Driving Transformational Change Across the Organization
This supply chain executive enjoys taking on new challenges, driving transformational change, and helping her entire organization understand the benefits of continuous improvement.
Always ready to take on a new challenge, Jo Shepherd is working on some pretty interesting projects right now. As Executive VP of Supply Chain at AkzoNobel (formerly AkzoNobel Surface Chemistry) in Chicago, Shepherd is heading up an integrated planning approach for the whole company, helping to transform its customer service function, and also changing the way it handles planning, scheduling, and logistics.
“We’re managing several different projects right now and driving them out across the whole company,” says Shepherd, whose role requires much influencing and educating of team members, many of whom need her help navigating change. “I spend quite a lot of my time mentoring people and developing people; that's one of my passions.”
Carving Out Her Career Path
Headquartered in the Netherlands, AkzoNobel operates in over 80 countries and employs about 10,000 people. It supplies industries worldwide with chemicals for the manufacture of products such as paper, plastics, building materials, food, pharmaceuticals, and personal care items. Shepherd has been with the company for 38 years, during which time she’s advanced from her first junior-level position in the UK and into her current position as head of supply chain for the organization.
“I've had the joy of working in many different areas of the business and also fulfilled several corporate positions in different countries,” says Shepherd. In the 1990s, for example, she began working in planning and logistics roles, and also handled several SAP implementations. Through these experiences, she learned about the close alignment between systems enablement and supply chain operations.
After relocating to the U.S., Shepherd assumed a logistics and procurement managerial role at one of AkzoNobel's sites while continuing her role as an SAP implementation expert. “I helped drive major changes in the way we handled procurement,” says Shepherd, who in 2004 orchestrated strategic supply chain, reorganization, and strategy for one of AkzoNobel's businesses.
“That’s when we first rolled out advanced planning tools and S&OP processes,” she says, “and created the role of global supply chain director, which I took on.” Shepherd would go on to assume different roles in both Asia and the U.S. during the years that followed, all the while focusing on building out AkzoNobel's supply chain, planning, and procurement capabilities.
Most recently, AkzoNobel has been working with partners like IntelliTrans to transform its decentralized, fragmented logistics approach into one that’s regionally-focused, globally-led, and enabled by advanced systems. “We recently rolled out our demurrage program,” says Shepherd, “and thanks to the IntelliTrans platform, now have much better visibility into our railcar transportation activity.”
AkzoNobel's investment in a digital visibility platform is already delivering positive results. “For the rail aspect, we’re ahead of where we expected to be in terms of such shipments,” says Shepherd. “We got great engagement from the organization on the project and then implemented it in Europe, which went live in early-December.”
The Only Woman in the Room
As a supply chain professional in the chemical industry, Shepherd says she’s accustomed to being the “only woman in the room.” She’s seen more women making their way into the industry over the last 10 years—from entry-level positions right up to senior leadership roles, and everything in between. For example, she says that with more women earning technical degrees (e.g., chemical engineering), they’re apt to explore opportunities in supply chain and logistics.
“The pool is getting a little bigger,” says Shepherd, who actively encourages women to look into the career opportunities in supply chain. “It gets better and better every year.” She says individuals who enjoy pushing their own limits and working outside of their comfort zones tend to fare best in the field, where they could be implementing new technology one day and addressing a monumental supply chain disruption the next.
“If you want to be praised and patted on the back, then don't go into supply chain,” Shepherd says, laughing. “This job requires a thick skin because people generally only come to you when things are going wrong. They don't tell you about the 95% that's going well.” Individuals willing to face these challenges will likely find themselves with ample opportunity to advance within their own organizations, and in the industry as a whole.
“As you push yourself outside the comfort zone and take on projects that you might not think possible, you gain influence and authority within your organization,” Shepherd explains. “The more you grow, the more opportunities you’ll have to live and work in new places.” For example, Shepherd has lived and worked in Europe, Asia, China, and the U.S. over the last four decades. “It’s about having the confidence to try new things and sometimes fail at them,” she says, “and then come back to it and do it right the next time.”
Helping Others Succeed
As she surveys her current agenda and looks to the future, Shepherd expects big data, data analytics, key performance indicators (KPIs), and technology platforms to all play an important role in the way companies like AkzoNobel run their global supply chains. “The competitive advantage is going to lie in getting fast insights and then quickly reacting to those insights,” she predicts.
Those technology tools will also help companies be more responsive to their customers’ needs, while enabling more agile value chains. “Digital will only become more important, particularly in terms of understanding your whole value chain and how to optimize it from an inventory, planning, and customer demand perspective,” says Shepherd. “We’re already seeing this happen in the B2C realm, but the chemical industry is still lagging behind and needs to work to get caught up.”
At a stage in her career where she continues to have fun every day, Shepherd says she won’t give up until the fun stops. “I truly enjoy driving change and getting people excited about it, even when it’s difficult,” she says, “and helping to develop others to grow their own careers and become successful.”