Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks we will highlight some of the outstanding executives that are presenting at the CPO Rising 2016 Summit. Today we continue the series with an in-depth look at another one of our fantastic speakers. Enjoy!
Ardent Partners is pleased to welcome Heidi Landry, Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) at Dow Corning, to CPO Rising 2016 in Boston in March. A globally-renowned CPO and long-time “friend of the site,” Heidi will deliver a presentation at the Harvard Club entitled, “The CPO’s Imperative: Remaining Vital When the Only Constant is Corporate Change,” which will illustrate how her organization accepted and met the challenge to remain vital to corporate operations and performance amidst major change.
Heidi joined Dow Corning in 2009 as the CPO after living and working abroad for 20 years. She manages a global team across Direct and Indirect procurement, with main offices in the United States, Brazil, Europe, and Asia. We were happy to catch up to Heidi before the event and learn more about how she got her start in supply management and ultimately worked her way up to become VP and CPO at Dow Corning, an industry leader in silicone and silicone-based products.
Learning and Working Abroad: An Expat’s Journey
Heidi received her Bachelor of Arts in International Trade and Economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, graduating Summa Cum Laude. During her time at UMass, Heidi did a year abroad at Beijing Normal University, and became fluent in Chinese. Following graduation, Heidi began her career as a Global Sales Coordinator for Baird Corp, focusing on sales support to the Chinese market. She took some post graduate courses in finance and marketing at Harvard University before leaving Baird to work in China for Kmart, then the largest global retailer. It was there that Heidi got her start in procurement, as she would serve as a quality control (QC) inspector, crisscrossing between Hong Kong and Southern China.
“I learned a lot from that experience,” recalls Heidi. However, she concedes that “it was a challenging time. I had a lot to learn about the industry, and I was inexperienced, so I had to learn fast. I will say that you learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ quickly when you start as a QC inspector, it’s a great crash course!”
After 2 years of performing QC, as well as merchandising, finance, and accounting for Kmart’s Hong Kong office, Heidi was transferred to the Shanghai office where she would lead the procurement department there and cover sourcing for central and northern China. It was a very interesting (and fun) time for her, as new suppliers were emerging and “China was just entering the real ‘boom’ years.”
But after two years in Shanghai, Heidi left Kmart and began a seven-year journey with Ikea that would take her across China and India to Switzerland. In that span, she led sourcing and procurement operations for two Ikea offices. While living in Switzerland, Heidi joined Novartis, where for the next four years, she led Contract Manufacturing procurement, and was ultimately promoted to head of pharmaceutical procurement.
In the fall of 2007, Heidi decided to take a leave of absence and move to Greece, where she worked as an independent procurement consultant for 2 years. But in the summer of 2009, after nearly 20 years of living and working abroad, Heidi was lured back “home” with an offer to lead the procurement function at Dow Corning.
The CPO’s Imperative to Transform
When Heidi assumed the role of CPO at Dow Corning, she took over a procurement organization that had never had a formal CPO; like many organizations, procurement at Dow Corning had been managed by executives who did not have a traditional procurement background. After the bottom fell out of the economy and the company experienced high market volatility and commodity price increases, the company realized that it needed an experienced, global CPO to lead a transformational effort.
Immediately, Heidi saw opportunities in sourcing and category management and worked to design a broad transformation strategy. While it took the larger company some time to warm to the change-intensive plan that she developed, Heidi and her team implemented a number of transformational initiatives, including:
1) Implementing market standard category management and strategic sourcing processes, while driving efficiency in transactional activities.
2) Instituting a policy of “No purchase order (PO) – no payment” to bring more of indirect spend under management;
3) Piloting an outsourcing initiative which helped her team reduce their transactional workload and focus on category management and strategic sourcing;
To give readers some perspective, when Heidi started, “four of the top five commodities were managed by the business, instead of Procurement. Now all categories and Procurement related activities are managed by the Function.” Heidi added that they were able to do that because they demonstrated two factors: 1st that Procurement was aligned to – and enabled- business goals, and 2nd , that Procurement drove more value than the business could, in spend under management.
The Management Tools of a Global CPO
On that note, there are several key value drivers that Heidi and her team employ that have won them trust and buy-in from their stakeholders. First and foremost is that she was able to deliberately build a trusted team of procurement professionals who share her transformational view and desire to bring the organization to the next level of performance.
Trust: After Heidi chose her team, she worked to develop a mutual trust and let them do their job. “I do my best to pick the right people and empower them,” she said, adding that “when you’ve got bright people working for you, you need to give them freedom. Get away from micromanaging them and let them do their job. Have regular check-ins, but remember your job is not to direct them, but rather to support them.”
Communication: Next, she communicates her priorities and vision for the company, and demonstrates how they propel enterprise-wide performance for all stakeholders. As Heidi said, “Every day when people go to work, they know what they’re doing and why it matters.”
Support: She also believes that it is important for people to have fun at work and feel supported, particularly for mid-career professionals. Without personal relationships, camaraderie, and a sense that they are contributing to something greater than themselves, keeping motivation high can be a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “You need to give people the sense that ‘First, you’re making a difference, and this is how. And second, you’re on a team that supports and sustains you, and we all like each other.”
Honesty: Finally, Heidi stresses being honest with your team. “People are smart, they have a great sense of intuition, so don’t BS them.”
The Road Ahead
Two months into 2016, Heidi and her team are laser-focused on improving the quality of their internal processes, particularly supplier management, which she feels offers a great opportunity for improvement and ultimately affects the company’s bottom line.
Delivering superior customer service to Dow Corning customers starts with her team, she argues, because if Procurement doesn’t manage supplier performance tightly, the manufacturing supply chain and customer service have to jump through hoops to maintain customer service. “Strong supplier management is key for to excellent customer service. Any supplier performance metric that is less than the corporate customer service goal, is time and energy the rest of the company is spending to make up for a supplier’s shortfall”
In addition, this is a clear way for the Procurement team to meet a broader enterprise goal – of delivering outstanding customer service. Procurement people may otherwise feel trapped by the perception that we’re only focused on getting costs down, and in reality we can do much more than that.”
After living and working abroad for 20 years for global corporations like Kmart, Ikea, and Novartis in roles ranging from quality control to head of procurement, Heidi brings a breadth and depth of cultural and professional experience that homegrown CPOs envy. Fortunately for her team at Dow Corning, and for the attendees at CPO Rising 2016 – the Agility Agenda, Heidi’s long and diverse resume offers many valuable lessons to be learned from an ex-pat who has come home to put her worldly experience to use on this side of the world. Like Dow Corning, we are lucky to have her.