Journal of Supply Chain Management

"One on One: An Interview with Edith Kelly-Green" By Marilyn Lester, Spring 2000, Vol. 36, No. 2, p. 2

One on One: An Interview with Edith Kelly-Green

Journal of Supply Chain Management Copyright © May 2000, by the Institute for Supply Management, Inc.


Marilyn Lester
Marilyn Lester, a freelance writer based in New York.

Edith Kelly-Green, CPA, vice president of strategic sourcing and supply for Federal Express Corporation (FedEx), joined the organization in 1977 as a senior accountant, progressing to her present position in 1993. Prior to that, she spent four years in accounting with Touche Ross (now Deloitte & Touche). In 1990, she was the division leader for writing the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award application, which FedEx won. A member of the Board of Trustees for the Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies (CAPS), Ms. Kelly-Green has been actively involved in professional affairs and is an award-winning civic leader. Ms. Kelly-Green earned an accounting degree from the University of Mississippi and an MBA from Vanderbilt University.

The Journal of Supply Chain Management:FedEx, which began operations in 1973, is now the world's largest express transportation company, serving approximately 210 countries with more than 150,000 employees worldwide. Average volume is about 3.2 million packages daily, while revenues were $14 billion in fiscal 1999. What does your title reflect within this vast, fast-paced organization?

Edith Kelly-Green: My title was originally vice president of purchasing and supply. We felt that was too narrow because strategic sourcing reflects our focus on the entire supply chain - which encompasses purchasing and supply. My current title demonstrates a broader view with license to evaluate areas we might not traditionally look at, such as healthcare and benefits.

The Journal: How would you describe your role within this function?

Kelly-Green: As strategy-setting for our internal supply chain, which we have total responsibility for, and which I have to drive and get buy-in for. To this end, we play several roles. We can be facilitators when we bring various aspects of the chain together, such as the customer, the supplier, quality, and engineers. When we're sourcing something nontraditional, we are consultants. We are drivers and initiators when we make proposals for areas not sourced before, trying to get support to make these new ideas happen. And we are salespeople when people think they can make their own purchases and don't understand there's a science to sourcing - a concept we have to continually sell.

The Journal: How do you deal with that reluctance?

Kelly-Green: Success breeds success, so we continually communicate the benefits of past successes, such as keeping the same suppliers while improving service, quality, or cost. We emphasize that we work cooperatively. We're working on healthcare now, where we met substantial initial resistance. Our strategy was to work out an agreement to look at some smaller spends. As we get buy-in, we can expand the process.

The Journal: What challenges are uppermost to your organization?

Kelly-Green: There are several. One is time-to-market. Technology is the real key to supply chain management - allowing exponential cost reductions in internal processes through quick implementation and accelerated action. The goal is to make decisions happen almost immediately with 100 percent accuracy. Another challenge is competitive pressure. The better our internal supply chain, the more competitive FedEx will be, but we also realize our competitors are striving for the same thing. There is also a human resources challenge. With electronic commerce, we can minimize and/or eliminate tasks and tactical activities, and focus on trained supply chain professionals. Right now, this is difficult because demand is far exceeding supply as many other companies are doing the same thing. Finally, it is always a challenge - and an opportunity - to strive for support from the top, from peers, and from other organizations.

The Journal: Are there challenges unique to FedEx?

Kelly-Green: We used to think "if it wasn't invented here, it can't be good." Our core business is transportation. We're changing that mind-set and looking for outside suppliers who may be able to handle functions better than we can, such as warehousing, which is secondary to our core business.

The Journal: How does your present position differ from your previous career experience?

Kelly-Green: Supply chain management and strategic sourcing is a fast-moving new phenomenon which demands continuous improvement if we are to remain competitive. As we advance within this function, FedEx becomes a steadily evolving and changing company. We're different now than we were even two years ago, moving further away from the tactical paradigms of the old purchasing function, becoming more and more strategically oriented.

The Journal: What factor(s) will allow you to accomplish your goals and achieve success?

Kelly-Green: I'm looking for strong business people who know supply chain management, and I'm also trying to elevate the skills and potential of the staff. The new technologies and computer-based systems we've initiated eliminate the manual, tactical purchasing tasks, freeing time for value-added functions. As we introduce technology and roll out new commodities on these systems, we're reviewing the process, and refining and making the changes that will streamline it.

The Journal: In what direction are you taking the supply chain function?

Kelly-Green: I want to focus on the value our own internal supply chain brings to FedEx, so it's a matter of strategic placement within the organization - demonstrating we make a significant difference to the bottomline. Eventually, I'm going to have less staff doing a lot more that adds more value to our organization. We are bringing to the organization different kinds of top-quality people, developing systems, reducing bureaucracy and paperwork, and increasing buying ease, all toward value-added and furthering parity with any other function within the company.

The Journal: What has been your biggest lesson learned in purchasing?

Kelly-Green: It surprised me that something like supply chain management is so common-sense from a financial and process perspective, and yet it still has to be sold daily. I'm surprised that there are not more people grasping that and buying into it. But I do understand the resistance to change, so we approach supply chain management from a team perspective, and look to overcome fears by stressing the fact that we're here to help. Another lesson is understanding the tremendous impact electronic commerce has had and will have on the supply chain.

The Journal: Where do you see supply chain management trending in the future?

Kelly-Green: Most functions will be automated. We'll have smaller organizations of thinkers investigating all facets of the chain. For example, we have FedEx packaging. Perhaps instead of buying ready-made paperboard, we'll partner with the tree grower and get involved from a forestry perspective. There will also have to be a greater understanding that the supply chain and strategic sourcing are competitive weapons requiring the leadership to use those weapons effectively. Finally, supply chain management will need to be on par with operations and other organizations so there is recognition and respect without conflict. I've had people from my organization go to other companies and start up a supply chain and strategic sourcing function. That's a tribute to the fact that there is indeed tremendous value in the supply chain and it is the way of the future.

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