Debbie Lentz Goes For It

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Debbie Lentz is president of global supply chain at RS Components and Electrocomponents plc, an industrial and electronic products provider.

Responsibilities: Global distribution oversight, including distribution centers, transportation, inventory, export and import trade compliance, and pricing.

Experience: Senior VP, chief supply chain officer, Toys R Us. Various executive-level positions with Kraft Foods, including senior VP, customer service and logistics with Kraft Foods North America; VP, manufacturing operations, coffee and VP customer service and logistics with Kraft Europe. Also senior director, logistics operations and customer logistics at Nabisco.

Education: MBA, Operations Management and Labor Relations, University of Scranton, 1988; B.S., Business Logistics, Penn State, 1983.

I ‘d be lying if I said that my career plan was exact and structured. Some of it is being in the right place at the right time. But a lot of it is ensuring you have the experience you need to go elsewhere. That might be a lateral move to give yourself an opportunity to learn and gain different experiences.

Early in my career with Nabisco, I took a job as director, customer logistics. I reported to the sales organization and focused on selling value-added solutions and services to our customers. I gained sales experience.

Now, 20 years after my job in customer logistics at Nabisco, I’m at Electrocomponents. One of our biggest initiatives is offering value-added solutions to our customers. The things I learned when I was 30-something are helping me now.

I’ve moved around sectors, industries, and companies to gain a different perspective. While I was in Zurich with Kraft Europe, I took another lateral move into manufacturing. I was only in that job for a few months, but I needed the experience in manufacturing to move forward.

To make a lateral move, you have to take your ego out of it. However, if you only move vertically, eventually you have a career in one silo.

You also have to grab opportunities. For example, I led a $800-million SAP implementation at Kraft and I had no IT experience. If you’re one day late, you’re spending $1 million. Also, the chairman and CEO at the time were closely watching the project.

That project definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. It was a real moment for leadership, but also for significant career development.

Because SAP changes the way people work, the organizational readiness for change management—for transforming the way people work and interact with each other—was probably the most important aspect of the project, because it holds the biggest risk for failure. A change management team had sole responsibility to work on operational readiness throughout the company.

Also, you need to let people know the things you want to do. Before my transfer to Zurich, I was fairly transparent in terms of my desire to live and work abroad. I was afforded that opportunity and it was great.

I didn’t go to college to be a supply chain major. I was a business major, but I realized that accounting was a little boring. I thought marketing would be fun, but wanted to do something different. No one knew supply chain or logistics back then, so it was a fit.

Today, supply chain has evolved from an emerging function, to a cost center, to the C suite, reporting to the CEO. I’m at the executive table and a member of a board of directors. Executives and boards have realized that supply chain is critical to the success of a company.

It’s about delighting customers with exceptional service and value-added solutions and doing it efficiently.n

Debbie Lentz Answers the Big Questions

1. What’s a principle you try to live by?

As you rise, you must lift. My job and my passion is to lift others, and especially women in business and supply chain who are around me. It’s something I’m very proud of.

2. If you had $1 million to start a new venture, what would you do?

I would help educate young girls in emerging countries and look for a way to deliver water for villages. Then they wouldn’t have to walk 20 miles a day to get water, instead of getting an education.

3. How would you describe your job to a five-year-old?

I ship stuff.

4. Do you have any heroes?

My parents. We were very typical middle class people. They developed a wonderful family life for their children, and now their grandchildren. They created the environment that laid the foundation for my life and career.

5. What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Go for it.

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