Podcast

LS International 09 September 2019

Talent in the 21st Century Supply Chain with Willis Weirich

Companies, just like the people who make them, are permanently evolving and changing. Digitalization, automatization and customer-centricity are some of the trends that are shaping the way companies and the functions within them operate. How does the future of Supply Chain look like? And how can people impact and contribute to this change?

To understand this better, we invited Willis Weirich, who’s currently heading up Supply Chain for Neiman Marcus, to get his take on what good supply chain talent looks like today.

 

Themes discussed in the podcast:

• Key skills and decisions to make to get to a Chief Supply Chain position

• Which will be the skills needed to succeed in the supply chain function and what it will take to get promoted.

• 5 things to look into when hiring for a supply chain team

• Mr. Weirich’s journey up to a leading Supply Chain role

[Music]

Daniel:

Hi, I’m Daniel Torres Dwyer and welcome to LS International’s career success podcast. We all know supply chain has changed drastically in the last few years. Digitalization, automatization, customers centricity are trends that are making a major impact on the function and its perception within companies. That also affects the talent required to be successful in the function. Does the supply chain talent look different today than it did 10 years ago? To understand this better, I’ve invited Willis Weirich who’s currently heading up supply chain for Neiman Marcus to get his take on what good supply chain talent looks like today. Hi Willis. Thanks for joining us today.

Willis:

Good morning. I appreciate the time to be here.

Daniel:

Excellent. So yeah, it’s a pleasure to have you here. As I said, we’re going to be talking out the intersection of supply chain and talent, but first of all, let’s go into supply chain. Has the perception of a supply chain changed in organizations since you started your career?

Willis:

Yeah.

Daniel:

Which, actually, remind me when you started your career.

Willis:

Yeah. So, I started my retail career back in 2011 and spent some time in finance before transitioning to supply chain. But certainly, would agree with your statements that supply chain and its importance in retail and in the industry in general has certainly changed. I think initially when I started my career, supply chain was seen as the major cost center of a retail organization that was there as a somewhat of a necessary component to get products to our customers. But I think today, given that consumer preferences and the way they shop and their expectations, certainly as other competitive forces have evolved in the retail space, supply chain is looked at more of an enabler to meeting those customer preferences. And as ecommerce and digital channels continue to grow, supply chain, I would say is often the last touch point between the retailer and the customer. And so, in that way, I think it (supply chain) has absolutely evolved from a place of being seen as simply a cost center to a key component that enables the customer journey.

Daniel:

And do you think that with that it’s also a change of skills required to be successful in supply?

Willis:

Yeah, I think that supply chain skills have definitely evolved. I think from my understanding, even before I entered into the kind of supply chain industry, it was certainly much more about problem solving but somewhat problem solving in a linear path. I think also the relationship orientation of supply chain, while it still remains today, I think that data and analytics, so those skill sets about using data and analytics to kind of run the business – but also understand trends not only in the retail space but in how supply chain intersects with that, has definitely changed. I think also supply chain given its growing prominence as a discipline, then that requires a different set of leadership skills because people are looking to come into the field but also have the same career path opportunities that you would have had historically in finance or human resources or other parts of the organization. So, if you’re looking for more dynamic leaders, leaders that understand how to use data and analytics to run their business. And I think problem solve at a much deeper degree in innovate than we were – I think – accustomed to in the past.

Daniel:

Okay. And for yourself, Willis, you’re currently the head of a supply chain of a big retail organization. What skills have been key for you to get to this level specifically?

Willis:

Yeah, I think for me, you know, look, fortunately, having started my career and kind of an operations and then going to edit an industrial distributor and then going to finance and spending some time there, I was fortunate enough to build out that financial acumen and analytical skill set that I just referenced as kind of an important part of the journey. But I also think it teaches you how to assimilate information in very different ways. And so I think for me, having my successes come from the opportunities I’ve had, not only to lead broad cross sections of supply chain, but lead in other areas of the organization to have that view and perspective on what’s important to them and particularly what’s important to merchandising and e-commerce operations, and so I think in these roles – as I mentioned – and becoming an enabler of the business, you have to understand what’s important to your internal clients, if you will, and assimilate those viewpoints into a very important distinction between just running operations and understanding where you’re trying to drive the business collectively forward. So those are the skill sets that I think have benefited me the most that have helped me be successful at this point.

Daniel:

Yeah. And I think that there’s another part, you know, in people’s career when they reach, I think when you go to the VP/SVP level, that it’s not only about like your abilities or your, even your innate skills but it’s also about key career decision making, what key decisions have favored your career?

Willis:

It’s the saying that the fortune goes to the bold. And I think the one thing in supply chain that continues to be prevalent is that, you know, having the chance to be flexible in your career choices, and certainly, I’ve made a couple of changes from an organizational standpoint, but I think also the ability to understand that diversifying your skill sets, whether that’s internally within an organization, as I mentioned, like being in finance or other disciplines within the organization. And certainly, that means you also have to kind of be willing in your career to know when it’s time to kind of move up the hierarchical chain, but also stay lateral to get those skill sets; but I think certainly for me, having the flexibility and the autonomy to move around the country and do different jobs in different cultures and different environments has been one of those things that’s allowed me to kind of accelerate my career. Certainly, I understand not everybody has the fortune to do that, but has been beneficial for me in my career path.

Daniel:

Yeah, absolutely. We actually just did a podcast about the topic of moving from place to place and it’s obviously a sacrifice, but it comes with certain rewards.

Willis:

Yeah. And to your point, I think I’m the first to recognize that not everybody has that ability for a variety of important reasons. But certainly, for me, I think I, it would also be remiss if I didn’t say that my career has also been part of the journey and the success has been my ability to do that. So, I think you just have to understand the tradeoffs.

Daniel:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We were talking about like different skill sets today, like what’s required to be successful in supply chain in order to be promoted and have a fast career? Like I think that you’ve had, what does it take or what would you recommend?

Willis:

Yeah, I think you definitely, you know, if you’re coming into, I think in general in business, I think certainly really developing a skill set around personal agility I think is super important. I believe that you need to understand kind of – look change is one of those things, you know, you hear all the time, it’s constantly happening, but your own ability  to continue  to pivot and adjust, to challenge yourself, to learn new things, learn new skills, lead in different ways… so you know, it’s all those things that you read about and you can get inspired from books and conversations, but you have to really dig deep to understand what, how you personally adapt to those different elements. I think certainly continuing to refine your understanding of data and how to interpret data. You know, it’s interesting, right? Because I think it used to be right, if everybody remembers when Google or you know, the internet exploded, it was you had to learn how to refine the information on the web to get the most important salient points.

And I think that’s what it is with big data is that you have to really understand how to use that data to make effective decisions. And so continually working on that in this day of age of moving so fast, you still have to find ways to carve out time, to be reflective and thoughtful, and give yourself a chance to think strategically because if things can move so fast it can feel like you’re solving tactical problem to tactical problem, but then you know your five years down and you haven’t really taken opportunities to make sure you’re moving the direction you want to go. So personal agility, you know, challenging your own self around strategic thought, the data analytics piece is certainly important and understanding how to use those from kind of a tactical standpoint.

And I think the last thing that I would say that’s really important that people continue to hone in on, really understanding what it means to be a good partner. I think that, you know, taking a step back and understanding where you’re trying to go in your own organization’s customer journey requires a different skill set. I always say, what works for one may not work for everybody. And so there are certain unique aspects at Neiman Marcus that work for our supply chain that may not work for others and vice versa. And so, it is a skill set to take that time to communicate appropriately, but also listen to what you’re trying to drive from an experience standpoint.

Daniel:

Okay, great. And now making it a bit more personal, when you’re interviewing someone for your team, what key traits do you look for?

Willis:

That’s a great question. I think certainly the ability to communicate effectively continues to be an important skill set. I also want to understand how people developed a high performing team and develop talents because ultimately as leaders, our job should be to continue to elevate the talent within our organization in practically all the way down to finding and hopefully depending on the level, finding future replacements for all of us as we continue our careers and develop that next level. So communication, developing people. I think overall you also look for kind of the dynamic and the mix within your own team to find complimentary skills but at the same time, diversity of thought, making sure we have a well-balanced team that compliments one another I think is extremely important as well and that’s what I’m looking for primarily in my leaders. I think that at the level that I’m typically interviewing, they typically have a sound knowledge or perspective on the business, but it’s looking for more of those skills that complement their business acumen.

Daniel:

Yeah. It’s interesting because you’re speaking more about the soft skills than the proper hard skills, which I guess when you have a certain track record; they’ve already been kind of proven.

Willis:

Yeah, exactly. I think certainly you can test a specific skill sets. I’ll give you an example. I mean, when I started at Neiman Marcus as a VP of logistics, part of the skill set I was hired for was based on my prior financial acumen. When I was elevated to the role that I’m at and replace that role, I looked for more of a logistician just based on complimenting the skill set that I had versus what the rest of the team had. And so I think each interview, depending on the moment of time you’re in, can be very different but certainly most people have had strong business resumes at that point, and you’re looking to make sure that their soft skills compliment their business acumen.

Daniel:

All right, well look, this was really interesting, Willis. Thanks for giving us your perspective on the changes in supply chain, but especially on this point of like what good talent looks like in the function.

Willis:

No, absolutely. I appreciate the time and the opportunity to share my thoughts and again, appreciate this opportunity.

Daniel:

Thanks to you, Willis, again, and thanks to all our listeners and we’ll see you in the next edition of the podcast.

[Music]