"One on One: An Interview with Jenny Verner" By Julie S. Roberts, Fall 2002, Vol. 38, No. 4, p. 2
Journal of Supply Chain Management Copyright © November 2002, by the Institute for Supply Management, Inc.
Julie S. Roberts
Interview by Julie S. Roberts, writer for Inside Supply Management®
Jenny L. Verner was named vice president of supply chain management for Cargill, Inc. in June 2000. She is responsible for leading the Supply Chain Management Center of Expertise, focused on providing customer solutions at all points along the supply chain and commercializing any portions that bring value to the marketplace. Ms. Verner joined Cargill in 1981 as a merchant trainee in Saginaw, Texas. In 1983, she relocated to Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a mill feed merchant. She continued to hold various merchandising and transportation manager positions in Minneapolis; Saginaw, Texas; and Wichita, Kansas. In 1992, Ms. Verner was named assistant vice president of the Grain Division. In 1994, she became general manager of Cargill's flour mills in Texas, and in 1998 was named Western Region general manager, responsible for Cargill's 10 mills in the western half of the United States. In 2000, Ms. Verner was named vice president of the Flour Milling Division. She received a BA in economics and a BA in French from the University of Minnesota in 1981.
The Journal of Supply Chain Management: What is your background, and how did you get into purchasing/supply management?
Jenny Verner: My background is in various line management positions in merchandising (commodity trading), transportation and logistics, and general management — with a variety of business units. Having had experiences in different areas and with several of Cargill's supply chains is why, I presume, I was selected for this position.
The Journal: What is your position's role within the organization? To whom do you report? What is your role at the strategic level?
Verner: The Supply Chain Management Center of Expertise (COE) is a service available to all of our business units worldwide, which they may choose but are not required to use. We need to fund ourselves in order to stay in business, so the business units pay for our services. I report to one of Cargill's corporate vice presidents. The Supply Chain Management COE works in one of three ways:
As Cargill's central repository for supply chain knowledge, we share best practices across the corporation, collecting and leveraging what Cargill is doing internally as well as researching and seeking out innovative and leading practices outside of Cargill.
The Journal: What challenges is your organization facing? Are any unique to your industry?
Verner: Cargill is involved in a number of industries — from supplying fertilizer to farmers to refining high fructose corn syrup for soda-makers. We even have a steel-making business. A constant challenge in all is the endless focus to become more efficient yet distinctively innovative for our customers. Industry consolidation and rising consumer expectations are significant but are not unique to our industries.
The Journal: How is purchasing and supply helping to resolve these challenges?
Verner: We work with our business units and their customers to find innovative and expeditious solutions that address consumer, and therefore our customers', needs. Those solutions can take the form of operating practices, information flows, organizational structures — all parts of a supply chain optimized to meet the end consumer's needs.
The Journal: What is your vision for purchasing/supply management at Cargill?
Verner: Cargill has the rare opportunity to be a primary part of most of our customers' supply chains, so the vision is to leverage our capabilities with the capabilities of our customers to best fulfill our mission of being the global leader in nourishing people. Cargill does not have to own or operate every link in the supply chain, but we do need to have a deep knowledge of the chains where we have a presence and be ready to apply that knowledge where it can benefit everyone in the chain.
The Journal: What have been purchasing/supply management's biggest successes at Cargill?
Verner: Just speaking of our group, in our first full year of existence, we provided a nearly six-times return on investment to the corporation. The value creation came from a combination of efficiency improvement, revenue generation, and collaboration with customers. In one project, a business unit was able to significantly reduce their finished goods inventory and the related assets through a redesign of their planning, communication, and organizational processes. In another business unit, we were able to reposition them in their supply chain, allowing them to expand their reach and access new revenue sources. In another project, we worked with multiple business units and their common customer to identify opportunities to collaborate on transportation, distribution management, and planning. We treat our group like a venture capital investment: the corporation provided me with $X funding and my commitment was to provide five times that in the first year in value creation — we exceeded that.
The Journal: What kinds of research would you like to see being done on behalf of purchasing and supply management? What types of information do you seek out?
Verner: We seek out what other companies have actually done and learned from doing it. I am, in general, disappointed by media conclusions regarding how widespread or successful various initiatives are. Simple successes are often broadly generalized when in fact they have not been applied broadly. So, accurate reporting on supply chain efforts, their challenges, and impacts would be the most useful to industries' collective learning and progress.
The Journal: What are you doing in the area of e-commerce or e-procurement? Are you being encouraged to use e-business tools?
Verner: My group's focus is more on process than technology, although we stay current on progress in that area and are a resource to Cargill's Ventures group, which pursues investments in technology that may be supply chain related. Our bias at the moment is that we should focus on process work, and at the point where we have made enough progress that technology is required to move us forward, that's when we should invest in technology.
The Journal: What skills and capabilities do you seek out in individuals when hiring or recruiting? Do you find there is an adequate talent pool available?
Verner: We look for people with varied experiences — either along the supply chain, within various functions, or across a variety of industries. We prefer people with line management experience who can empathize with the actual execution challenges of managing a supply chain. Specifically, in our group, we need people who are broad, innovative thinkers and can find their success in making others successful — since we act as consultants and don't operate the supply chains.
The Journal: What do you see in the future for purchasing/supply management at Cargill or the function in general?
Verner: I think we will continue to move toward collaboration with our trading partners. It is often a hard, slow process, and appropriately so. Our focus on providing customer solutions is sincere, and given the capabilities Cargill offers throughout many points in many supply chains, I anticipate that we will continue to provide innovative and distinctive solutions.