Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple of SupplyChainCareers.com

In This Episode:

We talk with Deb Parme, Amway’s leader of Global Demand and Supply Planning, Procurement, and Analytic teams. Deb shares her supply chain career journey, from a start in finance and accounting, to her love for operations, to a multi-year, multi-cultural assignment in Asia. She spoke with us about building diverse teams and the stronger relationships and ideas that come from them. Plus she shares her ideas about learning, leading, mentoring, internships, and the need for more strategic thinking in supply chain.

Deb Parme Bio:

Deb Parmé leads Amway’s Global Demand and Supply Planning, Procurement, and Analytic teams and is responsible for leading the enterprise service level strategy as well as Amway’s global inventory strategies and investments. She is also responsible for ensuring deployment and execution of new processes/technologies. She was responsible for creating a more effective and agile Global Supply Chain through the establishment of the Supply Chain Center of Excellence for Business Process and Technology. Most recently she spent three years in Asia developing a new regional supply chain (supporting all of Amway’s markets in Asia) with new organizational structures, new capabilities, and growing a robust and diverse team of supply chain professionals. Parmé received a Bachelor of Accounting degree from Central Michigan University and earned her CPA while working for Price Waterhouse Coopers.
Deb sits on the Supply Chain Management Board for Grand Valley State University and held a Director position on the board of the Warehousing and Education Research Council (WERC) for 8 years. She was also named 2012 recipient of DC Velocity Magazine’s “Rainmaker” Award, given for lasting contributions to the supply chain management profession.
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Transcript:

So it’s ironic. I first joined supply chain back in 2009, so I haven’t been in supply chain all that long. It wasn’t my lifelong journey. But at the time I was in a role leading our global incentive events team and which was outside of my normal career path, but something that somebody asked me to do. So, I thought why not? But during that time, I still had a relationship with a senior supply chain executive who I’d done some special projects for in the past years at Amway. And one day he just called me up and said, what are you doing with the rest of your life? Right? You don’t want to spend it doing events and, wouldn’t you be interested in coming to supply chain? So, I was like, tell me what you have to offer. And so that was really when I thought long and hard about where did I want my career to actually go at Amway instead of just bopping around from function to function, which was interesting and I learned a ton, but I really wanted more direction. And so, I joined supply chain at that point as the director of global transportation. And so, he was really an influence on me in that respect because he believed in me. Because at first, I was like, I don’t know anything about moving containers around the world. And he said, but you know how to get stuff done. And you know how to ask good questions and engage the right people. And so that gave me a lot of confidence and he was not a micromanager. So, I was really able to do my thing and make my way, and he supported it, so much so that I was only in that role for 10 months and then was promoted into leading the entire US distribution and warehousing and transportation activities. 

The other piece though, that even more so than that gentleman is the people that I’ve worked with that have inspired me. When I first joined, I had a lot of individual contributor types, truck drivers. We have our own rail yard and we have our own team of, we call them switchers, but they pick product back and forth between the plants and our central warehouse operation. And so, I thought the best way to get to know this group of hourly employees was to spend more time with them. So, I rode the rail car. I rode in one of the worst blizzards ever in the truck with one of the switchers to see what they have to go through on a day-to-day basis. I worked the pick lines and my desire to be more active in the operations really came from those individuals as much as it did from more senior managers or executives, because I saw the hard work that they go through and I wanted to be able to find a way to make their lives easier while getting the job done and making it a great experience for our business owners or distributors.

Amway’s been a global company for much of our 60 some years. From my very first opportunity at Amway, I’ve been traveling globally, working with our teams around the world from the beginning in different capacities, including helping to open new markets when we were first going into Eastern Europe and such from an operational perspective. So, I’ve always been very comfortable. I traveled extensively and when I’ve wanted to do an ex-pat assignment, I always wanted to be in their shoes because I was always the corporate person and not always well-received. And, and so I thought I would love to do that. There were other opportunities that kind of came and went, but, a few years ago, the opportunity came up to go and build out a regional supply chain function within Asia-Pac. And there had already been an Americas one, a European, Russia one. And so, I thought, maybe this is the time and it was a little bit tricky because I had just had major spine surgery. My doctor and I had a long conversation and this is not going to define who I am. And so, he let me interview and I got the job and off I went. I can tell you that it is the best thing that I probably have ever done in my career. 

There’s, so many lessons that I learned, but it’s really about being flexible in your communication style, in how you get work done. Because the Japanese are very different in how they make decisions and move things forward than the Koreans, et cetera. I managed 11 different markets there. So, I had to learn 11 different cultural styles and be ready to step into that at any given point in time. But I enjoyed that challenge. It was crazy busy but from a personal perspective, the one thing that I learned is I had to be very patient and I had to be patient with the people that I worked with. But more importantly, I had to be patient with myself and to be accepting that, this is a very different world and the pace at which you get things done is going to be different. I tend to be a little bit of a perfectionist, so I just had to learn to be okay and be patient with myself. And to know that I’m in a different country or countries, and it’s not my normal territory. There’s so much new coming at you, that you really have to be kind of patient and just work your way through it. But you’re absorbing a lot of new all at once and you go through a lot emotionally and you just have to give yourself a lot of grace. 

But I would just highly recommend, I always tell my team members, if this opportunity ever presents itself, don’t be afraid, take the leap. I don’t think I’ve known anyone who hasn’t done an ex-pat that didn’t come back very happy with the experience.  

For me, I’m in the role that I stepped into. Two years ago, we went through a huge organizational change and we switched from the regional model to a more centrally organized model from what we call center out. At that time, my regional role was eliminated. But luckily, I was offered the opportunity to come back and step into the global planning role. The relationships that I had built in Asia helped me so much to get ground and get success early on because the changes we made to be center led, really impacted the markets. And I had to lean into those relationships and friendships that I had made really the trust to get us through that. And, if I didn’t have that, how much more difficult it would have been to have the conversations I had to have and to make the changes. So, it really helps on many facets of your career to build global relationships and to get out of your comfort zone.

Yes. So now I’m learning about the Indian culture and some of the European, the Western cultures in Europe, which are a little more challenging in their own right. Luckily, I have a lot of relationships with people in those markets, from my past roles. And so, while there are also a lot of new ones, I’m taking the same approach. I always feel like I have two ears for a reason. So, I tend to try to listen more than I speak, until it’s appropriate, but really listening, being empathetic, looking for ways that I can give them a win while still achieving my goals and targets that I need. It’s fun. I love it. I’m really trying to help my team, through my eyes to be able to build those relationships, through expanding our work to not just be center-based, but, collaborate globally on teams so that they get that broader experience.

So, everything is directed from the corporate office. We don’t call them regions anymore, but I call them kind of our geo hubs. So, we don’t have planners in every market in Asia anymore. One of the things I did while I was there, as we consolidated them all into a hub, we have in Busan. So that’s our planning hub. And then I built a procurement hub in Singapore. And we have the same in Europe, India, China, and then the Americas.

One of the things that I think has been really important in building a team is looking for people that are not like myself, extremely diverse people in an inclusive type of person. And I don’t mean diverse just from ethnicity or gender, but truly, diversity of thought, right? A mathematician brought into supply chain or somebody with a marketing background into supply chain. I’ve had that opportunity by being in many different roles and then working globally with a very diverse culture all the time. And so, I really try to challenge people to not hire people who think like them, just because that’s easy. But really get people who will step up and challenge, and think differently about the way things get done. I just find it much more rewarding than in a homogeneous working group is to have a really different type of team that you bring together. 

And I find that it works really well. You got to go through the forming storming sometimes because they are different. I still think that the value is there in the end. We struggled a little bit where we sit in West Michigan there’s historically not been a lot of diversity in our headquarters, to be honest. And I’m so proud of Amway and what we’re doing because over the last 10 years, we’ve invested a lot in our diversity and inclusion programs. I think we’re really starting to see a difference and it’s being able to open new doors for me and my team as we look to recruit new talent into the teams. 

The first thing is relationships. Working with someone, at least in the Amway world is more about the relationship building and the trust building. Once you have those in place, you can pretty much get anything done. If people trust you, they believe in you, it opens all kinds of doors to being able to get information or get alignment. I coach people a lot on that. Get to know them first. Don’t just go into the conversation with a million questions. Take a minute and ask about their family, their life, get to know them as a person, have a coffee, have a lunch in the old days. Now we do that virtually, but I think relationships are important.  

The other thing, when you’re coming up in the management and executive ranks, one of the things that I believe in, you got to make sure you know your stuff a little bit. As you move higher up, you don’t have to have as deep a knowledge, but I think to earn your seat at the table and the right to be there initially, you gotta know your stuff and enough about the details to really help influence decisions, support your team. Earn that credibility. 

 

Yeah, I’ve had a lot of those. And it’s a lot of coaching and time and modeling behavior. Talk to them about the value. What does it look like to lead with heart? Amway just launched a whole new culture program and it’s lead with heart, live to serve, love to learn. We are having the love languages in our culture now, which is a compliment to the values-based foundation that we’ve always lived by.  And so now it’s really easier because you can point them to that. And I think the best way to train people is to always model the best way they should behave is for them to see somebody doing it.

 

So at the beginning, I wish I’d have known about supply chain. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do and actually ended up getting directed by some people in my life that at that point to an accounting profession. So, by degree, I was a CPA when I graduated. But I quickly learned that that was a great foundation, but my heart loved operations. And at the time when I finally did learn about supply chain, it was just a course within the marketing program at my university. And it was mostly procurement. So, at that time, it really wasn’t a career. So, it was like, okay, take a course and see what it’s all about. But I really wish that there would have been the programs that I see being developed today. And I wish more universities would put together a completely integrated supply chain program. And not just focused on procurement, manufacturing, but all the planning, the forecasting, all of it. It would’ve been great to start in there and build a solid career as it was. It took me 20 years, to basically find my way to supply chain and I’ve loved it, you know? I mean, it’s my heart and soul and, it’s really where I’ve found my passion.

Yeah, when I was early in career, we didn’t have a formal mentor, mentee relationship or a program at Amway. Since that time, probably for the last 20 years it’s been evolving. I am a big believer in it. And I’m a big believer in having multiple mentors. For different reasons and different purposes. So I always encourage people to develop relationships with many. But more than that, I think, they need to find an advocate and somebody who’s got a seat at the executive table who will take responsibility to own the development, really, discussions at the table about them. 

I do this for a lot of people. I have a lot of informal and I have some formal mentorships. That’s my job is to develop other leaders. And so, I always encourage them, but they have to be willing to do the work. Because as a mentee, you have to be the one to come prepared to those conversations. So, I do a lot of time coaching about that as well. Like, don’t just expect somebody to give you their time over and over without you putting some work into what do you need help with? What do you need their advice or guidance on? It’s a dual relationship, I think, but really important. Everyone from day one should seek out a mentor.

Amway has a wonderful internship program. It’s really blossomed probably in the last 10 years. I love the internship program. In fact, we have targets to challenge ourselves to improve our retention rate or, conversion rates so that we convert them to actual full-time employees. And we consider them an essential pipeline to our employee base. So, I love the interns because they make me think differently. They’re incredibly smart. I don’t think I was that smart when I was an intern back in the day. This year alone, we had three we were able to convert to two full-time roles. That’ll be starting in January. They just really did a phenomenal job on their projects, even being virtual. Cause this year we’re not in the office. So, they had to develop relationships and connections and get work done without ever meeting somebody in person other than through the video. 

And so, I would encourage every student to find an internship and a meaningful internship, and I would encourage employers to give those interns meaningful work, not just filing or organizing things, but problem solving because we’ve had some of the best successes when we’ve given them a real chunk of real work. 

 We do have a corporate program that we call our top talent and people are nominated based on their performance as well as other criteria. That is a really great program as well, because it’s global, it’s the top of the top. They are exposed to a lot of different activities and speakers throughout the year. They’re given a project that they work on, sometimes that they have to then report out to senior executives and show their ability to collaborate globally. That’s so essential in our Amway world. On top of that, our supply chain has another program with our supply chain and our innovations in science group where we have our own top talent or internal leadership development program. And that has recently been revised and kicked off this year. And I lead with another executive, I think 10 different cohorts across the globe. And it’s a mix of all supply chain functions and all innovation and science. So, our R and D and QA, that sort of field. And it has been phenomenal to just engage that team. 

And, we’ve been focused this year on our culture change. So, we have a lot of conversations about our three pillars, which I mentioned earlier. We’ve also had internal executive speakers, our CEO and others come in and allow them to ask questions. We’ve had mentoring conversations between ourselves as well as the other nine cohorts. So, it’s a great opportunity for them to meet others. My advice to people that engage in those are, these are the people that you’re going to grow your career with, that you’re going to have to work with for however many years you stay at Amway. So, get to know them, even if you’re an introvert and it’s a little bit uncomfortable to blindly reach out and ask somebody for their time, do it, we’re Amway family. We’re always willing to invest at that time for you and with each other. We encourage that a lot as part of that top talent too. The new executives all come out of that program. It’s very, very successful.

I think that we’ve got to have a more strategic mindset maybe than day-to-day operational, which I think is a lot of what supply chain is or has been. We also have to think differently about cost management. I think supply chain everywhere around the world has been on a real trend of cut costs. Cut costs, be lean. And I think we saw the downside of that this year, right? Our supply chains are so fragile that they just started fracturing with the pressure and Amway’s, in a similar situation where, although we’ve done very, very well, some of the choices we’ve made in the past kept us from being able to respond as quickly or as efficiently as we would have liked to, to the spikes in demand that we saw this past year. So, I would say, you need strategic thinkers that can find, and with a good technology background too, from a career perspective, because it’s all about technology. It’s all about the digitalization of supply chain. We need more people with those skill sets or mindsets, true business thinkers versus functional experts. I would say.

We are actually taking on a big initiative this year, cross-functionally across supply chain to explore just that. What do we need to change in our network design to be able to allow ourselves to be more responsive, number one, to have that agility to respond to not only to crises, but just the ebb and flow of significant demand patterns. We have a lot to overcome, but, looking for ways to do that and do it, cost-effectively looking at the right metrics. We have a mix of both e-commerce fulfillment, as well as storefronts around the world and some markets are more intensely in the shop versus the e-commerce, but overnight, when COVID hit, all of that volume from the shops came into our DCs to be fulfilled in the e-commerce and it was just an overload. 

However, what we saw is there was a natural resistance to technology and online ordering in some countries, people migrated to it very quickly and there’s been a real stickiness to it. So many have not migrated back to the shops or storefronts, even now that they’re mostly opened around the world. And so that was a great lever because it actually helped us advance our company, three to five years into the future of where we want to go, to be more digital and be able to do some other things from a customer experience. So, we’re moving in that e-commerce channel, but we’re not ready for it, and for what that means from a responsiveness and agility and supply perspective.  

It’s been phenomenal and we really have an upwind with us right now. So, we just plan on really investing heavily, particularly in the next six months. And we’ve got some technology partners that are working with us to help us model different scenarios rapidly, and deploy solutions rapidly is more critical than it’s ever been. And so, we’re looking at some technologies and capabilities in that space as well.

I would say, by and large, my experience has been that they have a great grasp of the financials. They understand the dynamics from every decision that they’re making, what the impacts are. There are very few who truly have an end-to-end supply chain degree that I’ve seen struggle I’m impressed by the fact that they may not know all the balance sheet accounting, but they certainly know the cost drivers of their business and the piece they’re operating and the impact on those financials of the decisions they’re making. So, I think the schools are doing a great job of preparing them, but I also think, that whatever career you’re in, you need that financial discipline, right. Because it follows us everywhere. And so, if students invest a little more time and maybe even a dual degree wouldn’t hurt them, but by and large, I think the schools are doing a great job.

For myself personally, trying to read a lot of articles and journals. I think I have every conceivable publication coming in e-format now. Listening to others, I love to dialogue with others. Both within my organization and outside, sitting on other boards is a great opportunity to learn what others are doing. Podcasts are a great way to be able to get some knowledge while you’re doing something else. Like riding a bike or something, maybe trying to get some exercising. So, I think there’s a lot of different ways and I just encourage people to be curious, whatever their natural format of learning is, whether it’s books or magazines or, online articles or podcasts, whatever they’re comfortable with, be curious, and explore as much as possible.  

The whole podcast thing that’s come about is just incredible way to gain knowledge in a very succinct amount of time. And, you can multitask most of the time while you’re listening or just relax. And take a break from screen time and listen and learn. So, I would encourage everybody just to do more of that.  

We also have educational programs that we have within the world of Amway for different topics and a portal. We encourage our team, hey, take a mental break and take an hour and go out and take this course online through Amway university. And there’s a lot of great market research teams and they have a lot of information and articles out there as well on different topics. 

I think the best supply chain advice really didn’t come in the form of advice, but in the form of trust and belief in me, as I mentioned earlier, there was a gentleman who hired me into supply chain and his way of giving me advice was, say, Parme, just get her done. I mean, literally he would say that, and that was sometimes a little daunting, but it was like, well, he trusts me. He trusts me. And so, I think the advice is, let your actions lead the way, right? If you do a good job, if you show up engaged, that is that’s important, right? Don’t be the quiet person sitting in the corner of the room. You’re there to share, we need people to speak up and I learned that part of advice really when I was in Asia, because in a lot of the Asian cultures, some of them, they don’t speak up when there are senior executives in the room. And so, I would always with the team that reported up through me, be like, this is neutral territory, right? There is no hierarchy in my organization. We are one team we share, I need your thoughts. I need your ideas to help me through this. And so, that’s what I would say is you’re there for a reason. Contribute and don’t be intimidated, speak up, engage. We need you, that’s why you’re here.  

The other thing that lately has been kind of my mantra is learn to love the problem. Right? Embrace it. Love it. Don’t wait. If you wake up every day thinking, Oh, I got to deal with this again. Or, feeling just really drawn down by the issue at hand, it’s going to affect your performance. It’s going to affect your happiness. But it’s amazing how if you jump out of bed and say, Yeah, I love it. I got to go think about why I can’t kit product into Korea. It does change your whole approach for the day and how you think about things. And so, I say, love the problem, you know? 

And, for my leaders, I tell them, empower your people. Right. We have so much talent that’s untapped because of old hierarchal systems and processes. And we can unleash so much more if we just empower people.

When we were together physically, we would often do a team lunch event. Or, we would all go out for a fun activity to some sports place and play games all afternoon together. We also have an internal program it’s called sparks. It’s a recognition program and there are dollar amounts tied to the different sites of spark awards. So, when someone’s done a good job, we sparked them. Based on the effort and the complexity of the issue they solve, it can go up to $150, $250, all the way down to like $50. So, we use that a lot too, especially now when with COVID you can’t do the get together in person stuff. We’ve had a lot of creativity this year, though, having, team events to thank people where we’ve done virtual cooking classes and we’ve provided a delivery kit of meals to their home and those kinds of things, or a meal on us coupons and different things like that. Just to say, thank you and try to recognize that only the employee in some cases, but their families, because this is really been a family situation.

When we were together physically, we would often do a team lunch event. Or, we would all go out for a fun activity to some sports place and play games all afternoon together. We also have an internal program it’s called sparks. It’s a recognition program and there are dollar amounts tied to the different sites of spark awards. So, when someone’s done a good job, we sparked them. Based on the effort and the complexity of the issue they solve, it can go up to $150, $250, all the way down to like $50. So, we use that a lot too, especially now when with COVID you can’t do the get together in person stuff. We’ve had a lot of creativity this year, though, having, team events to thank people where we’ve done virtual cooking classes and we’ve provided a delivery kit of meals to their home and those kinds of things, or a meal on us coupons and different things like that. Just to say, thank you and try to recognize that only the employee in some cases, but their families, because this is really been a family situation.

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