July 2009 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Beth Ford : A Woman of Taste

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Some supply chain professionals like their work best when things are humming. Not Beth Ford. "I can't get enough craziness," says Ford, executive vice president, head of supply chain at International Flavors   Fragrances Inc. (IFF) in New York.

What kind of craziness makes Ford's day? Consider the time during her stint at Mobil Oil when one of the company's massive tank trucks broke down at 3 a.m. on New York's Long Island Expressway. Or when she was at Scholastic working on the launches of the last three Harry Potter books, each a top-secret operation that monopolized the publisher's entire hardcover production capacity in North America for weeks. Or her work at Hachette Book Group, where she hired private detectives to track down the fan who scanned the latest book in the popular Twilight series and posted it on the Web—before the publication date.

Ford enjoys a job that throws complex challenges her way. "I like projects that are tough, that I have to spend time figuring out," she says. "I also like work to be fast-paced." And she loves leading teams of smart, hard-working people.

All that makes her position at IFF a perfect fit. IFF produces flavors and fragrances used in a wide variety of manufactured goods. Its formulas help define the character of ice cream and fruit juice, dish soap and fabric softener, fine fragrances, and many other products.

The company produces fragrance ingredients, fragrance compounds, and flavor compounds in 31 countries around the world. Some sites serve local or regional markets, and some ship globally.

IFF's international profile is, in part, what makes the company's supply chain so complex and interesting. "The issues at each facility are different, based on market conditions and the maturity or sophistication of our operations in those areas," Ford says.

Some products target highly specific markets. The taste of butter, for instance, changes according to geography. "In Brazil alone, there are three different butter flavors, depending on region," Ford says. So imagine what it takes to satisfy local tastes around the world.

The nature of IFF's products also produces a great deal of complexity. "Every product we make is unique, and I can't overstate that," Ford says. A single product might contain 50 ingredients, and changing a formula to gain efficiencies or economies is no simple matter.

"We have to comply with regulatory and quality requirements," she says. "We may need to go back to a customer. We can't just swap out ingredients."

Since joining IFF last October, Ford has been making sure the organization's structure is appropriately aligned, with the right capabilities in the right places. She and her team continue to optimize and better integrate the supply chain. She's also looking for new ways to leverage IFF's global SAP implementation to gain an extended view of the logistics network. "We have to make sure we're tightly integrated, from raw materials all the way to delivery," she says.

And Ford continues to relish her role as a corporate leader. "The people here are interesting, professional, and fun," she says. "The opportunity to impact their lives is a privilege."

The Big Questions

What do you do when you're not at work?

I focus most of my time on my three children and some volunteer organizations. I sit on the national board of trustees for the March of Dimes and on the board of the Iowa State business school. I also do volunteer work in the local schools. And I try to work out every day; that keeps me sane.

Ideal dinner companion?

My father, because he passed away a few months ago, and I'd like to have dinner with him one more time. And, Lou Noto, CEO of Mobil Oil before it was acquired by Exxon. I would like to hear his thoughts on leadership, empowerment, decision-making, and responsibility.

What's in your carry-all bag?

My purse, business cards, a portfolio for taking notes, files, and some mints. I'll also add my Blackberry when I head home.

First Web site you check in the morning?

Yahoo! Finance and either NYTimes.com or CNN.com. If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job? CEO.

If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

CEO.

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