Global Supply Management

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Women Executive Supply Management Summit (WESMS)

San Antonio, TX
February 2009


Samantha Covell, VP - Centre of Excellence, Global Sourcing, British Telecomm (BT)

Samantha Covell, whose specialty is international supply chain management, aimed to teach WESMS attendees how to obtain international opportunities and effectively deal with various cultures, as well as guide them through current trends in global supply management.

"All this is especially important today, given the global economic crisis," she began.

A Winding Career Path

Reflecting on how she ended up working in India for BT, where she currently resides, Covell said she began her supply management career began — literally — in her university career office. "I went in there, didn't get past the Bs and decided on 'buying,'" she said, laughing. "I thought, 'Oh, I can spend other people's money!"

After graduation, she landed her first job at Rolls-Royce as a buyer, an organization she recalled as exceptionally graduate-friendly. "It was almost an extension of college," she told attendees. "I got to travel, and I had good mentors and role models to teach me how to work with technical people."

After a promotion proved difficult to achieve, however, Covell accepted a position at Bechtel in London before being recruited to Penspen, where she spent five years while earning her MBA.

Next, Covell accepted her first senior role at an cement manufacturer she jokingly called "Blue Circle" (which was how it appeared on her career path flow chart she shared with attendees). Just a year later, "Blue Circle" was acquired, and Covell followed its former CEO to Invensys to source indirect commodities.

When Invensys was sold, she and the CPO made a move to Tyco — until downsizing became imminent. Soon, she accepted a position at British Telecomm, an ex-government organization, but found it initially to be very unionized and hierarchical. "For me, it wasn't exactly a rip-roaring success," she recalled — until, that is, she was called upon to establish the BT Centre of Excellence. In this capacity, she spent one year laying the groundwork in the United Kingdom before relocating to India, where she currently resides.

Career Management Takeaways

"I've had all these roles, but what does that mean? What did I learn?" she asked attendees. Well, for Covell, five lessons emerged strongest:

  • Adversity is a great teacher. "My biggest learning points are the result of difficulty," she explained.

  • You need other people. "No matter how good you are, you can't do it yourself," Covell cautioned. "Treat people with respect, or it'll come back to haunt you."

  • Be consistent, and live your values. "In trying times, consistency is often the first thing to go," she warned. "But it shouldn't be."

  • Use the left and right side of your brain. "Be both analytical and intuitive," she told attendees. "Know when you have to go deep and when you can trust others. Maybe get your opposite to work for you."

  • Manage performance. "Be really clear about what happens to people who perform and people who fail," she advised.

Covell also reminded attendees to prioritize work/life balance because, as she explained, "no one else will do it for you." Additionally, she emphasized the importance of networking, taking risks and — above all — delivering. "People aren't lucky in their careers — they're lucky for a reason," she said.

Understanding the business drivers and knowing how you contribute to their success is also key, according to Covell. This requires knowing your own work style, motivating others, securing the appropriate resources, communicating results and getting executive and peer-level commitment. Beyond this, you must deliver on those commitments and trust colleagues, she added. "This can be very difficult, but you must give others an opportunity to succeed."

Covell also recommends avoiding workplace politics and focusing instead on your job. "Be recognized for loyalty and delivery," she advised. "Build a long and interesting career by being someone people want to work with. That's how you make yourself lucky — people want to give you the job!"

Looking back, Covell called her own career path "a very, very personal thing."

"There are no guaranteed secrets of success," she said. "People want to see a logical progression in their careers, but that's not how it happens."

Securing — and Thriving — Internationally

For supply management professionals hoping to land international positions, Covell stressed the importance of articulating the value-add such a move represents, both for the company and for your career. "Otherwise, you might sound like you just want to go on holiday," she cautioned.

To this end, she also recommended zeroing in on the experience you seek — not the countries you find most appealing — when communicating your desire to your boss.

And, before accepting an international position, Covell urged supply management professionals to inquire about the future. In other words, what happens when the assignment is over.

"It's a question worth asking," she advised. "Great! You get to work in France. But what happens if you don't have a job when you get back?"

To ensure successful business communication once you arrive, Covell offered some generic strategies that apply anywhere in the world. For example, she said, no matter where you are working or who you are working with, learning the critical art of conversation is vital: "You'll never understand a person unless you spend time talking to them."

Global Trends in Supply Management

On an international scale, one of the trends in supply management is the call not only to drive change, but also to develop the language and measures behind it. "You need to figure out both those things," Covell said.

She also cautioned that talent recruitment and retention are ongoing challenges around the world. "Recruiting and retaining against local standards is very important," she said. "The talent pool from company to company might not be equal, but you still want the best people."

Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

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