Perfection is the name of the game for Jenna Benkula. At the University of Idaho, as a dual major in human resources and production operations management, she put a special emphasis on process improvement. "I wanted to apply the Lean and Six Sigma concepts to a service role," she says.
Streamlining workflows and driving out flaws is now a major focus for Benkula at Glanbia Foods, the Idaho-based cheese and dairy manufacturer where she has worked since graduation. "Jenna's rise in our organization is due to her drive for continuous improvement in our processes and our people," says nominator Declan Dalton. "She constantly pushes us to identify and eliminate waste."
Like a superhero, Benkula maintains two identities at work. The first is category manager for business services, chemicals, and ingredient process aids. Within those areas, she nurtures relationships with vendors, and works with local purchasing managers who buy for their sites. "The purchasing manager handles day-to-day transactions, such as a rush order for chemicals," she says. "When a buy is more strategic, I get involved."
Her alter ego—purchasing manager—concentrates even more intensely on strategy. "We're focused on trying to make our processes more ‘slick,'" Benkula says. If the procurement team can do its day-to-day work more efficiently, that will free members to spend more time on innovation.
So, for example, the team is investigating how to make better use of the company's ERP system. Members are also exploring how to consolidate Glanbia's other software tools. "We want to consolidate into one system, so we can get a unified picture of our supplier relationships, contracts, tenders, and projects," she says.
Right now, Benkula is in the midst of a process improvement project based on a concept used by Glanbia's engineering team called "early management." This involves defining steps for people to follow at the start of a project, to keep problems from cropping up later.
One key step is to capture the "voice of the customer," to make sure the project answers all the needs of the people it will serve. Say, for example, Glanbia needs to procure lab supplies. "You lay out a draft project scope, tell the purchasing managers at the production sites what you intend to do, and ask what they need from this process. Based on that input from your internal customers, you develop a more detailed scope of work." Once everyone agrees on the scope, the project manager uses that document to define the products and services the vendor will deliver.
"I dedicate most of my time outside of work to hanging with my family," says Benkula. "My three brothers, two sisters, niece, and two nephews are important to me. They make everything worthwhile."
HOMETOWN: Twin Falls, Idaho
ALMA MATER: University of Idaho
CURRENT POSITION: Purchasing Manager, Glanbia Foods, Twin Falls, Idaho
NOMINATED BY: Declan Dalton, Purchasing Agent, Glanbia Foods
Getting to a place where we can move away from transactional, day-to-day tasks to focus on strategic initiatives.
Yes. There is never a boring day, and while it can be challenging, the opportunities to learn and grow as an individual make it all worthwhile.