best thing I ever did. He gave me the best information and knowledge that it was absolutely took me into a different mindset, and looking at things totally differently. And you have to understand in those first 16 to 18 years, I was exposed to different things. I started to see different because when you grow up in an organization, you only know what they do and it’s their way.
My continuous improvement and my learning here is that one individual who saw something in me, pulled me aside and kind of pushed me. To this day, I still say to myself, I’d still be running a building. And that building would probably be closed because they went to a third party ultimately, and the union is gone. Someone saw something in me and that individual who became my mentor and my sponsor, made a huge difference in my life.
(11:11) I understand you're got a startup going on in the cosmetic space, we'd love to learn how that might be different in terms of comparison and contrast with what you've been doing.
Throughout my career, I called myself the change agent. I was the guy when people had problems, whether it be building a building or whether implementing a system or when financial calculations were wrong. I was the change agent. I always saw things and I said to myself, if you do it right from the beginning, it will make a huge difference where you don’t have to come back and fix it. So, I always wanted that opportunity to start with a brand-new startup, all of the things that I’ve learned, and I’m a true believer in people, process and systems. I’m a true believer in consistency, accountability, and the decision to do right things. A lot of times that third one is where a C-suite folks or presidents of organizations, they don’t do the right things. They do things right, but they don’t do the right things. And sometimes it’s about common sense.
I worked for basically five different organizations in five different industries. What I learned about and truly didn’t understand when I was in the grocery business was culture of an organization and how people have to fit a culture. And people have to be willing to understand that if they take care of the organization, the
organization will take care of them. It’s a one-on-one across the board. People in an organization and without the organization, you can’t take care of the people. And without the people, you can’t take care of the organization.
Everyone wants a high performer, right? Need A, B and C. A about 18% of every organization’s high performers, 55% B, what I like to call the fence walkers. And then you have your 20% on the bottom, who are your C, they’re the ones who spread the bad stuff, go all the way through. So, I’m always looking for a B individual who I can bring to an A. To that high performer, whether it be training, education, knowledge, how can I take them up. Two other things I’m looking for is passion and energy. You can’t teach passion and you can’t teach energy. I can teach a lot of things. I can teach a lot of skill sets, but if the person doesn’t want to continuously improve and they’re very satisfied with what they have, I can’t have it, especially in a new startup. I need people who want to come in and can wear multiple hats, but also understand what the future entails is they’re going to become a subject matter expert and they’re going to be satisfied with that, to take it to the next level. So, I’m always looking for those high B performers that I can take to an A. Most of the time, those people have a lot of background and experience. They just need a leader who cares about them and who really wants to take that time and effort to learn who they are.
I go back to what you asked me, that person, my sponsor and mentor pulled me in the office, and he said, where do you want to be in five years? I said, I don’t know. I just want to do hard work. And you recognize me for the hard work. It doesn’t work that way. I want those people who know their next step and they’ve done the outline in their career. That says I’m going here and this is how I’m going to get there. Whether I have to educate myself more or whether I have to train more or if I have to get certified and they know that’s what I want to do and how I’m going to get there, that’s what I’m looking for. So that kind of goes back to that passion and energy.
Not a lot of people have that. I’m looking for someone who’s going to come in and say, okay, James, I want your job. Because that same gentleman who called me in and asked me about five years, called me back six months later. And I walked in and said, I want your job. And so he understood, that I took what he was saying to heart. In that I could better myself, better my family, and better the organization by going out and doing those other things.
(15:21) I hear that a lot from our clients as we're recruiting candidates. They want folks that are interested in a career and not just a job. Sometimes it's hard to evaluate and interview where people have their guard up. How do you draw that out? How do you vet it, assess it and what would you recommend to candidates?
I go back to that story of that supervisor pulled me aside and then sent me something on Friday and said, here, it’s up to you, you have to learn it by Monday. I would come up with something, whether it be a case study or something else and see if they’re truly interested in doing the amount of work that it takes to learn something to better themselves. Because in this day and age,
especially in corporate structures, it’s about who you know, and not what you know. You need to have both, honestly, you need to have the capability of turning that passion and that energy on, and you truly love what you want to do.
At the same time, you need to have the political savvy to be able to build relationships with certain people and understand that you need to learn to be a leader who manages the people to manage the business. So, give them a test, do something with them, not your normal test.
The other thing that I would say is that in this day and age with human assessment, you have multiple tools that give you the capability. And you can say ahead of time here, step one, take this. Some of those tests, 80 to 90%, correct. You’re always going to have that mixed level, that problem where that 10% is not the right person. How do you limit the capabilities of someone finding a way into your system? There are multiple tools in today’s world that gives you the capability.
(17:12) You get somebody in the door and you have some of those tools to understand what they're like. What if they're there on the job for that first year or the first couple of years, what have you learned over time about how to properly and timely evaluate once they're already in?
Two things. First of all, I never terminate anybody. They terminate themselves. I give them every opportunity in the world, whether to train, to teach and to coach them. Also, I give them every opportunity to educate them if they want to. If they don’t, then you have to do something and move them out of the organization. They weren’t the right selection. And then you have to learn from that experience.
What I do is 30, 60, 90-day reviews. I also believe in having daily huddles, weekly huddles, weekly goals. They really have to be able to complete things and get things done. At the same time, they have to have the capabilities of having the relationships with their partners within the organization. It’s too important, especially from a project team or a team aspect. You have to do that. So, if they can’t fit within that, And they can’t continue to continuously improve themselves, which will continuously improve the organization. I give them every opportunity. I coach them. I teach them, I take an interest in them. But some people just don’t want that. And maybe that’s not the right person for the organization.
The second thing is I hire for the position. I don’t hire for the person. A lot of these organizations have people who are not competent enough, not educated enough, not understanding, but they have a relationship in an organization and so they want to bump them up. To me, it’s not about the person, I take the person out. I may love the person. A position has job descriptions. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And if that individual can’t be the number one selection on the base of that job description, then they’re not the right person. Too many times in this world we hire because we want to fill a role because we want to throw a body at it. It’s not the right thing. Ultimately it costs you money, time, effort. If people really understood what six months of training takes, they wouldn’t take it lightly.
I tell every person to go back and read the HBR article called managing your
boss. It was originally done in like 1999, redone 2003. And what that states is, everybody’s willing to dive on the sword for each other. The leaders are willing to dive on the sword. The middle management are willing to dive on the sword. And everybody has to take care of each other. And how you do that is through communication. Always communicate, always communicate, always. And that goes back to daily huddles. And then that goes back to weekly meetings with my peers and weekly meetings with the people who are reporting into me.
(20:37) We talked quite a bit about evaluating team members and new hires. Externally, you've had to seek out new suppliers and you talked about that earlier, do you take a similar approach or is it different?
One of the major things that I look for, let’s talk about 3PLs first. First of all, they have to have the ability to let me talk to the operations. And the reason why that is, is because of my background and my experience. I’m not your normal person coming to a 3PL that says here, take it all. And then, just call me when something goes wrong. That’s not me because I know every aspect of a distribution, logistics, transportation, and supply chain aspects. You can’t do that with me. So, when you put an account manager in between me and the operations folks, and that account manager does not have any authority, it’s a bad fit, really bad fit. What’s a good fit is that I have a direct line to the operations folks. Give you a perfect example, last night, my 3PL was behind because they got overwhelmed over the weekend. And so last night they were down by 70, 80 orders that go back all the way back to last Thursday.
And, they weren’t doing it by FIFO. They were just cherry picking the easy orders. They didn’t pick the harder orders. And so, all of a sudden, I got 70 orders on a Monday or Tuesday that I shouldn’t have. But I couldn’t talk to the operations folks and went to my account manager. And my account manager said, I talked to the operations folks. Well, it didn’t work. They didn’t listen to him. They just did whatever they wanted. They finished everything. But then that doesn’t help me with my customers and my clients. And when you have someone in between them, who’s communicating for you. They don’t feel any pain and they don’t care.
The second thing is that you have good SOP standard operating procedures, fully documented all the way down through it. You need KPIs and benchmarks. You’ve got to have key performance indicators. Then you got to have benchmarks. And as I’m negotiating another third-party agreement right now, you have to have a deterrent in there. If they don’t meet this, they lose 2%. They give me a 2% discount or a 5% discount or something because they have to have skin in the game. They have to feel the pain that I feel.
One last thing that is really, really big is what are we looking like from a sustainability standpoint? Are they recycling cardboard in their facilities? Are they even looking at sustainability? Because we are an organization that truly, truly believes in sustainability. And that goes all the way across from where we’re buying our components or cosmetics or health and beauty care from the bottle all the way up to the filler, to the cap provider, then to transportation here and in the
US. And then again, how do I measure those sources on sustainability?
(23:35) When you took your second shot at the undergraduate, if you could go back and talk to that person and give them some advice, what would it have been
A couple of things. First thing, like I told both my children go get your degree right away. Finish it. Don’t be like me. I saw an opportunity back in the early eighties, became a Teamster, I was making more money than a person coming out of college. However, that levels off, and you don’t go any higher. And if it’s not in supply chain, you still have something from a degree standpoint to take it to the next level. If you want to go and get your MBA, or you want to go into a masters of supply chain, that’s what I would say.
The other thing is I would take every opportunity to learn. If I hadn’t taken every opportunity to learn about everything that I could and continuously improve the organization and continuously improve myself, I would have never achieved what I have achieved.
The other thing that I would say is I taught at University of Maryland global campus before I started teaching at Georgetown. And those are all people who are like me, they stopped, didn’t get their degree coming right out of college. They went and took care of their family. They did something different. They came back. And for me to understand what positions they were in, gave me a lot of capability as a adjunct professor to work with them as much as possible and see things when they started falling behind, why were they falling behind? How can I help them?
So, what I would tell going all the way back get your degree first, second thing is it’s just like writing a paper, do an outline of your life, do an outline and do it six months, 12 months, 18 months, three years, build your own outline. Like you would write a paper. Do the same thing, take it one step further. And it’s an outline of your career path and set yourself goals and then set yourself up to say, how am I going to get there, project manage your own career, because not everyone’s going to have that person who recognizes how good they are. And they have to do it. Bank on yourself. Create that career for yourself, create that knowledge base for yourself. And people will recognize it.
And one last thing, I would say, ask for help. People want to help you. The whole reason I’m teaching is so that I can help people. They don’t have to go through what I went through. All they had to do was ask for the help, because most of the time, people are willing to help you. If you ask for it, set the ego aside. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know, you don’t know, ask them now. That’s important. That’s what I would say.
(26:29) The second is being able to admit and deal with mistakes and things that go wrong as part of the career. Do you have some advice in that direction?
I would be willing to say that I learned how to admit when I made a mistake and at the same time, admit the mistake and take the responsibility for that mistake.
When the people who I led made a mistake, not if it was more one time or not, if it was something else, but, take care of that and be the responsible leader that you are to admit when you make a mistake. Not to drag on, but I’ve been in those C-suite meetings where a leader won’t admit that they made a mistake or they planned something wrong or they did something wrong and the organization is affected and the people are. And so if they had made that decision to say, I made a mistake, it would have stopped right there rather than continuing down a different path that hurts the people and hurt the organization. You should be in a C-suite when you say, look, I made a mistake. But I’m not going to do it again. And it’s going to be better for the organization rather than continuing down the path, the wrong path, and cost the organization that much more money.