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.
The FIFA World Cup has started on and the sponsorship circus is on. When brands try to get traction from their partnership with the elite football teams and the World Premium Football competition we can question the future of sponsorship in the new digital era.
A long time ago, when Gen Z’s parents just graduated, i.e. approximately 25 years ago, sponsorship was all about putting brand names on panel boards around the football pitch and on team jerseys. The objective was to raise brand awareness in a gamble that the TV audience will help recognise and memorize the name and/or logo.
Sport Marketing Sales agencies have continued to flourish by selling to medium-sized-wannabe-big companies the opportunity to have their name around the pitch of a national or European matches or other sporting events, comparing real advertising time with hazardous visibility raising more internal C-suite pride than consumer intention to buy. When it comes for big or major events, on site visibility has moved from prime argument for partnering to must-have but not-enough-to-have, a somewhat reinsurance for the potential sponsors.
The measurement of the so-called TV exposure is still a golden standard as a KPI and the bread and butter of some research companies in the sports industry, without demonstrating the impact of the sponsorship as delivering big numbers in terms of equivalent advertising’s time and valuation, which doesn’t provide any insight about the performance of the brand among the main target audience of the corporate sponsors.
With premium right holders driving the most of their revenue from broadcasters with a correlated effect to push the matches’ broadcasts from free to air TV to pay TV with sometimes very narrow audience, the power of the brands as event sponsors is shrinking and the potential influence of the TV brand exposure is a less and less sustainable argument. Although TV is still king in terms of media consumption for sporting events, sport is going digital and social. The youngest audience and young adults have been shifting from TV to digital devices – the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio have been the turning point and the FIFA World Cup 2014 suffered from a decline of TV audience of the youths for the first time ever due to a transfer of viewing to digital devices (Laptop, mobiles, tablets). The digital landscape has currently no recognised measurement standard similar to what exists for TV, which brings more uncertainty about the understanding of the impact for sponsors.
Mc Kinsey already pointed out in 2014: “Sponsorships have become an integral component of marketing strategy. Yet many companies still do not effectively quantify the impact of these expenditures, even for events requiring significant spending such as the World Cup. A systematic commitment to a menu of analytic approaches allows executives to identify sponsorships that create value as well as those that don’t live up to their names.”
Disrupting the sponsorship approach is now mandatory to hit brands’ objectives as it’s more
and more is all about consumer engagement, impact and return on investment.
Brands should focus on 5 key rules to get more impact and traction and none of them is about brand exposure during the games.
Exclusive territory of expression vs. exclusivity of product category: so far Coca Cola gets the exclusivity of communication for the product category soft drinks and water for the main contracts. Now to raise the interest of the consumers, brands should define a territory allowing them to demonstrate what they bring to them and their community. The territory can be shared with several corporate brands as long as the consumers get the message: sustainability can apply to energy carrier, water supplier, waste management company… It’s all about a convincing and acute story telling towards the company main target audience.
Exclusive contents vs. “same right for the same category of sponsors” policy. Since the late 80’s, sponsoring packages were the same among the sponsors of a set level. Now each brand needs to offer a unique experience to their customers and consumers to differentiate from their competitors and deliver a strong advantage against those which are not official sponsors and use the theme. This implies as well that the right holders (for example an International Sports Federation) carve out some media rights to allocate them to their sponsors such as behind the scenes stories, athletes’ preparation … We have all seen during the last winter Olympics athletes sharing directly on their social media depriving the sponsors from potential activation.
Preferred access to data and analytics. Very few organisations are able to nail down all their data in a same place (for example ticketing buyers, merchandising consumers, audience). So far the ticketing data of the last Olympics or FIFA World Cup don’t belong to their respective international organisation, preventing to share with their international sponsors a clear picture of the fans. Sponsors should access data and connect them with the own ones to elaborate sophisticated and efficient activation’s plan.
Co-creation of unique assets. One of the privileges of an official sponsor is to use and print the logo of the sponsored event or organisation on products. Millions of Coca Cola bottles have been carrying the logo of the FIFA World Cup, for example, all over the world. This doesn’t deliver any advantage neither to customers nor the company itself as such. Sponsorship will move to strategic alliances allowing the co-creation of new products and new services with a revenue sharing scheme for a mutual benefit of the right holders (more potential revenues if the strategy is correctly defined and implemented), the corporate company (more profit if the offer is very attractive and unique vs the competition or money saving if the sponsorship doesn’t prove to be successful), the consumers (better engagement with the co-branded product or service).
Definition of sponsorship purpose. A sponsorship deal is usually contracted for a set period of time and the corporate company is focusing on getting a return of investment during this set period of time. The subject of legacy is more and more of importance for the companies’ shareholders, staff and consumers. What should the sponsor achieve to make its world sustainably better? This element is now crucial for companies willing to partner with mega events such as the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup
As an executive search professional, my life straddles two continents- Europe and North America. There are many differences in day-to-day customs and practices between any two countries, even neighbours such as the USA and Canada or France and Germany. The more I interact with executives working away from their home countries, the more I realize the importance of people making adjustments to their views, habits and expectations to account for and adapt to cross-cultural differences. In this article, I list some tips that I draw from my own experiences and hope readers will find them useful as their own careers take them from one country to another.
Be Open Minded
Take the simple example of waiting in line. In the US or the UK, people would stand in a line without a second thought. But when I moved to Spain, I was struck by the absence of lines. It is common for people to just gather around the area and ask “¿quién es la última” (“who’s last in line”?). Initially, I must admit that I found this quite annoying (probably because my Spanish wasn’t great at the time). But over time, I got used to it and now, I think nothing of asking who’s last in line and wait accordingly. This example might sound trivial, but it underscores an important point- when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Things will be different in a new country, but if that’s the norm there, who are we as outsiders to pass judgement or criticize practices? It is far easier to accept that things are different, keep an open mind and adjust. Trust me, it will save a lot of frustration (and you will save money on antacids too!).
Learn the Language
Learning the local language should be another high-priority item on the “to-do lists” of expatriate managers. In multinational companies, English is often the lingua franca, and expatriates do not usually need the local language for work. But in every country, people appreciate efforts by foreigners to speak their language. They don’t expect fluency, and usually the very fact that you are making an effort to learn their language will endear you to them. Also, when you rely on interpreters or translators, what you may get is a filtered version limited by the interpreter’s proficiency, willingness to translate, biases and personal agenda.
Patience is held out as a great virtue. Adjusting to a new country and its culture is a prime example of where patience pays. Most of us are quite impatient when it comes to adjusting to a new environment; we expect to be on top of things in a day or two. But getting used to certain things in a new country can take much longer. The format in which dates are written is a simple but telling example of this. I must admit to having written my birthday as the 1st of May on many occasions before making the change. Do not put yourself under pressure to hit the ground running. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to settle into the new environment- but be aware that you need to work hard to settle in.
Talking about her own experiences of living and working in the US and Europe for over 20 years, Carole Rissmann, who was most recently VP Marketing at Beiersdorf USA, says in a podcast you can listen to on our website, “… every country has (its own) culture, background… so I would say be curious and ask questions. There is a lot to learn from people…. there's never just one way of thinking or doing something…. and you're better able to make a decision if you have multiple perspectives…. it has always been an eye-opener for me how much there is to learn from others- not just professionally, also personally.”
Other aspects of culture too permeate the workplace. For example, while the US is largely non-hierarchical, in many other countries people are respected for their age or experience. Someone who moves from a hierarchical to a non-hierarchical culture (or vice versa, for that matter), will find it tough unless they make a conscious choice to understand these differences and factor them into what constitutes appropriate behaviour. As Ms. Rissmann says in the same podcast, “acknowledging or recognizing [cultural] differences can help to move the business forward more quickly or in a different way”.
Another aspect that is likely to come to the fore is acceptance of diversity. In some countries, opinions are valued on the basis of merit, and not whose opinions they are; but in other countries, the views of senior leaders are considered sacrosanct. This might stifle creative thinking and force people to adhere to the tried and tested. So, when someone from a country where diversity of opinion is welcomed moves to a role in a country where it is not, s/he may wonder why nobody else is speaking up. It is easy to form judgement about the competency of individuals, but remember that sometimes, cultural shackles may be responsible. Of course, the reverse is also possible, with executives being affronted at the temerity of fresh graduates offering suggestions and nobody else viewing it as a breach of hierarchy or protocol.
A recent article in FT quotes researchers from a group of US universities who studied the effect of foreign postings on self-awareness reporting in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes journal that “No longer immersed in the values and norms that they take for granted, people are frequently faced with new situations that prompt them to reflect on the dissimilar values and norms of the foreign culture. Such recurrent reflections may strengthen self-concept clarity because they make people more confident in what they actually believe and, ultimately, who they really are”. (Source)
In addition to providing functional or key market experience to executives, cross-cultural stints strengthen an individual’s core leadership capabilities by making them more open-minded to change and adaptable. They become more willing to consider diverse views in order to make better decisions. Indeed, some decisions could be so radical that they elevate the company’s growth trajectory to an entirely new, higher level. But all this will not happen automatically. Every individual needs to be self-aware, mindful of how the new environment differs from “back home”, accept the differences for what they are, and factor them into the process of interacting with people and making decisions. And remember that organizations increasingly value self-aware people.
Latin America experienced extended economic growth between 2004 and 2012 due to rising prices of natural resources (minerals, energy, timber etc.). Things started going bad for the region in 2013 when prices of natural resources crashed. After almost five years of pain that hit the region’s corporates and individuals, things are starting to look better. GDP growth estimates in 2018 for the top six economies (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Colombia) range between 2-3%. Of course, major risks remain, such as what happens to NAFTA after President Trump’s actions to revoke several clauses, the outcome of elections in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, and the US Fed’s actions on interest rates (Source).
Especially for companies with interests in sectors driven by “retail consumption”, LatAm’s bright growth prospects are attractive. For example, McKinsey predicts that the fashion industry will see a 2x to 3x growth in turnover between 2016 and 2018. However, this growth will be driven mainly by markets in the Asia Pacific and Lat Am markets. Their study concludes that more than half of global clothing and footwear sales will be outside Europe and North America (Source).
Other consumer product categories that are expected to record healthy growth in Latin America during 2018 and beyond include beauty and personal care products (4% CAGR till 2026); energy drinks (12% CAGR till 2021); pharmaceuticals (9.3% CAGR till 2028). The number of malls too is expected to increase at 5% per annum. Despite a dip in sales of mobile phones costing more than US$400, the wave of low-price smartphones from China has made them affordable to almost 80% of adults in Latin America (Source). In fact, China’s growing interest in the Caribbean and LatAm is reflected in its growing economic presence in the region. China is currently the second largest bilateral lender, the second largest trading partner and the third largest source of new FDI in Lat Am (Source).
As Mr. Jeferson Fernandes, Coty’s Supply Chain Head for Latin America points out in LS International’s recent Career Success podcast on What makes Latin America different, the region’s “lack of maturity will be a key driver of opportunity” (Source). However, Latin America is a unique market especially when compared with Europe or North America. As such, companies looking to do business there must give careful thought to the implications of these differences on their strategies and operations.
Despite language and cultural diversity, Europe is a fairly homogeneous market, thanks largely due to relative political stability and the unifying legal/tax structures of the EU. North America too is homogeneous in nature, allowing companies to integrate production, marketing etc. at a regional level. But such an approach cannot easily be applied to markets in Latin America, where each country has its own political nuances and differences in tax structures and rates. In fact, even within the same country, there are variations in tax rates between states. Also, unlike Europe or North America, where even towns with populations of 50,00 are seen as attractive markets for retail products, in South American countries, socio-economic disparities between urban and rural segments of the population mean that many products are available only in larger cities.
Even in the new millennium, Latin American countries have generally been characterized by poor innovation. Even their ability to assimilate new technologies that boost productivity is lower in comparison with most other regions in the world. This partly has to do with the weak legal system in the region that is often unable to protect intellectual property (IP). In turn, this makes IP owners and investors less willing to commit to transferring technologies to the region. In fact, inventors and entrepreneurs from the region head to Silicon Valley or other parts of North America to incubate their ventures and seek early-stage funding (Source).
But in recent years, this is changing. With the advent of cloud computing, new age ventures like Uber, AirBNB and Netflix are growing rapidly across the LatAm region. Although Venture Capital (VC) activity is still small relative to other parts of the world, investments in start-ups are doubling every three years. There is now thus greater hope than ever before that the benefits of technology-led innovation will accrue to citizens in this part of the world sooner rather than later.
Latin America is emerging as an attractive e-Commerce market, thanks to internet penetration that is at 61% and growing every day. As a direct consequence of internet and smartphone penetration, a growing number of consumers (more than 41%) research products and compare them online before even visiting stores. One in every three consumers search actively online for deals and promotion offers. It is estimated that online sales will grow at 19% per year- well above the global average of 11%. These trends have collectively created a huge opportunity for retailers willing to invest in e-Commerce infrastructure in Latin America. Not surprisingly, Amazon, Walmart and Alibaba are among the global giants ramping up their operations in various South American countries (Source).
But in Latin America the road to e-Commerce success is paved with additional challenges that include citizens’ limited access to banking services, security of online payment gateways and corruption associated with customs. In countries like Brazil, state-to-state variation in taxes adds another layer of complexity. Logistics represents another challenge mainly due to the relatively poor physical road and transportation infrastructure in the region. It is estimated that this adds a hefty 15% to costs, besides increasing lead times for delivery. Bloomberg and Simpliroute report that the time between order placement and delivery at the customer’s door could take weeks (Source).
All things considered, both companies that are already operating in Latin America and those that seek to enter must ensure that they adapt/plan suitably. Wherever possible, hiring mid or senior-level talent with a blend of local and global exposure will facilitate ease of doing business.
May 28, 2018
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