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.
Mindfulness has become very popular, also in the business context. Even though there are a few voices, which not only see it positive, the vast majority believes that being more mindful at work is beneficial. I will not try to summarize all the material which is out there but to share my very personal experience.
I first got in touch with mindfulness around 5 years ago when I traveled to South East Asia and stumbled into a free meditation class in the midst of Bangkok. Honestly, I had no clue what I was up to but the monk I was talking to called Hartanto Gunawan had a lasting impact on me. Most likely this was also driven by the fact that he served as a manager and CEO of several enterprises in Indonesia before he changed sides, so he knew my world pretty well.
After a few questions only, I realized how self-centered I was running through the world and how little I noticed about what was happening around me. This did not mean that I was unsuccessful, I helped establish new businesses and turnaround others. Still, the way how I achieved it felt quite stressful, if not to say exhaustive. And I had the impression that I needed to run even faster to keep pace with the ever changing environment. Or was I wrong?
Listening to Hartanto, there seemed to be at least one alternative way worth exploring: Be more present, truly listen to what others have to say and thus access a much broader source of wisdom. At first, I felt ashamed because I remembered the times when I interacted with others and primarily waited for the right moment to talk back and make my point. Could it be that I missed an even better solution due to this behavior?
Most probably I had, at least sometimes, and I could not imagine that this was very engaging for my opposites as well. However, how could I change? Most of the times it was happening very sub-consciously, and I only realized later, if ever. So, Hartanto and other monks I met on the way taught me about meditation and how it would help me being more mindful. 15 minutes just sitting still every morning could make a big difference and increase my self-awareness and the awareness for others.
Frankly speaking, I was skeptical. 15 minutes was not a lot, but every morning when I was in a hurry anyway and my mind was wandering already? Still, I tried and I was surprised about the effect, not immediately but over time. Mostly when I meditated the days at work (and at home) seemed to differ: I was more present and less distracted, I was clearer for myself and for others, I could pay more attention to what others had to say and we could thus find better solutions, which was much more engaging and often more fun, too.
Does that mean that meditation and its benefit of being more mindful is the solution to all business problems? Definitely not, however for me it turned out to be an additional and powerful source to navigate through the complex challenges I face as a manager day in day out.
Have you had similar experiences? Or perhaps different ones? I would be very interested to hear about them.
Gaudenz Stricker is a Marketing & Sales professional with broad business experience across DACH. He currently serves as Marketing Director for Petcare, Confectionery, and Food in Austria.
One question that entrepreneurs often grapple with is about where to invest in their business. Especially during their early stages, most ventures face the challenge of having to allocate limited capital to different elements. This article is about my experience of prioritizing investments for LS International, the executive search firm I founded in 2015. Like all new ventures, I too needed space to operate from. I needed communication and computing devices and connectivity. I needed money for Business Development, which in the executive search business meant traveling to meet prospective clients and candidates.
Prioritize in the context of your business- invest in what really matters
A key learning during the first year or so was to avoid the temptation to spend money on what might seem important, but really wasn’t. I initially worked from my home office, so I had more money for the other bits. I chose to make initial investments in five key areas that were important to my business at that time:
Technology: I knew I would spend a lot of time on the phone, speaking with candidates as well as clients and potential clients. I decided to buy a top of the line Sennheiser headset. Could I have managed with something less expensive? Yes, but personal comfort is important when you work sometimes for 10+ hours a day. I needed a reliable and sturdy laptop, which is what I got myself. My business was all about maintaining a secure and scalable database of candidates and clients- so that was another investment. Nothing fancy, but functional for sure. And yes, I invested in anti-virus software and other security features that would keep data safe.
Information: LinkedIn professional access was vital- so that was a no-brainer. I invested in subscriptions to well-known business newspapers such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, which gave me access to news about people, companies and of course, information about different segments and markets of the consumer domain. As someone whose business revolved around identifying the best people for my clients, I had to be well-informed about their businesses so I could understand their needs and gauge candidates’ experience. Speaking your clients’ language is invaluable.
Self-development: Any business, but especially a services business, is only as good as its people. And when your venture initially has a staff of one- i.e. you- it’s critical that you invest in developing yourself. One’s background may equip us with certain skills, but as an entrepreneur, you need a whole lot more. Like managing a P&L, or building resilience in the face of failure. As young, first-time entrepreneurs usually are, I too was vulnerable to self-doubt. Invest in the right coach or mentor- and believe me you won’t regret it. I found Judith Sanz, my first mentor, through the Barcelona chapter of the Professional Women’s Network (PWN). I owe Judith a huge debt of gratitude and I can say with confidence that had it not been for her mentorship, I would not be as successful as I am today. Thanks Judith!
Travel: In our business, trust and confidentiality are vital. And building trust by meeting people face-to-face may be old-fashioned, but you better believe it’s still the best way to do it. Chemistry is a big part of relationship-building and that needed me to meet executives at client companies as well as candidates. And remember that this critical process can only be done one meeting at a time!
Thank you’s: In a world where more and more simply gets taken for granted, tangible expressions of gratitude stand out. Again, nothing fancy or expensive- just a little something that shows you care enough to say “thank you”.
Beware of investing in things that are not really vital or essential
The ABC analysis or categorizing cost elements/features into what’s vital, essential or desirable applies to entrepreneurial ventures too. Like I said earlier, I needed a good workhorse laptop- not necessarily a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. Office furniture is another big-ticket item that can dent your budget and not deliver much ROI.
A website is essential. But in the early days, a simple but informative website is more important than a fancy one with bells and whistles (that’s also more expensive to develop). Closing the deal needs personal meetings, presentations and persuasion. Your passion and hunger cannot be better conveyed via your website, no matter how good it is. I resisted the urge to splurge on a fancy website. I chose a simple design and wrote the initial copy myself (Although I admit I am a far better executive search professional than a copywriter!). I have made many updates since then, but I am sure you get the point.
Constantly evaluate priorities as your business evolves
As the business grows, your investment priorities will (and must) change. Prioritize what kind of people you need- those with complementary skills or those who possess overlapping skills so you can delegate some tasks and focus on areas that need more attention. But as you hire people, you will need a proper office. Clean, well-lit offices and meeting rooms with functional and comfortable furniture are important- expensive artwork on the walls can wait.
As you hire people, make sure you scale up your technology backbone (hardware, network and software) too so that everyone can access systems securely and the risk of viruses or hacking are minimized. A good quality printer and a projector may be worth the investment, as also investment in faster/better connectivity.
Marketing and brand-building is usually a major area of investment for businesses when they get to a certain stage. But be smart about where you invest- and be clear about what you’re getting in return. Utilize digital channels to push rich content (e.g. LS International’s podcasts and articles), while using speaking opportunities at events to create personal visibility and awareness for the company.
Nowadays diversity is a trending topic. Everywhere from corporate world to public institutions, there is a point in the agenda about diversity and inclusion (D&I). I am glad this is the case and I firmly believe that it’s a step in the right direction even if a little late coming. The question I have is “How can we move forward the D&I needle more rapidly?”
When I started writing this article I asked myself how diversity is defined. Of course there are thousands of definitions and it means different things to different people. But what it means to me, is equal opportunities for everyone. Some of the interesting research that I’ve liked was published by Harvard Business Review and split diversity into 3 concepts reflected below:
demographic diversity which is our gender, race, sexual orientation
experiential diversity being our affinities, hobbies and abilities
cognitive diversity meaning how we approach problems and think about things
We need to bear in mind that all three shape our identities and the difference between them is a very thin line. Despite this classification, the biggest emphasis in the corporate world is gender diversity and I’ve chosen to write about D&I for women in the workplace.
As an HR professional and very passionate about gender diversity, I keep asking myself “what are we doing wrong or not doing enough of?” Why are the studies showing that the gender gap is getting bigger despite all the efforts? To be honest, I do not have a clear answer, but I am going to share my reflections from my life in the corporate world.
There are 2 main areas I’d like to focus on: environment and self-site. Considering the current environment in corporations, there has been an increasing attention on D&I but in most cases it’s still not a top priority for the businesses. Since the 1980s, most companies have developed policies and tools to become more inclusive, such as assessment tools like setting quotas, flexible working policies, mentoring and training programs.
I have worked and incorporated several of the above practices with mixed feelings about quotas. I believe quotas are a commitment and a way to ensure that the company stays on track within the D&I agenda, but I think it has the risk of disengaging both genders when is set as a corporate goal. Men consider it unfair because they perceive that they have less chances and it equally creates doubts for women whether they are selected because of their gender instead of their performance or qualifications.
If we don’t use quotas, where should we start? A recent study from “Lean in” and McKinsey shows that women are left behind from the beginning during the two key moments of hiring and promotions. The study shows that companies are not providing equal opportunities for women in these areas from the beginning despite women earning more bachelor’s degrees than men. Women are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs, but the gap becomes bigger for manager positions (represented in the chart below).
I’m a firm believer in programs such as mentoring and coaching but it seems that women are not even offered the first step to enter the door. That’s why, what we are currently doing in my company is to have the same talent in candidate pools regardless of their gender. I agree that it might be more difficult to support gender equality with the bigger pool, but data shows that they’re out there and it’s not a good excuse to argue the latter position.
One of the programs that I feel works best is role modelling – “We can’t be, what we can’t see.” That’s why if we have a greater number of women in top leadership positions, the greater our chances that young females want to follow in their footsteps.
This point links to the second key area to focus on, our self-site which is the idea of being conscious of our personality and unconscious biases. It has been very eye opening to read the “Lean in” book from Sheryl Sandberg as it felt like a check list of my own unconscious biases. Starting in school at a young age, I underestimated my abilities to perform on exams, to more recently being afraid of asking for a promotion or salary increase which show some of my unconscious biases that I’ve tried to overcome. Throughout my experience in HR, I have realized these patterns still exist among women. In general, when presenting offers to our employees or new candidates, the men always pushback and negotiate, whereas fewer women did. Of course, in all generalizations there are other elements like personality and background coming into play but like different studies show, women negotiate less than men is still a considerable trend.
For this reason, it is a key priority to raise our self-awareness both for men and women and understand our biases towards ourselves and our teams. It is important to help those women around us to be more self-confident and fight the impostor syndrome that they might have. Unfortunately, it is more common than we think and most of us don’t even realize that we do it.
One final thought I hope the readers of this article reflect on, we as employers need to make a greater effort to ensure we make the best decisions we can using the right candidate pool. What I mean by this is we need to search and identify the best candidates despite not being easy to find, it’s worth finding the “needle in the haystack”. On top of that, the support programs most companies have should be continued and intensified as it will be advantageous for new generations of employees. My hope is after reading this article you will ask yourself “what are your own biases and what can you do to improve them?” Despite the article focused on women this is a step in the right direction and helps us all to improve D&I. We need to embrace this change and not expect others to do it for us – if you are a man reading this, support all the women around you to succeed and help them fight their impostor syndrome. If you are a woman, you can do it – believe in yourself and build a support network to help you succeed in whatever you set your mind to. Now it is the time to reinvent yourself 2.0 style!
Laia Estorach Cavaller is a Human Resources professional with over seven years of experience in the field. She has worked across Europe including the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, occupying regional and global roles. She currently holds a Senior Global HR Business Partner position at RB, and is responsible for the Supply Chain function globally. She is very passionate about empowering young talents to become independent leaders which she has supported with initiatives such DARE project (develop, attract, retain, engage talented women in RB).