Career Moves that Pack a Punch
Here’s your ring-side seat to knockout advice from supply chain professionals who boosted their careers by coming out swinging.
Considering the number of positions many professionals will hold throughout their careers, what makes a particular career move more impactful than another? We asked several supply chain professionals to share the moves that proved most significant.
While the specifics vary, many moves share a common trait: They yanked the individual out of their comfort zone, propelling them into a period of growth and learning. Moreover, the knowledge gained in soft skills, such as communication and leadership, often proves more critical than the technical skills they acquired.
Learning from Adversity
I was about two years out of college, in a leadership program in operations quality supervision with a Fortune 50 company, and training with a gentleman who passed away suddenly. Initially, I was going to have a smaller quality supervision role, but I was the only person who’d trained with this gentleman. So, as a college kid, I began managing 40 employees across three shifts—the company’s most experienced blue-collar workforce.
I couldn’t lead by my knowledge of manufacturing quality. I had to learn from my team without worry or shame.
It was my first exposure to the truth that it’s humans first, process second. It’s easy to commit to a goal, but are you also preparing the team to succeed? For instance, do they have the training needed to accomplish the goal?
To communicate with employees on all shifts, I’d work on the operations floor at 2 or 3 a.m. I moved my desk out of the office and onto the shop floor. It made for some long days, but once the camaraderie was built, it didn’t feel long. It felt like one team across all the shifts.
It was a unique moment of adversity, but an opportunity like this keeps you level-headed and helps free you from bias. The lessons stuck with me and allowed me to succeed and mentor.
—Qadeer Parekh, Director, Global Supply Chain and Continuous Improvement, Talent and Development Logistics, Dover Corporation
Focusing on a Common Goal
Early in my career, I was part of a team starting a joint venture, and I headed logistics. I was in my 30s and had to learn to work with individuals from two different companies with two different approaches. It forced me to develop different leadership skills and focus on influence management.
Everyone in the joint venture had stayed with their parent company. In forming my logistics team, I wanted members from both organizations, because I could see the strength in each. But everyone wanted it to be clear-cut, so all team members came from one organization or the other.
No one on the teams reported to me, and yet I had to get everyone to focus on a common goal: what was best for the joint venture. It’s uncomfortable. I had to get folks to buy into my skill set. Communication was huge.
Yet by the third meeting, the teams were intertwined. While the joint venture lasted only a few years, the company president told me the logistics strategy was one of its most successful aspects. The position was tough, but it changed the trajectory of my career. It gave me new confidence and helped me realize I wanted to run a business.
—Denise Kopko, Senior Vice President, Operations, Veolia North America
It’s About Them, Not You
I’ve been very fortunate to have made many career moves that influenced my career. The most significant was when we first moved abroad after I was asked to run the supply chain for an international food and beverage company in Zurich, Switzerland.
There is a level of preparation involved in this type of move, but you can’t really know what it’s like until you’re in the environment and experience it every day. You don’t know what don’t know.
British, Italian, German, French, and Spanish employees reported to me. I had to learn how to lead when people came from different backgrounds, and they learned and received leadership differently. It was such an opportunity.
One key to success: You can’t go in with a big ego and think you know it all. You have to remind yourself you’re in another country, and be willing to learn and adopt their norms, while still helping and leading people. It’s not about you, it’s about them—you have to adjust your leadership to them.
—Debbie Lentz, President, Global Supply Chain, Electrocomponents
Early in my career, my decision to relocate several hundred miles away for a position as a plant superintendent had a profound impact. That may seem both obvious and trivial, but I think the willingness to move to where the greatest opportunity was within the company, regardless of location, had the most positive impact on my career.
I learned so much about how to use data and analysis to drive decision-making. To this day, I use many of the tools I learned during my first “big move.” I’d also never worked in such a structured, process-driven environment. This was my first introduction to lean manufacturing, and I probably learned more about creating organizational value through manufacturing excellence than at any other time in my career.
Career mobility also shows the company you are willing to serve where and when you are needed, even if it’s not in some glamorous location. Most importantly, being exposed to different leadership styles and seeing what works within different business cultures can accelerate your growth as a leader.
—Darrell Edwards, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, La-Z-Boy Incorporated
I worked for 25 years on the shipping side of supply chain and transportation. Then I left to work for a manufacturing company. It opened a whole new area of career opportunity for me.
While I had learned a lot and knew the details of shipping, until you sit at a desk on the manufacturing side, you realize you don’t understand all the considerations that go into the flow of materials and sales and production schedules. My new job gave me excellent exposure to these processes.
I wasn’t opposed to staying on the transport side, but knew I needed to broaden my horizon and skill set. I gained information from collaborating with planning, sales, production, and plant operations. At the same time, I brought knowledge and value into the company. It was a great career move—a classic sideways step that takes what you know and puts you in a different industry.
—Lori Fellmer, Vice President of Logistics and Carrier Management, BassTech International
I started my career in component distribution, but then moved and spent more than 20 years in the supplier community before returning to distribution (with Avnet) in 2020. If you’re not familiar with the technology supply chain, it may not seem like a big deal to move from the supplier side to the distributor side. But as much as all supply chain players share goals and obstacles, there are also significant differences.
After working with distributors from the supplier side, I thought I understood what component distribution was all about. Now, I realize how many moving parts must be perfectly aligned to accomplish something that, from the supplier perspective, seemed relatively simple. In reality, it was just Avnet’s expertise that made it appear that way.
A commitment to active listening—both with my new colleagues and with the supplier community, with whom I now engage in a very different way—is the skill that has served me most throughout my career, and particularly with this career move. It is critical that we keep an open mind with each engagement, give ourselves the opportunity to learn and expand our perspective, and most importantly, ensure we demonstrate respect for our counterparts.
—Richard Diaz, Vice President, Operations and Supply Chain, Avnet
I relocated to our corporate headquarters to take on a new position.This position led to additional responsibilities and exposure to other departments and opportunities that have brought me to my current role.
By being close to our corporate functions and leadership, I was able to be more involved in the strategy and day-to-day execution of decisions, and increased my involvement in different areas of the business. This allowed others to see my potential and opened up different opportunities.
—Andrew Vermilion, Vice President of
Replenishment and Logistics, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits
Changing the World
While I come from a family with a background in textiles and fashion, I wasn’t planning to get into the family business. I was an attorney working on Wall Street, although specializing in fashion, technology, and sustainability. So in a way, I’d gone back to my roots.
I’d also seen the waste in textiles. Today, more than $120 billion worth of excess fabric languishes in warehouses around the globe, often ending up burned or buried.
When the market crashed in 2008 and 2009, it was a dark period on Wall Street. It was also a time to see that many of the old ways of doing things weren’t sustainable. I took the opportunity to go on my own and build a business to change the world. That led to Queen of Raw. This move defined who I am today.
Several skills were key. One is public speaking. From an early age, I went to an all-women school and gained formal instruction in public speaking. Getting your idea or game-changing solution into 60 seconds is the hardest thing, but it helped me win a 60-second pitch with Ashton Kutcher.
Another skill is financial modeling. Especially in a sustainable impact business, you need to show how you’ll achieve profitability, as well as how the solution helps people and the planet. You need to articulate the problem and how you’ll solve it. Businesses that can solve real-world problems can dominate.
—Stephanie Benedetto, CEO and Co-Founder, Queen of Raw
Rolling With the Punches
With the unemployment rate hovering just below 8%—more than double the rate in January 2020—how much luck can job hunters expect?
While job hunting may be more challenging in the current economy, opportunities remain. Even during difficult economic times, people need to hire people. “Persistence will pay off,” says Darrell Edwards, senior vice president and chief operating officer, La-Z-Boy.
At the same time, job hunters need to be mindful of structural shifts within the economy. “Ask yourself, what has changed as a result of seismic global concerns such as the pandemic?” Edwards says. What new technologies are being utilized and what new business needs are emerging? Then, identify how your skills can support companies experiencing these structural economic shifts.
When opportunities appear limited in your own industry, look around. “In your industry, probably a lot of people know what you know. Step outside it,” advises Lori Fellmer, vice president of logistics and carrier management for BassTech International. This might be an industry adjacent to the one in which you’ve been working.
When building a resume or preparing for an interview, focus on areas where you drove improvements. “When possible, demonstrate how your accomplishments and activities have translated to tangible results, especially in terms of cost savings or revenue generation,” says Richard Diaz, vice president, operations and supply chain for Avnet.
Some brave souls may decide to take a leap and form their own companies. The current upended environment can “be one of the best times to try looking at the problems in the world—after all, there’s no shortage—and figure out how to solve them,” says Stephanie Benedetto, chief executive officer and co-founder, Queen of Raw.
“Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster,” she adds. “If you’re willing to do it during a pandemic, and you’re still passionate, you’re probably born to do this.”
Bobbing and Weaving
Supply chain professionals offer insight on assessing career moves, when it might make sense to decline a proposed shift, and the merits of lateral moves.
Moves that broaden your experience can be key to a successful supply chain career. “I’ve found that getting broad experience is key,” says Jan Axt, head of automotive supply chain management, strategy, and innovation with Continental AG, which develops mobility technologies and services.
Working in a range of areas—logistics consulting, production, and supply chain management in both manufacturing and service companies—provided a breadth of experience that helped Axt understand the three pillars of supply chain:
- Process interfaces
When a new opportunity appears, someone has likely seen you demonstrate some skill set, says Qadeer Parekh, director, global supply chain, Dover Corporation.
Understand the expectations and your skill set—and just as important, what you lack. “How much of what you’re missing does the job require?” he asks. Determining this helps you identify where you’ll need help.
Find out if the move requires immediate firefighting, or if you’d be helping a mature team move to the next level. “Allow enough time to take inventory of the role so you can understand the sins and wins of the past,” Parekh advises.
“Identify the risks and your risk tolerance,” says Thomas Mayfield, head of operations, North America, at Newark Technologies, a high-service distributor of technology products, services, and solutions. If your tolerance is high, you might consider a bigger move, such as changing fields.
“Conversely, smaller lateral moves that allow you to test the waters may be a better fit if your risk tolerance is low,” he adds.
While professional considerations understandably weigh heavily when evaluating career moves, most people also need to assess the impact on their personal lives. In 2011, Denise Kopko’s husband passed away. “I’d been on a career trajectory, but had to step back, and balance work and my personal life—I had young children,” says Kopko, senior vice president, operations, Veolia North America.
Kopko made some lateral moves that allowed her to continue to develop, while also balancing her family’s needs. “Now, my kids are mostly grown, and I can refocus on my career,” she adds.
While Debbie Lentz, president, global supply chain, for Electrocomponents has said yes to most opportunities, she has turned down a few.
“It wasn’t about the job itself, but whether it integrated with my life appropriately,” she says. When she took an opportunity in Switzerland, her daughters were 10 and 12. “It was the perfect age. They were sponges and learned to be more international,” she says, adding that the position was an adventure and education for her whole family.
“But it has to fit with your life,” Lentz says. “Your career impacts others.”