Leading Through Diversity in Supply Chain with Flavia Sebastiani

LS International

There’s no doubt that supply chain and logistics are going through a major transformation, and the demographics isn’t an exception. In a space that used to be a dominated by males, women have gained territory in the last decades. Globalization has also contributed to diversifying the supply chain community.

To speak about this topic, we’ve invited Flavia Sebastiani, currently a VP at DHL Brazil to speak about this topic and understand her personal experience and advice.

In this podcast, we discuss:

  • The changing role of women executives in Supply Chain
  • How to lead diverse teams
  • Diversity as a key business driver
  • Advice on managing and leading through diversity

Daniel: Hi, I’m Daniel Torres Dwyer and welcome to LS International’s Career Success Podcast. There’s no doubt that supply chain and logistics are going through a major transformation and the demographics isn’t an exception. In a space that used to be dominated by males, women have gained territory in the last decade. Globalization has also contributed to diversifying the supply chain community. To speak about this topic and its implications we’ve invited Flavia Sebastiani, currently a VP at DHL Brazil to speak about this topic and understand as well her personal experience and advice.
Hi Flavia! Thanks for joining us today. How are you?

Flavia: Hi Daniel, I’m doing great, thank you. Let me also thank you for this opportunity to share my experience with you today. It is really a big pleasure.

Daniel: It’s a pleasure, Flavia. And, further to what I was saying before, we will speak about diversity today. I think that to guide the listeners through what we’re going to speak about, I think it would be great if you could give us a brief summary of your career so far. Your experiences, both in Brazil and internationally and your leadership within supply chain.

Flavia: Sure, well I’m a chemical engineer, and have also a bachelor’s in international relations. I have an MBA in general management. I’m half Brazilian and half Italian, and I have started my career 20 years ago as a supply chain management trainee of a big international FMCG company in Brazil. So, I have developed my career to become a complete supply chain leader. I was willing to have a broader view on the end-to-end supply chain, and also to having a deep understanding of each process of it. Which would enable me not only to operate, but also to transform for more efficiency. So, I’ve had the chance to lead manufacturing, planning, procurement, logistics, customer service, and several very interesting and relevant positions. Also having local, regional, and global scopes, I have been able to capture different perspectives of the business. So, I have also been expatriated to Switzerland in a global procurement role as a supply chain lead for the country where I could finally apply the experience together to lead the end line supply chain. So, currently I am the Vice President of Operations of the leading logistics company of the world and responsible to run the consumer business in Brazil. In this position, I am not only responsible for leading operations, but also have full accountability over the P&L of the business.

Daniel: Fantastic! So, you’ve done the move from FMCG to 3PL.

Flavia: That’s correct. I’ve come to the other side of the table to have a different perspective from supply chain. And this has been quite interesting.

Daniel: And how has it been for you to be a woman in supply chain, Flavia? What different, or pros and cons do you see also from when you started your career to now?

Flavia: So, when I began my career, being a supply chain woman was quite an exotic thing. At least in Latin America. So, the absolute predominance of men in supply chain made it a difficult environment to apply a naturally different management style. And women in supply chain had to copy the men’s’ style rather than being free to adopt their own way of managing business. Certainly enough, I think the amount of women in this career path has increased over time, and it is becoming more and more common to see women leading supply chain positions. Which is great! The most common thing said is women will lose productivity time due to maternity leave, and that productivity will be impacted for a couple of years during that period. Which is true most of the time. But what is a couple of years compared to 30-35 years of service. I think companies that understand and respect women during that period will have a great chance to have them as happy and motivated members for a long long time. The ones who don’t will certainly lose potential with time. One thing that a woman tends to have is a better work and life balance. And it really changes the dynamic of the teams when they are inserted. It is unfair to generalizing styles by men and women, so it becomes not only based on gender, but also on character and personalities. Diversity as a whole, not only gender, brings out more variables to the table. It is something that makes the business environment richer. It brings different approaches to the business. Also, because its best to represent in a better way the society beyond the business roles. The world is changing fast and it’s best learning about the different groups of society where the business is inserted and represent them in the business. This will make adaption and strategic development. And this means a competitive advantage in the longer term to guarantee business sustainability. So, diversity is a plus. It’s not something you need to incorporate for anything. It is just a business need.

Daniel: As a woman, what do you think, in supply chain specifically, what type of advantages or pros can you bring to an organization being a woman in supply chain?

Flavia: It is a different management style. Supply chain is usually a man-type of environment. And women in supply chain, they bring an aspect to take care of people, to understand more complexities. By having complexity from home and also in business, women can be able to manage more complexity and more variables in the workspace as well. So, it is a different type of approach to the same problems that supply chain has. It’s much more about creativity, but it is very hard to make it general. It is a different perspective also in this type of environment.

Daniel: Well, my take-away if I had to have one from what you just said in your last answer, but also on diversity in general, is that diversity really helps problems and finds more solutions from different angles.

Flavia: Exactly. So, the companies cannot be an entity where only a part of the society is represented. You need to have a mix of the whole society inside the business to have a value and understand better the environment you are. You need to have the minorities as the same percentage of the population represented in the business. This makes a different business and it makes it richer as well.

Daniel: And right now, Flavia, you’re vice president, which is somewhere a lot of executives would like to get to in terms of level. What advice would you give to other women in business, more specifically in supply chain, in the early stages of their career or the mid-management level, what is the secret recipe you used to progress in your career?

Flavia: I do not think there is a secret recipe, but—

Daniel: Well not secret anymore if you share it here.

Flavia: I would say that everyone needs to be clear in belief. Being somebody in your professional life, satisfying your personal style in life is not something that is sustainable. And if this happens you won’t achieve your best potential and you wont control as much of the ride as you could. So, if you are a woman, if family is important to you, organize your agenda to be able to attend your children’s’ school presentations. Be home to put your children to sleep if this is important for you. Don’t lose these moments because these things will make you feel more energized and will make a difference in your professional life. People are different in their needs and diversity adds a lot of value to the company. Don’t try to be pasteurized to a certain model. Follow what is important for you. And you will be a professional in the company that you dream about. And you will be very productive, you will be healthy, you will be concentrated. And I recognize it is not easy to make everything fit into your daily agenda, especially if you are a woman. Sometimes you have to prioritize and delegate your orders. So, what I would recommend is that you develop your work scheme to accommodate what is essential and develop something to help manage what you can do along the way. Don’t feel guilty. You will learn that selecting the relevant results you deliver with the time you have available, you will notice that this is exactly what you need to become a great professional. Make choices and enjoy the ride.

Daniel: That’s great advice. And you worked as you said before in Brazil, but also in Switzerland. I know there you managed an international team. But at the end of the day, diversity is a bit everywhere when you’re managing different types of personalities, and even more so when it comes to different genders, nationalities, etc. How did you manage diverse environments in your global careers and experiences?

Flavia: That’s an interesting question. I always hear questions regarding gender diversity, as it is very hot on the agenda now. Everyone wants to talk about gender diversity. The diversity of cultures across countries was a very special experience in my career. It has been one of the highlights. When I used to run the global procurement team, I had to direct a team from 8 different countries of the world. From the US to Singapore. Which is crazy because of time zones but was an amazing experience. It made me become a much more flexible leader. I had to understand the differences in motivational drives from each culture as well as their ways of working. You must know the unsaid rules of each working environment, so you are able to have their best performance. I needed to adapt to them as well as them adapting to me. And adapting a leadership style and approach and having the flexibility to respect their values and beliefs are also pushing the bar up for a very challenging opportunity. To lead diversity in a different perspective made me a stronger professional, and not only to lead business results across countries, but I could see business from at least 8 different perspectives apart from mine. Everyone has a different perspective in business, which makes every decision very rich. I strongly recommend it to anyone. It is an amazing and eye-opening experience. You will not be the same professional after you really live in different cultures. This for me is real diversity applied to business.

Daniel: Just to add a bit on this, given the different points of view you had, was it more challenging to come to decision and apply them?

Flavia: Well, at the beginning, until you understand the drivers of people, yes it was because sometimes being in a culture that is very direct, it is easy to make a decision. But in some of the cultures you really need to push people to make them join the discussion and make them come to a common decision. Otherwise they won’t have the volume, won’t apply it, and won’t execute it. You really need to understand what is easier. Sometimes it’s more important to speak of the decision-making rather than the process of making them be convinced that this is the best approach to the business you want to have because it’s more solid and durable. You really need to understand the dynamics of each culture that the business is in. It doesn’t matter if the decision you make in a country like Switzerland, which is very direct and to the point, but if it needs to be applied in China you need to consider the type of environment and the type of approach you need to take. This is the rich part of it. You really need to be a very flexible leader to adapt to this type of thing. You learn a lot during this process. You cannot be the same person in the beginning or end of the process.

Daniel: Absolutely. And I’m sure that you learn a lot in this process. Well Flavia, it was an absolute pleasure! Thanks for sharing not only your career but also your thoughts on leadership, diversity, and also for the advice that you’ve given to our listeners. It was a pleasure. Thanks so much.

Flavia: I want to thank you again for the opportunity today and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did!