Vice President Digital Acceleration at Walmart eCommerce
December 8, 2017 By Daniel Torres Dwyer
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LS International speaks with Walmart eCommerce’s VP of Digital Acceleration, Kate Pearson.
We discuss with Kate about how an army background has contributed to her career in business. Being someone who’s managed big teams in traditional Retail but is currently working on projects that are cutting edge, she’s developed a leadership style that’s enabled her to be successful in very diverse set ups, from the Army to Retail, Logistics and Strategy. “Many people think of the military as a command and control leadership style, but the military really encourages leadership development and is very influential on how we think about leadership in Business. I learnt how to motivate and develop future leaders and grow talent”.
During the Podcast we discuss:
A military background and leadership style in the business world
Innovations Kate has developed in Omnichannel
What’s next in the eCommerce journey
Moving from Operations to General Management
Daniel: I'm Daniel Torres Dwyer welcome to a new edition of our career success podcast. Today, we'll be joined by Kate Pearson, Vice-president Digital Acceleration for Walmart eCommerce. In this role she leads efforts to deliver a new ways to serve the blended customer at scale for Walmart US. She previously held leadership roles another large with that organization after beginning her career as an officer in the U. S. army. Hi Kate thanks for being here with us today.Kate: My pleasure, thanks for inviting me.Daniel: So look, Kate, you started your career in the army which is something that we see which is something we see sometimes, especially in the U. S., what leadership style did you learn in the army?Kate: That's a great question Daniel. You know, I think many people when they think about the military, they think about somebody that might lead with a very command and control type leadership style. And I'd say that I learned a great deal of discipline in the military and structure. But one of the things that many folks don't know from the outside is that the military really encourages leadership development and was influential. In fact, at least in the United States, on how we think about leadership in the business environment. So, I learned from an early age how to motivate folks, how to develop future leaders and how to grow talent and so I think that while I do like discipline and order and structure I think part of my leadership style is developing folks in and encouraging them to grow in their careers.Daniel: Okay, very interesting, and how has that added value to the rest of your career?Kate: Yes, I think the elements of kind of the discipline aspect had helped with ensuring delivery and high accountability. So that helped with ensuring that you have the goals that have been set in front of me, are able to be accomplished. But the other thing is that I have this really, same mindset of developing talent and over the years have developed an incredible network of leaders that I've had the pleasure of working with and now I get to see do incredible things in other organizations as well. So, it it's just been a wonderful blessing to have this network based on developing talent.Daniel: Aha, okay, great. Look let’s switch into the current industry you’re in which is Retail, specifically e-commence. And you're working at Walmart, which is a traditional retailer, has had to make some major changes in order to keep up to speed with the changes happening in the retail sector. In your experience so far what would be the top three innovation that you driven to helping in this transformation from traditional retail to what it’s generally called Omni-channel?Kate: Well Daniel my background is clearly in logistics and operations. So, my first role at Walmart was to build a fulfillment center network and in that we investigated a lot of mechanisms to make a world class fulfillment network and had the opportunity to build from the ground up. One of the really interesting things that I helped lead was putting robotics into some of our fulfillment centers to automate pick modules and other pieces of the, that are traditionally more about a manual or physical delivery system. So, that was a really neat thing that I did right out of the gate. The next thing that was fascinating in the second role that I had at Walmart was to look at really bending the curve in terms of technology with last mile. So, we had a partnership we kicked off with both the car systems Uber and Lift and created the last mile delivery mechanism and so really thinking about how to take advantage of and help kind of defray costs of the last mile expense into delivery. And now the current role that I have is customer facing in store technology and so there's a lot of interesting experimentation that were involved in: to look at internet things, looking at kiosks, looking at AR technology and to just changing the paradigm of what the store looks like today.Daniel: Okay, very interesting. And, for you personally as a professional what is exciting for you to be in E-commerce?Kate: Absolutely, so I've been in retail for about fifteen years and I’ll tell this: the pace at which we are moving is absolutely staggering. I have always been and had roles where we need to move very quickly and we need to be on our feet in terms of delivering things and putting the future forward into today and I would tell you that it is just incredible, you blink and so much happens, so I think that for me is just the exciting part of what we're doing. So, constant learning, constant change and really just adapting as quickly to what the future holds.Daniel: Aha! Okay, very interesting and further to this, actually, a part of the excitement is probably building up new things. In the next five year what do you see are going to be the big changes or transformations? Either both in Walmart or in retail as a whole?Kate: Yes, I would say that we’re at a really fascinating place in retail. There's been a lot of news coverage about the industry and about kind of the depth of retail or the decay of brick and mortar and what I'd share is that for organizations including my own, that are not embracing actively change and really looking at what they can be doing immediately to either maintain pace or leap frog in terms of technology are going to be left behind. So, I think there's going to be kind of a bifurcation where some organizations that can’t adapt quickly in and become not as relevant to the consumer that demanding more and more will begin to decay even faster and I think those that get it and are very active in changing the core of how they function as an organization like Walmart is going through and turn our stores into more than experience center where we delight folks with interesting interactive ways that the store becomes the choice that people want to go to and not have to go to, is what I see in five years. So, really focused on customer experience in the stores and making it a delight hearing something they enjoy going to is where I would see retail in five years.Daniel: Okay, Okay. And you mentioned before that you actually started your career in the army and then in logistics. Kate:YeahDaniel:So you've been from logistics into a more general management type of role. We normally see in the industry people that are Generals Managers coming from other functions project such as marketing, sales, finance or, for example, in retail, from store management. What value do you see in that starting supply chain then become a general manager?Kate: Yeah, what I would say is a couple of things I think there are two elements that at least in my experience have helped me. So, one, as a fairly junior level, because I was responsible for logistics, I had that for a view, if you will, of the end to end system from a physical standpoint. And even though I was a junior in my career I was looking across a business at more of a more of an enterprise level and I think having a systems orientation that creates has been really helpful for me to be able to think about the business in much broader terms than level of the organization I was in and I think that's one. And then I think the second thing is that in logistics, supply chain, those professionals and myself are very, very aware that we are a cost center to the organization. We are not typically delivering top line revenue and so we are very thoughtful about the P&L and how the potential negative impact we can have to profit. And so really having that PNL orientation has helped to really understand the whole business because you understand, one of the lines on the bottom side of the P&L so intimately. Daniel:Really interesting Kate. I think that this information will be very interesting to our listeners. Thanks for joining us and thanks to all our listeners and see you in the next edition of our careers podcast.Kate: My pleasure and I appreciate the time today and thank you to all the listeners as well.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others”. Combine the wisdom of this old African proverb with the pithy saying that “Your network is your net worth” and you will get the essence of this article: Networking is vital to personal and professional success. And yet, so many of us just don’t realize how important this skill is, or worse, make no attempt to build our networks.
Rambo is only in the movies!
Human beings are socially interdependent creatures. This applies in the context of the families we are a part of, the communities we live in, the organizations we work in and ultimately, even across the planet as a whole. An organization’s success ultimately depends on how well different departments, teams and individuals perform their respective roles. In any field it is simply not possible to be a Rambo and realistically expect to consistently accomplish missions successfully. Networking helps to build an informal ecosystem that we as individuals can rely on for advice, assistance and support.
Networking is not just exchanging business cards
Networking starts with introductions and an exchange of business cards, but it certainly does not end there, as some people mistakenly believe. Their thinking is that “once people know who I am, what I do and how to reach me, they will contact me when they need my services”. This is an erroneous assumption because yours is only one among many cards that people will collect.
And unless you have been able to stand out from the crowd because of your gregariousness, credibility or knowledge, chances are your business card may not get a second glance.
Networking is about engaging with people who do not know you and building in them the desire to keep in touch with you. This happens only after you build rapport and mutual trust. In fact, real networking is about staying in touch after the initial interaction. During the initial networking interactions, you may not even know if- and how- the other person can help you; all you are doing is creating goodwill and trust that you can draw on as needed. Networking works on the principle of reciprocity, i.e. give-and-take. You may be called upon for assistance by others. If you are in a position to help, you should, as long as what is being asked of you does not violate company policies, your personal code of ethics and morals or the laws of the land.
You must network both inside and outside the organization you work in. Each provides different benefits.
Strong networks within the organization- both within our own departments and outside- can be valuable resources. For example, they can help us access people we may not directly know, but need information from. A quick “Hi John, Susan from HR wants some info about the Executive Search firm we use in Europe. She and I used to go to the same gym. I have asked her to write to you with what she needs. Appreciate your help” kind of voicemail/ email is likely to work much faster than you writing to John introducing yourself and then stating what you need.
More effective collaboration is another benefit of networking. Let’s say you’ve volunteered (or been volunteered!) to be part of a cross-functional team that has been formed for a specific project. If some of the other members are people with whom you have networked in the past, you need much less time to break the ice. Also, you can be more confident that your ideas will get a fair hearing (and even support, if they are good) during meetings.
In global organizations, mobility across regions is common, as companies seek to deploy their best people in key markets or divisions. As an expatriate who has to relocate in a couple of months, imagine how much easier your life (and job) could get if you reached out to colleagues from the new region and networked with them.
The key to successful networking is to identify possible common areas that can help forge a bond. Other than working for the same company (albeit different departments), maybe some of you live in the same community, or have kids attending the same school or playing in the same little league. Or perhaps you go to the same gym or place of worship. Such neutral meeting grounds are great to get early conversations flowing.
If you think you are not a “natural networker”, start honing your skills by building networks within the organization; the experience will make you more adept at external networking.
Networking outside the organization is just as relevant. You could meet people at industry events or professional conferences, in airport lounges, on flights or even while on vacation. The people you meet could be functional experts, motivational speakers, leadership gurus or even potential customers/clients or employers. By networking with them, you could learn about industry developments-information that you can use in your own jobs. Or you could gather insights about self-development that will help you be more effective in your job. Or you could learn tips to manage your people better. There really are no boundaries to how networking can benefit an individual.
Knowledge apart, networking can enhance your personal brand. For example, at an event if you are a speaker or panelist or ask great questions, you will be noticed. Use coffee/lunch breaks to network, and you could discover potential hires for your team or even meet potential employers. You could even meet executive search consultants who could help you with that next career move or hire the kind of people you are looking to hire for your team/organization.
Even networking with competitors can be useful. You could gain insights into how your organization is perceived in the marketplace. Such information is very valuable as it can help shape strategic or tactical responses. Networking can also help make it easier to work with peers across companies to brainstorm collective responses to issues impacting the community or industry.
As you can imagine, a good networker can use his skill to gain significantly. But remember that those who are good at this craft are givers and sharers too. Sustainable networking is about giving others the confidence that you are approachable and willing to provide reasonable help- and then living up to the perception you have created.
The importance of networking is perhaps best summed up by Success Coach Dennis Waitley’s observation that “If you are not networking, you are not working”.
Here’s a list of conferences which I have gathered from my network that you may find useful, depending on what industry you are from or what functional role you play. These conferences are mainly around specific industries; however, most of them include sessions on HR topics, Leadership, Technology etc.
I have often been asked by family, friends, former colleagues and of course, clients why I chose to become an executive search professional. A few days ago, on a flight back to Barcelona, I gave the question deeper thought and even made some notes. As I reviewed the notes, I realized that I could actually identify and categorize the reasons and drivers into three distinct but inter-related buckets:
Who I am
What the job requires
How I benefit
The “Who I am” is essentially about the kind of person I believe I am. I see myself as a caring human being who likes to build relationships with other human beings. I genuinely like interacting with new people and getting to understand their experiences, aspirations- and often times, even fears. I enjoy change and keeping in touch with how industries are evolving under the influence of technology, regulations, customer expectations, business models etc.
Because of who I am as a person and the strengths I bring to the table, it perhaps becomes easier for me to be and do all that being a good executive search professional needs to be and do:
A good listener- to be able to understand people and assess their strengths and weaknesses
A clear communicator- to act as an effective bridge between the client organization and candidates so that information about the role, culture, compensation etc. is clearly shared.
Avid reader- to be aware of the many ways in which industries and organizations are evolving, and consequently, appreciate what skills and competencies are key.
Possess high emotional intelligence- in order to be able to separate person from issue, objectively evaluate people’s reactions and responses and remain calm through a process that can take many months and involve a series of emotional ebbs and flows.
Have a global perspective- because more and more businesses operate globally, and are willing to hire the best talent irrespective of nationality or ethnicity. Just as true is the willingness of talent to live and work in new locations far away from their home countries.
Digital savvy able to use a combination of resources to research candidates and thereafter, connect and engage with them. This also requires the ability to function effectively in an omni-channel environment, to choose the most appropriate channel to connect.
An innovator with the ability to connect even faint dots so as to identify talent for cross-industry roles.
A persuasive person who can convince organizations to give them the search mandate and then, persuade candidates that they are the best fit for a certain role.
For me, the how I benefit bucket goes far beyond the monetary rewards of successful placement. I derive immense satisfaction from helping people succeed and grow as professionals. There is also great joy from helping organizations succeed by helping them attract the right talent. This gives me the pleasure of knowing that I have contributed more directly to the client organization’s transformation than just helping them hire good talent.
There is also the fact that in the course of a day or week, one gets to wear so many hats and play so many roles. Being part of a boutique firm also means I share responsibilities for formulating the firm’s strategy, managing financial and human resources, driving expansion into new geographies or industry sectors and so much more. Each day is different because one gets to interact with different people and organizations. Each such interaction for me is an opportunity to learn. Sometimes, I learn to improve, and sometimes I learn how not to be. For an executive search professional, every engagement and every candidate is a unique story, although there are some similarities. So hey, what’s not to love about a job that enriches me in so many ways?!
Aristotle is believed to have said “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”. I would be lying if I claim to be perfect. But I can honestly say that I take pleasure in my job. With each passing day I strive to become a better head-hunter- and human being- than I was the day before.
Taking the LEAD in addressing the challenge of inadequate women in senior leadership positions
Last week, I attended a meeting in Barcelona organized by the LEAD Network (Leading Executives Advancing Diversity), whose members believe that “organizations can create more sustainable value by leveraging the full talent pool” (i.e. women as well as men). Its mission is to “attract, retain and advance women in the retail and consumer goods industry in Europe through education, leadership and business development”. Many of the world’s leading organizations are already members of the LEAD Network in their European Branches. I was lucky to attend this event and meet some great people, but overall left with some takeaways I would like to share.
Why under-representation of women in senior positions is a challenge may be appreciated from the following data points:
Women account for just under 50% of the world’s population and represent almost 52% of Europe.
In the US alone, women control US$4.3 trillion (yep- trillion with a “T”) of consumer spend.
Both in Europe and the US more women receive advanced degrees than men in most fields of study.
In 2017, women held 51.6% of all management and professional positions. Yet, only less than half (25.7%) of new Directors on the Boards of S&P 500 companies were women.
The current situation is unsatisfactory
Although diversity has been on corporate agenda in Europe and North America for many years, hard data reveals that the number of women in leadership positions is not in line with their overall proportion in the population. LEAD Network reports that on average, women constitute around 25% of Management Boards in European Retail/FMCG/CPG companies (although women constitute 55% of the total workforce in these industries). The magnitude of the gender diversity challenge at the senior leadership level can be gauged from the fact that despite many of the world’s top FMCG/CPG companies and retailers themselves being members of the LEAD Network, the best performers are P&G (32%) in FMCG and Scandinavian Retailer ICA (around 40%) is the overall leader.
Three impediments identified by the LEAD Network in this Event
The meeting discussed the following three principal categories of roadblocks women face in their quest to reach the highest echelons in organizations:
Unconscious gender bias
Work-life integration issues
Women’s fear of advancement
Unconscious gender bias
Despite regulatory requirements and company policies, many organizations are still run as “Old Boys’ Networks”, where members’ own cultural, social and familial norms and personal affiliations tend to influence decisions around hiring and promotions. This leads to candidates in their own mould being favoured- e.g. Alpha Males. Indeed, the absence of such traits is viewed as a lack of “talent”, while strong emotional intelligence traits such as listening and empathy can be ignored. The irony of this situation is that L&D programs in the very same organizations work to reinforce the need for male executives to develop precisely these competencies.
Unconscious gender bias is defined as “unintentional and automatic mental associations based on gender, stemming from traditions, norms, values, culture and/or experience. For example, managers do not assign certain projects to women because the nature of the work requires extensive travel or late nights. Funnily enough, the manager may justify such decisions on the grounds that women may not be comfortable or equipped to deal with such requirements because of their other commitments (even now it is implicitly assumed that it is the woman’s primary role to care for the family). Women are thus assigned work that the manager sees as being more suitable to a woman- and possibly, less challenging or having less organizational impact. Creditable performances are seen as no big deal and given a lower weightage. This inherently discriminates against women who shoulder the additional responsibilities of primary caregiver- e.g. those with younger children or ailing family members. A McKinsey report even cites “unfailing availability and total geographic mobility” as a criterion for selection to leadership positions at one company.
The fact that such biases often manifest even without the individual’s knowledge exacerbates the challenge. An online study by Harvard found that 76% of the 200,000 participants are gender-biased. These biases manifest in the form of “micro behaviours” and body language that make candidates less confident (e.g. interviewers leaning forward less or not being expressive). In turn, this erodes confidence that is interpreted as unwillingness or inability.
Work-life balance or integration
Work-life integration (earlier known as work-life balance), was another reason cited to explain why women are not adequately represented in senior corporate roles. The very concept of work-life integration was developed to take a broader view of life. In addition to work it is meant to include, personal well-being, home/family and community.
Those who are now in their early 20s to mid-30s have very different priorities in life and are more able to make trade-offs. As workforce demographics get more weighted in favour of Gen Z and millennials, there will be a greater force for change. Today, it was mentioned, it’s practically a must that companies offer flexibility, for example to work from home, to be able to attract more members of these generations.
I was surprised that there wasn’t more discussion on the role that maternity leave plays in keeping many women out of senior level roles at organizations. Studies have shown that the wage gap between the genders too can be attributed to the woman’s decision to go on maternity leave, as mentioned in this LS International Article. And this is a topic that, in my point of view, is still pending on a global accepted solution.
Women’s fear of advancement
The first two reasons discussed have to do with people other than the woman herself. The third reason discussed has to do with the individual. It was posited that a psychological phenomenon known as “Impostor syndrome” or “Fraud syndrome”, a term coined about 40 years ago, may also be a reason for why women hold back. Despite their qualifications or external evidence of competence, some individuals fear that their achievements are due to “luck”, or that they do not deserve what they have got or that they are “frauds” for having led others to believe that they are smarter than they really are. Early research on the “Impostor syndrome” focused on women. However, it is now recognised that the syndrome affects both men and women. Therefore, while manifestation of this syndrome could certainly be a causal factor in many cases- especially when the woman vocalizes her fears of not being worth it- it would, in my view, be incorrect to attribute this as a major reason why a larger number of women fail to reach the topmost levels of organizations despite their competencies, expertise and experience.
Highly-successful women who have been reported as suffering from this syndrome include Kate Winslet, Oprah Winfrey and Sheryl Sandberg. Women who have a high degree of impostor syndrome are reportedly more tenacious. “Their self-doubt makes them more competitive, so although they may not negotiate to their own benefit, they make highly-driven leaders”.
To women (and men) who experience this syndrome, these tips may help:
In a hyper-competitive corporate world, nobody gets ahead if they do not really possess the skills or the ability to acquire those skills. Maybe it is your sensitivity or lateral thinking ability that gave you the edge.
Nobody knows everything- including those rivals who are insinuating in hushed tones that you do not deserve what you got. Therefore, be open to learning all the time.
Keep a tab of your achievements, and don’t just maintain a list of “improvement needs”.
Seek help from friends or a coach who can be objective and hold the mirror to you. But stay away from sycophants (including those in your own team).
Set yourself high standards but refuse to let yourself be measured by other’s yardsticks.
Finding a solution
Arguably, reasons and excuses are perhaps two sides of the same coin. Just as arguably, progress depends on intent. If there is honest intent, human beings have the inherent resourcefulness to find ways to move forward. But as Ernst & Young’s Jorge Aguirre points out, many companies have taken symbolic steps to ensure that more women climb up the corporate ladder to the highest levels. These are clearly not enough and the time has come to find solutions that will deliver results quickly while also being sustainable in the longer term.
Pepsico’s Quique Hernandez made the following suggestions at the conference:
Build a business case to showcase how the qualities that women candidates possess will benefit the organization- especially for global, matrix organizations whose leaders must display higher levels of cultural sensitivity and empathy and have superior listening skills because they will need to engage with direct reports and colleagues from around the world.
Increasingly, consumers are becoming more discerning in their preferences. Companies and brands are responding by taking stands on societal issues. So companies that take the lead in creating pathways for women leaders (based on merit) can expect to not just attract talent but also tangibly differentiate itself.
I would add that companies institute in-house coaching/mentoring programs if they don’t have them in place already. Where they have such programs, a case can be made to reengineer them because of some hard-hitting data that was presented at the LEAD Network meeting:
28% of women reported that they lacked high-visibility assignments. Companies should bring in greater transparency, objectivity and consistency in the way high-visibility assignments are awarded by including this in the internal governance model. Factors such as family, ability to travel etc. must be considered after the basic suitability of candidates has been established. The candidates being considered must be given a choice in the matter and where possible, the organization must allow for flexibilities such as home-travel every two weeks or allowing the child/nanny to travel or whatever makes sense in the context of work-life integration.
29% of women were reported to lack female role models (from whom they can learn how to achieve higher levels of work-life integration). If the overall issue is addressed, this too will be resolved over a period of time as more women make it to the top.