Inspiring Female Supply Chain Leaders

Kathy Wengel

Title: Worldwide Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, Johnson & Johnson Management Committee
Company: Johnson & Johnson
Volunteer Roles: Executive Sponsor J & J's Women in STEM2D (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing, and Design); Executive Sponsor, Women’s Leadership Inclusion Employee Resource Group

1. What is the best and worst decision you've ever made?

Best: A few years into my Johnson & Johnson career I was presented with the opportunity to move out of New Jersey, the place where I not only started my career, but grew up and attended college, to take a management position in Puerto Rico. While this move was a big change for me professionally and personally - moving away from my family and friends - today I look back and consider it to be one of the best decisions I ever made. After spending seven years in Puerto Rico, I then accepted another international role in Italy, where I was the General Manager for a major plant in our pharmaceutical business. That willingness to move changed not only my career but my life and holds a special place in my heart since Italy is where I met my husband, to whom I've been married for 15 years.

Taking this “risk” to move away from my home culture allowed me to diversify and later springboard my experiences professionally and personally. After Italy, I held roles with responsibilities across Europe and Asia, before eventually moving back to the U.S. That very first move opened the door to understand how different it is to lead across varying cultures and languages, and how to bring the best from each culture to achieve something better than any one group would on their own. I will carry these relationships and learnings throughout the rest of my career.

Worst: When I think back to some of the decisions that could have worked better, a specific theme emerges: waiting too long to make a change I knew in my gut needed to happen. Giving certain projects and initiatives, or certain leaders, "one last chance" when it was obvious they needed to stop are among the moments I'd like to do over. However, because of those moments, I find myself today making more critical and timely decisions to kick-start the changes that need to happen, when they need to happen. Once you've done your objective diligence, situations like this rarely "age well", and I've often found it was a relief to those involved that someone finally took a decision that was festering for too long.

2. Which female leader(s) inspire you and why?

My biggest inspiration throughout my childhood, early professional years, and even today always starts with the incredible women in earlier generations in my family - my mother and my grandmothers. Both of my grandmothers chose technical careers in an era (the 1920s/30s) when that was an extraordinarily rare thing. My mom similarly beautifully balanced a vibrant professional accounting career, times where she had jobs full-time in the workforce and times where she shifted her career to work from home on a more part-time schedule, so she could spend more time with my sister, brother and myself. In addition to having a working mother as a fantastic role model, both of my parents raised us to find what we love to do and build our careers around that. If we do that, the highs are higher, and the lows aren't as bad.

When I first came to J & J, I also had the opportunity to work in the organization of the first female VP of Operations J & J had ever had. It took me some time to realize how unusual it was, and she left a special legacy as a pioneer for women in our company's operations.

3. Why should women be interested in supply chain management?

Supply Chain is an amazing way to have a career that is impactful and directly connects you to the customers of whatever business you are in. It trains you to be an analytical thinker, and to drive a continuous improvement culture. The tools and approaches in supply chain are evolving so quickly, that it often opens new opportunities or new categories of roles that aren't necessarily mired in a legacy approach. This can help women to move more swiftly into exciting spaces that may have fewer longstanding barriers.

In my own industry, women make up to 90 percent of the healthcare decisions for their families. My company believes championing women in our global community will fuel the advancement of human health. That's one reason I find it very rewarding to inspire the next generation of female scientists, engineers and technologists to consider and pursue a career in supply chain. I have seen first-hand the positive impact having a diverse team can have on an organization, and the value females can bring to the world of supply chain and manufacturing.

Women bring perspective, experiences and capabilities to impact the ways in which we meet the most important people within our business - the patients, consumers and customers that rely on our products and services to live and thrive in their daily lives. Advances in technology means that supply chain is evolving constantly, with industry trends and technological capabilities impacting the way we manufacture and distribute our products. And women and girls today have such an opportunity to play a significant role in how we meet these industry challenges and truly create a difference for people around the world.

4. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the next generation of female leaders?

I don’t think the challenge for the next generation of female leaders is much different than the challenges for the next generation of male leaders. Those of us in healthcare see that patient, physician and consumer needs and preferences are constantly evolving, while technology continues to intersect the landscape, playing a stronger and more integrated role in our everyday lives.

The next generation's biggest challenge: the bar will only continue to rise. The speed and agility of supply chains will need to continue to evolve and companies will need to improve their performance. Digital will totally transform the way we work over the next decade. The healthcare industry, along with many others, are racing to be the first, fastest and most efficient when it comes to not only getting products and services to customers but personalizing the experience along the way.

So, what does this leave us with? Opportunity. The rising standards and speed at which things are evolving for supply chains across industries, bring challenges, but also immense opportunity. And this is something that every one of us at any career stage can capitalize on. For me, the opportunity to think across boundaries and lead a supply chain that is committed to setting a new standard in healthcare keeps me motivated and inspired every single day.

5. How has being connected to professional communities like CSCMP and AWESOME influenced your life?

When I look back at my 30 - year career I am reminded of the many great people I have met and the relationships I have built with my global teams, across our J & J business sectors and with my industry peers. Professional communities such as CSCMP and AWESOME provide us all with the opportunity to network with fellow supply chain leaders and, even more important, to understand how different leaders and organizations are attacking some of the same fundamental challenges. These organizations are also paving the way for the next generation of supply chain leaders, innovators and creators. And for me, the experiences and opportunities to share my story and hear the stories of my peers outside of J & J has further diversified my leadership style and my perspective on how to lead and inspire other leaders.

The intersection of CSCMP with AWESOME was the catalyst for the creation of AWESOME, and six years later, it is terrific to see the partnership and engagement growing every year. I express my personal thanks to everyone in both organizations for helping carry forward the goal of more diverse supply chain leaders.

Lillian A. Dukes

Title: President
Company: LAD Consulting
Volunteer Roles: Advisory Board Member for AWESOME and Vice President of Board for FEJ-USA

1.What are the best and worst decisions you've ever made?

Best: The best decision I ever made was to change my major in college from Mathematics to Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. A very wise Physics teacher told me it would expand my career options. She was right, and I am very grateful for that advice.

Worst: It's difficult to identify a worst decision. Many of the decisions I would put in this category are all situations that provided an opportunity to learn and reinvent myself. Honestly, I can't think of a situation to share in this category.

2.Which female leader(s) inspire you and why?

The female leaders who have most inspired me are those who have overcome what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles to be the first, or one of very few, to accomplish a particularly difficult goal. They are the ones who set an example for other women aspiring to achieve similar accomplishments. They found a way to rise above situations that could have silenced them, but they found their voices and they prevailed. The main thread in this tapestry of strong women was my mom who refused to let anyone tell me what I couldn't do and who challenged me to be the best I can be. That is the foundation of my inspiration.


3. Why should women be interested in supply chain management?

Supply chain management provides a never-ending opportunity to be challenged every day. For women who enjoy problem solving, improving systems, and developing leading edge strategies-supply chain is worth a look. I recently read a letter from a student who shared that she changed her major from engineering to supply chain after she experienced an internship in the field. As she put it: the pieces finally fit together. That's exactly the way I was introduced to supply chain. With an engineering background and experience I took a risk and tried something different. I loved it!

4. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the next generation of female leaders?

I think one of the biggest challenges facing the next generation is the same as it is today: finding effective mentors and sponsors who can help them navigate the professional networks. Mentors are crucial in identifying skills gaps and planning growth strategies. Sponsors, on the other hand, are people who have a seat at the table and are part of their organization's succession planning process. Both categories of people become more crucial the higher you progress through executive leadership ranks. In many companies, there are still only a few women in leadership roles. Many of the potential mentors and sponsors will be men; which was the case for me. However, professional organizations like AWESOME can provide opportunities for female supply chain executives to connect and share valuable career strategies.

5. How has being connected to professional communities like CSCMP and AWESOME influenced your life?

These organizations have provided a forum to learn, share best practices, and network with colleagues. Prior to getting involved with them, connecting with other supply chain executives was next to impossible. Through these organizations I have been able to gain access to relevant industry leading information as well as to develop relationships with other leaders. These communities also provide venues I can use for developing mentees and emerging leaders and so help pay it forward to the next generation.

Mary Long

Titles: Managing Director/former VP Logistics Network Planning/Board Member
Company: University of San Diego School of Business Supply Chain Management Institute, Domino's, #Hashmove
Volunteer Roles: Advisory Board, AWESOME; Advisory Board, ALAN

1. What is the best and worst decision you've ever made?

Best: Being open to taking on new opportunities, after research and reflection.

Worst: My worst decisions (intentional plural) all gave me opportunities to learn and grow. In hindsight, some were not as bad as I first thought. Unfortunately, many were still awful decisions, hence the emphasis on self-reflection!

2. Which female leader(s) inspire you and why?

I was fortunate to work with many great female leaders. At Pillsbury and General Mills, I had opportunities to work for female Directors, reporting into female supply chain VPs. Those were great formative experiences in leadership and collaboration. Bud LaLonde always said to start with the customer. I was encouraged to see the customer's point of view while also looking for an improved total delivered cost solution. Denise Morrison and Irene Britt at Campbell's were accessible and inspirational. They modeled how to tackle tough challenges with innovation and process improvement.

3. Why should women be interested in supply chain management?

It is a 6:1 ratio of jobs versus available talent for supply chain roles with a degree requirement. 90% of the decisions about sustainability are made in or influenced by supply chain. Supply Chain Manager is listed as #18 on the Top 50 Best Jobs in America report. Why would you not?

4. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the next generation of female leaders?

The future challenges apply to everyone. The pace of change has accelerated. The visibility and connectedness of operations will continue to put supply chains in the spotlight for innovations or disruptions. Don't let your highs get to high or your lows too low. I seriously recommend mindfulness meditation skills for everyone.

5. How has being connected to professional communities like CSCMP and AWESOME influenced your life?

Being connected to CSCMP changed my life. AWESOME helped me to find my voice. Both have connected me to a community of supply chain professionals who have educated, mentored, and coached me. All my roles throughout my career were somehow connected back with people I met through CSCMP. The academic and student connections at CSCMP help us all to develop more supply chain professionals. These organizations focus on the development of business relationships, versus adding more contacts.

Natalie Putnam

Title: Chief Commercial Officer
Company: Verst Logistics
Volunteer Roles: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Board Member; AWESOME advisory board member

1. What is the best and worst decision you've ever made?

Best: In 2007 I accepted a promotion at YRC Freight that relocated our family to the YRC headquarters in Kansas City. Because we had lived in Michigan our entire lives, the move felt pretty risky at the time. Being at a headquarters office made me more visible in the company, and an additional promotion followed. It was eventually the jumping off point to work in other sectors in logistics, such as rail, with Kansas City Southern and positively propelled my career in ways I could not have envisioned.

Worst: I don't tend to think any single decision was my "worst." Even when I see disappointing results from a choice, I always learn from it and realize that my experience is broadend for what I have learned. And some decisions that I had initially regretted turned out to be right over the long run. I have no regrets about the experiences in my life, and my choices created those experiences.

2. Which female leader(s) inspire you and why?

The choices for inspirational female leaders has grown significantly in the last few years. So many women are now defining our values, our government and our workplace cultures. If I had to pick, it would probably be Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who when asked, "When will you be satisfied with the number of women on the court" said, "When there are nine." That thinking forces a reset of so many paradigms in one short sentence.

3. Why should women be interested in supply chain management?

Women will benefit from a career in supply chain because it is growing as an industry, and it plays an ever increasing role in our economy. The supply chain discipline is challenging and rewarding at the same time. There is plenty of opportunity for all positions, from sales to finance under the umbrella of Supply Chain. My daughter has joined this industry on the provider side, and I am very proud of her.

4. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the next generation of female leaders?

Women must find their voice in the next generation. We must begin actively helping and supporting each other as female professionals. Our leadership style can and should, reflect who we are, and express the unqiue value we bring. Women need to move away from emulating male leadership and move toward the strength that is inherent in a feminine approach. And with that in mind, we need to reach down that ladder to help the next generation of women coming up. Network and support up and coming women!

5. How has being connected to professional communities like CSCMP and AWESOME influenced your life?

AWESOME has been amazing! I had not realized how many women are actually in Supply Chain. We now have over 1,200 associates in AWESOME, and it continues to grow. As we see increasing membership, my network expands with it, which helps me in every aspect of my work. The development of AWESOME will change the industry for generations to come and I am proud to be a part of it.