"Leah Halvorson is incredibly wise beyond her years," says nominator Sherry Bakken. And once she started working for the Minneapolis Public Schools, Halvorson was quick to rise. Just one month after she joined the district as a senior buyer, tasked with implementing new contract management processes, Halvorson applied for—and won—the newly open job of director of procurement. Clearly, she had already made a big impact. "Even in a setting where she is not the ‘designated' leader, people gravitate to her and automatically take direction from her," Bakken says.
Before Halvorson arrived, purchasing at the Minneapolis Public Schools was a transactional affair. "It didn't matter if a product could be purchased at a better price, or we could get a volume discount," she recalls. Nor did it matter if staff bought similar products from 20 different vendors. The department simply turned each requisition into a purchase order. Tapping her private sector experience, Halvorson has been transforming the district's purchasing department into a strategic operation that seizes every chance to reduce cost and waste.
To increase those opportunities, Halvorson has brought asset management, travel, contract management, sourcing, purchasing cards, records management, the document center, and vendor management under the procurement umbrella. By hunting down new chances for improvement, her department has made gains, including a partnership with a local vendor that cut the school district's $60,000 annual pizza bill in half. Savings have added up quickly. "She and her department were able to achieve $883,000 in cost savings in fiscal year 2013, and $2 million in 2014," Bakken says.
Halvorson honed her negotiating skills early in life. A member of debate teams in high school and at the University of Florida, Gainesville, she learned to get into the minds of opponents and anticipate their arguments. Later, she learned about vendor management by watching her boss in action at Life Time Fitness, where Halvorson worked as purchasing project manager. "I used the opportunity to be a sponge," she says. "I also asked if I could be a fly on the wall when he met with executive staff and the board, so I could learn how to interact with that level of management."
"It takes a certain kind of personality to work in procurement," Halvorson says. "You have to be assertive, because you will have tough conversations at times." You also have to keep pushing your standards higher. "Often, the procurement department is expected to accomplish what looks to be the impossible," she says. "Once you do, that becomes your new norm. I enjoy that. You have to keep upping your game."
HOMETOWN: Boca Raton, Florida
ALMA MATER: University of Florida
CURRENT POSITION: Director of Procurement and Supply Chain Development, Minneapolis Public Schools, Minneapolis, Minnesota
NOMINATED BY: Sherry Bakken, Executive Assistant to the COO, Minneapolis Public Schools
Being a change agent. I am constantly looking for process improvements and cost efficiencies, and with that comes change.
I opened our Document Center (DC) that was previously unsuccessful. The DC saved about $350,000 in its first year, $1 million in the second year, and is projecting to hit about $1.5 million in its third year—representing about a 33-percent increase.