Women in Procurement

Let's harness supplier innovation, says veteran CPO

This article was originally posted as part of our ‘Women in’ series in support of International Women’s Day (IWD) on Wednesday 8th March 2017.  Here we talk with Carolyn Woznicki, Chief Procurement Officer, Illinois Tool Works.

Carolyn Woznicki has had a 36-year career in supply chain and manufacturing. Now Vice President Global Strategic Sourcing at Illinois Tool Works (ITW), a Fortune 200 global multi-industrial manufacturing leader with revenues of more than $13.6 billion in 2016, her focus is on harnessing supplier innovation to support her company’s growth.

“It’s not always easy or natural for us to grab hold of our suppliers and say, ‘Come, sit side-by-side with us as we think about the next thing we can do for our customers’,” says Woznicki. “But that’s the single biggest thing on my mind right now; how to innovate with suppliers.”

ITW works with suppliers all over the world that have deep technical expertise and innovative capability, and some of those are used to partnering with their customers, while others are less well-resourced to do so. But Woznicki sees collaboration as the clear direction going forward: “There is a general trend for companies to try to better engage their suppliers, and the opportunity to take advantage of that network really is almost infinite,” she says.

She adds, “If a company like ours has a thousand engineers and a thousand suppliers, and those suppliers themselves have hundreds of engineers, think about the multiplication that you could achieve if you could truly figure out how to connect all those innovators to come up with the next cool thing.”

Woznicki’s career is a pretty cool thing – she did a degree in industrial administration, and an MBA, while working at General Motors. She spent 18 years at the world-leading automaker, progressing through various roles and functions in manufacturing operations, purchasing, and supplier quality. In 1998 she joined Johnson Controls as purchasing director, and spent 15 years there, in roles that included three years as Vice President and General Manager of the Ford North America business unit. In that post, she managed a $1 billion P&L and the execution related to Ford’s seating and interiors business.

Woznicki was Vice President of Global Purchasing at Johnson Controls when she left in 2013 to join ITW in her current role, where she is leading the creation and execution of a strategic sourcing function, encompassing over $7 billion of spend. “At the very beginning, when I was at GM, I thought I’d grow up in manufacturing and become a plant manager there,” she says. “But over the course of my different experiences, that vision shifted, and when the second assembly plant that I worked at laid off a second shift, I ended up in a role where I was indirect buyer for the plant.”

She adds, “That was my first exposure to sourcing, and I loved it.”

Nevertheless, she decided to dip her toe into general management at Johnson Controls, and got to see the other side of the coin, running conversations with customers. But she didn’t hesitate to go back to sourcing when the Vice President for North America retired, and even bigger roles followed: “Every day is a new challenge, and I love solving challenges,” she says. “I love the variety that I get to deal with, through exposure to technical products and design challenges, thousands of suppliers and the incredible diversity of things that we purchase. Being able to engage in all those challenges, solve them, and add value to the company is a daily joy.”

When she started at GM, Woznicki recalls frequently being the only woman present in a meeting room. She needed a certain degree of self-confidence if she was to speak up and be heard, she says: “But today I would say having several or even many females in the room has become common, so things have definitely evolved. I was an anomaly 30-odd years ago, but now, not so much. From my career perspective, I don’t think that being a woman either positively or negatively affects you; if you do your job great, and come to work every day with the mindset that you’re going to make things better, then I truly believe the world is open for women to achieve great things.”

Woznicki does not struggle to articulate the lessons that she’s learned over the course of her career, that she’d like to share with younger professionals entering the supply chain. First up, excel at your job – “whatever your job is, do it great”, she says. Second, truly understand the supply chain from end to end. She explains: “By that I mean start by understanding the customer demand side, and how that customer demand turns into plant requirements, and then how plant requirements turn into supplier requirements, and then how the plant creates the product and how that end-product gets to the consumer. Someone who understands that is incredibly valuable.”

Finally, she advises people to be curious: “Having natural curiosity and a thirst for learning are important attributes for success. For anyone in supply chain, I would say make sure you are naturally curious about how things work, because as you learn you will be able to add more value to whatever it is you’re doing.”

There is no doubt the role of the supply chain professional is changing, as companies increasingly recognise the strategic importance of the function when it comes to how quickly and efficiently they can meet client demand.

Woznicki says: “The role has evolved, because in a lot of cases you now have longer supply chains that are much more globally complex, which means you’d better pay attention to them. The opportunities for there to be breakages along the supply chain are more.”

Much has changed over the course of her lengthy career – “I don’t think, 30 years ago, you would ever have found a CPO or a supply chain leader in the boardroom,” she says. But her passion for what she does has never diminished, and she shows no sign of slowing down.

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