Podcast: A Career In The World of Returns – with Returns and Remarketing Leader for HP, Julie Ryan

By Published On: March 28, 2022

Hosts: Chris Gaffney and Mike Ogle

In This Episode:

We speak with Julie Ryan, who manages North American Returns and Remarketing for HP. Julie shares her supply chain career journey and her experiences learning from leaders with integrity and a vision, but who know how to step away and enable a team to do their work. She highly valued her opportunities to work in a variety of areas throughout the returns world, providing a varied background that helped her see the bigger picture. Julie also explains the value of working with a variety of outsourcing partners and how those relationships are best managed. She is a strong believer in mentoring, plus constantly learning from others and challenging yourself to grow.

Who is Julie Ryan?

Julie has developed a unique set of experiences and competencies in reverse supply chain areas, including:
  • Strategy and  Business Planning
  • Returns
  • Remanufacturing and Warehouse Operations
  • Partner Management
  • Quality, Logistics, and Remarketing
  • Order Management
  • Supply Chain Solutions
  • Project Management and Program Management
  • Incubation Projects.
She has experience leading and managing diverse teams and is a strong collaborator with stakeholders and cross-functional teams. Julie works with mid-level managers and senior executives to define and execute strategic initiatives and priorities. She is also skilled at formulating innovative solutions to minimize cost and solve challenges.

Mike Ogle: [00:01:31] Julie, we’re happy to have you with us today. Welcome.  

Julie Ryan: [00:01:34] Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Mike Ogle: [00:01:37] How did you get started in supply chain? What were some of your greatest influences that got you started and helped you along the way?  

Julie Ryan: [00:01:44] Early in my career, I was in sales, operations, and customer support roles with a strong interface with supply chain on topics, around supplies, meeting demand. But my career actually started in supply chain in the reverse space over 20 years ago. Was working for Compaq at the time. And I was in a project manager role. Was asked to lead a project to consolidate the end-to-end returns that were in three facilities across Northwest Houston.  Once the business was in one site, I established a governance process for metrics and accountability, defined and created a new position. And from the work I did on the project, I was very interested in the space. So, I interviewed got the role and have never left. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:02:36] I’m going to follow up on Mike’s question, if you think about that journey, are there certain people or experiences that are big influences for you as you’ve gone on that supply chain journey that really stand out? 

Julie Ryan: [00:02:51] One of the things I have had the opportunity is to work side by side and along with leaders who have had really strong careers in supply chain and the knowledge, and just picking up on what they’ve done and their best practices and leveraging that has been one of the things that has really benefited me. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:03:12] If you think about one of those people, what’s most memorable that helps you say this is the kind of influence I want to make sure I provide people I come in contact with?  

Julie Ryan: [00:03:24] A lot of it, it’s not a specific person, but it’s a leader who has integrity and has a vision for our goal, a strategy, give some ideas of execution and then steps away and lets me and then therefore the team, execute, put the process in place and manage the business. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:03:51] Julie, obviously with the journey that you’ve had, you’ve taken a number of steps. Can you talk about some of the key positions that you’ve had over your career? And perhaps a couple of lessons that you learned during transitions, as you moved from one role to another?  

Julie Ryan: [00:04:09] I have held many different positions within the reverse supply chain from planning and strategy, remarketing and operations. And now I lead the end-to-end team. Which begins with the forecasting and all the way down to selling the product and dispositioning it. Having the opportunity to directly learn the intricacies of each major process area is something I’m grateful for because it not only provided me an understanding and exposure in each area, but it’s given me the insights on how each area impacts and aligns with the entire process. Connecting the dots of the whole end to end reverse over my career, it’s been very rewarding.

Chris Gaffney: [00:04:54] I’m going to ask you a quick follow-up on that, because it seems to me from my experience that that level of depth requires some patience in role. And sometimes we run into people who really want to be in a hurry from their career. When you think about lessons like that, how did you balance your desire to advance versus your recognition that was something to be learned at each step along the way.  

Julie Ryan: [00:05:20] I have had the mindset of, I know the career path I want to do, and it’s more about the contributions and the impact I can make to the company versus chasing a title. And that’s one of the things HP does a really good job. We invest in the talent. We invest in the training and the development of the people. And therefore, we want people to stay in positions instead of hopping back and forth and back and forth. Your day is different every day. It takes a while to really learn the intricacies to influence and shape change, and accomplishments and contributions.  

Chris Gaffney: [00:05:57] My philosophy has always been, when you get into a role, you’ve got some things to learn and then you get to a steady state where you can really deliver against the role. And perhaps in your last period of time, you can really add value, improve the process. So there’s a natural progression there and it sounds like you’re in the same camp.  

Julie Ryan: [00:06:15] Yes. Agreed. 

Mike Ogle: [00:06:18] With the breadth of experience that you’ve been able to have across reverse logistics, what is truly different about the world of reverse logistics, as opposed to other areas of logistics or supply chain and what kinds of individual and team skills do you think matter the most?  

Julie Ryan: [00:06:34] At a high level, reverse starts with a customer. And the partner’s request to return a product. If you think of manufacturing, they’ve got one part number that’s on an assembly line that they’re running. And at the end for reverse it’s remarketing the product into the secondary market. Just like supply chain, hands it off to sales to sell the manufactured product. So not a lot of difference. It’s just backwards where it starts with the product. And I’m not sure there are unique skills to manage reverse, but I can say it’s important for someone to not only have a passion for the customer, but someone who can identify and manage processes that drive optimal value recovery from the return and someone who’s constantly looking to maximize, reuse, recycle, and contribute to sustainability.  

Chris Gaffney: [00:07:29] That’s excellent. The essence of your career, it feels like are about collaboration, partnership, and relationships. If you look outside of the four walls of HP, in your mind, what are the keys to relationship success as you’ve worked with customers, other suppliers, service providers to really get things done through a network of HP resources and other players?  

Julie Ryan: [00:07:56] That’s a really good question because all of our reverse operations are outsourced with proven industry leader partners. When I work with a supplier, we’re looking at comprehensive capabilities. We’re looking that they are a quality and a sustainability focused company. They have integrity and transparency. Because we’re not at their sites. They’re managing the business on our behalf. Our partner’s strengths are not only meeting the expected service level agreements, their metrics, but also an adding value to our processes. We look for them to continuously drive improvement initiatives. And they’re the eyes at HP for the site. So, offering insights on issues and escalations has been something we’ve been able to have a lot of success with our suppliers. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:08:55] A quick follow up there in terms of enabling success for suppliers. It’s clear you have to create expectations with them, both at the beginning of the relationship during the relationship. But as you talk to your HP team, how do you talk to them about here’s our role in enabling our suppliers to really succeed on our behalf? What are the kinds of things that really make the difference there in that partner relationship? 

Julie Ryan: [00:09:19] My team, we have the mindset is, our partners, this is their core capabilities. It’s not ours. That’s why we have outsourced the business to them. So, it’s not our place to micromanage them. Tell them, for example, in the remanufacturing, how many units they need to log in and start and pre-test every day. Our role is to enable them to succeed by giving them visibility and the tools that they need for the HP information. Be it BOMs, diagnostics, order data, customer data, enable that, and then oversee from an audit perspective, their work at a high level. Ensuring invoices are accurate. They’re meeting the quality standards that we want. It’s more of a partner management support than an execution oversight. 

Mike Ogle: [00:10:13] With all the information across business boundaries, the whole digital process, conversion and transformation had to be a little bit of an adventure. Were there any interesting lessons over time that you noticed in that area?  

Julie Ryan: [00:10:28] The word is transforming. We were moving from pulling data out of our partners shop floor, to putting out an Excel file and pivot tabling the results to dashboards, power BI dashboards, convergence. We have daily forums, weekly forums, monthly, and the cadence is different on what data we look at. But one of the other pieces is a lot of our work is through B2B EDI interchange. When the returns get approved, we do an advanced ship notification to the partners so they know what’s coming to them. 

Mike Ogle: [00:11:36] With all the different areas that you’ve been in, as you move from role to role, there are many things that you needed to be able to learn and try to understand about the industry and trends that are going on. What do you do as far as being able to keep up with the changes yourself and advise others of how to keep track of changes in the reverse logistics world?  

Julie Ryan: [00:11:59] Constant innovation and continuous improvement is critical in any organization and operation, but one of the best ways to do that is to share best practices amongst colleagues, amongst the industry, and actually RLA, reverse logistics association, which I’m a part of, it enables that throughout the year with webcast and conferences. In reverse logistics, there’s not really a secret sauce, but it’s more important to stay connected with top technology and operational process trends and encourage constant change in your organization. Within my HP team, as well as with our suppliers and partners. 

Mike Ogle: [00:12:39] Could you talk a little bit about how valuable those kinds of association involvement activities really end up being to you in your own personal development?  

Julie Ryan: [00:12:50] I can answer it in twofold because you threw in the personal development, but the first one is just getting the insights from challenges, it’s important to hear other facets of industries, retail, et cetera. But then how it shapes me is it just helps me plant the seeds to be innovative and think of different ways I can approach and apply those concepts, those innovations, and strategically put them into my organization.  

Chris Gaffney: [00:13:23] Julie, let’s continue on that development theme. You’ve learned from leaders, you’ve obviously guided teams, but a key element of development is the whole space of mentoring. What are your experiences being on both sides of a mentoring relationship through your career and benefits from your perspective and advice to others.  

Julie Ryan: [00:13:45] What has always been important to me is having the opportunity to mentor others, either at being in a formal setting or informal while working together. And it’s sharing my experiences, which includes both successes and failures. I’m a strong supporter in everyone having a mentor, mentee and have them myself. I think it’s important for me to have someone who can offer candid feedback and share ideas to how to approach situations. It’s also good to have someone in a leadership role as a mentor to help provide guidance on developing and navigating my career path. And therefore, I share that with others. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:14:30] You mentioned other leaders. Let’s talk about leadership and my sense, having only spent a little bit time in the reverse logistics spaces, it’s as critical or more critical because in many cases, your demand is so unpredictable. But if you think about the great leaders that you have worked for and how you have impacted individuals and teams through your leadership, are there some elements there or themes that you would advocate when you talk to others about what it means to lead well and be well led?

Julie Ryan: [00:15:03] Yes, I’ve always had an and valued and I’ve tried to emulate a leader who’s transparent, who shares strategy and ideas and allows the individuals on the team develop the processes that manages the day to day execution. So not a leader who is a micromanager, but a visionary and someone who is thought provoking. I’m also someone who recognizes success. To support employees when there are failures, which should be encouraged. Take risks, have a leader who encourages people to take risks and accept that it’s okay to fail. I also believe it’s important for a leader to have a passion and a personal care for each team member. Then lastly, in our world, especially as we’ve now shifted working from home, it’s important for a leader to encourage and ensure a healthy work-life balance. And having someone that will put a pause. We’re in supply chain, we’re in execution. We live and breathe executing, but take a pause and intentionally recognize even the small wins, the extra effort. That’s really important rather than waiting at the end of a quarter or for an all employee meeting to shout out. It is impactful. 

Mike Ogle: [00:16:33] If you think about the students out there today, thinking about working in different areas of supply chain and getting started on their careers. What kind of advice do you have to students who are thinking about pursuing a career, specifically in reverse logistics, but, in general supply chain as well.  

Julie Ryan: [00:16:51] What people don’t realize is almost every industry, manufacturing, retail, service, medical, restaurants has an element of reverse in their operation. So, if a student has a passion to influence sustainability or value capture, I highly recommend them going into this field. I actually have several early career employees on my team and they often share how much they enjoy their roles. It allows them to have a direct influence on the results. It’s a smaller space. Within HP, they’re able to touch every product line. So, they’re not just a notebook planner, for example. And there’s a rich career path as I am a living testament of because there’s so many processes that make up the end to end reverse supply chain. 

Mike Ogle: [00:17:43] Have you had any interns, or students who have been part of any kind of role while they’re still in school, in your team?  

Julie Ryan: [00:17:51] We do, we actually have a rotating intern that supports our sales team. We not only offer them and ask them to pull in and come manage projects, but we give them exposure to multiple aspects, customer facing and support roles to give them exposure to reverse supply chain. And we’ve had success in converting them to full-time employment. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:18:20] So Julie, you’ve clearly been part of many teams through your experience and have also built teams. So, if you think about the whole space of the concept of a high performing team in terms of bringing in new people, developing, retaining them. What’s the difference in your mind between good and exceptional teams in doing that?  

Julie Ryan: [00:18:44] It starts from the individual to have a mindset, they’re a part of a team and the whole analogy is there’s no I in the word team, but I look for someone who is passionate for their work is driven to work with a team. And also, a critical thinker because reverse there, it’s not a predictable process. There’s something new each day. So, working with the teams, leverage each other strengths. Know what their strengths are and work as a team to solve a challenge, solve the problem, work in escalation, and not just feel like they’re on their own having to do everything. 

Mike Ogle: [00:19:30] Julie, are there any kinds of specific major challenges that you can think that you’ve faced during your career and the way that you ended up solving those challenges and the lessons that you learned from those experiences that improved your ability to solve problems?  

Julie Ryan: [00:19:48] Well, one of the things I love about my job is really each day is different. You could have an outlook calendar. But you’re going to get an email that is going to have you respond differently each day. So, it provides new challenges constantly. The one that comes to my mind is with the pandemic. We found ourselves in a situation where on the forward logistics, products were not able to be delivered to customers. The businesses were closed, they were working from home. The order was placed with the business address and the carriers were sending them back to our return center. We quickly identified that this was product the customer wanted, so developed a process to receive, work with the account teams to get the address the customer wanted the product to be shipped and redirected it right out of the return center. What we thought was going to be a short-term solution, ended up being a process that’s still active and in place today.  

Another challenge that we continue to support is quality and rework projects. They’re different and they surface differently with different expectations and different customers. But we always do what I call a post-mortem after each time to say, what did we do well, and what should we do differently? Or what should we not do again? And one, we literally just finished. It was a product plan for a TV network. We had to come up with a process to receive the product, manage the rework and deploy the units. Always challenging. And I’m really proud of the ability that we have to play and support quality issues or challenges with inventory and in our warehouses and accounts and taking lessons learned from each one to do it better next. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:21:42] I suspect you have received some career advice specific to supply chain that’s probably been particularly meaningful for you. Can you think of one or two examples of that as well for folks entering the field? What are pieces of advice that you offer and find to be very helpful for folks early in career? 

Julie Ryan: [00:22:05] Super straightforward and simple. But my best advice I have been given and I provide is have your goals in mind, but your contributions, your accomplishments, your ideas, your engagement in conversations and credibility will speak for you and pave the way for future opportunities. 

Mike Ogle: [00:22:27] Could you give us an idea about how you’ve seen reverse logistics growing and some of the new or recent complications or opportunities that you’re seeing in the industry that you could help our listeners understand it a little bit better. 

Julie Ryan: [00:22:45] The reverse is getting a lot more understanding, especially in the U S and Canada, where returns really are an aspect of doing business with a customer or doing business with a manufacturer. As margins get squeezed, costs, especially in the dynamics right now with the supply chain constraints, returns on your P and L matter. And so, a lot more people within companies, across industries are paying attention to that and making a deliberate, intentional investment, and either managing what comes back themselves, putting in an infrastructure like of team of mine, or partnering with, for example, as a manufacturer with our retailers, with our distributors, on how to best optimize those returns that are coming. Also, putting in work upfront to educate the customer to avoid the return. The more we can educate and put front of our customers, we’re learning, will minimize the returns that come back.  

Chris Gaffney: [00:23:58] Well, that’s great advice. I’m going to ask one more other unscripted question. Most industries have some element of reverse logistics, but some organizations play it at the professional level and others think they can do it at the amateur level. What does it take to go pro in reverse logistics? 

Julie Ryan: [00:24:20] I think companies have to understand their core competency and their core capabilities and not do everything. And that’s the beauty in reverse logistics is there are a lot of suppliers, partners and services that have that knowledge, the infrastructure, the software, the logistics, arms and strength to partner with companies. So, you don’t necessarily have to do it all yourself, but you need to understand and be aware of what is out there in the industry to help meet your problem statement or your mission statement. It’s really taking the time to map out what is reversed and what are the challenges impacting our business and our company.  

Mike Ogle: [00:25:07] And have you had any experience on the side where you’re the one doing the returning?  

Julie Ryan: [00:25:11] I actually have, and I have a passion for those, if I’m at a store and returning something. And I have a funny story, we ordered some furniture and ended up right after we ordered it, realizing it was the wrong size. And I did everything I could to try and stop the shipment from happening because I knew the cost involved and getting it to me. And they had a return allowance, so returning it back and I wasn’t successful and it actually hit my gut. It was tore me apart that I couldn’t avoid that return. 

Mike Ogle: [00:25:49] Julie, thank you for a great conversation and your insights about supply chain careers. 

Julie Ryan: [00:25:54] Appreciate it. I’m glad that I got to be able to talk to you all.