“I’m one of those rare people who knew from the start that it was coded in my DNA. I started designing and had my own company as a teenager, and I realised very quickly that I needed to learn the business. I pretty much started from day one on the supply side.”

Originally published March 2017

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.

“I’m one of those rare people who knew from the start that it was coded in my DNA. I started designing and had my own company as a teenager, and I realised very quickly that I needed to learn the business. I pretty much started from day one on the supply side.”

Kyriakopoulos has spent her entire career with big brands, first working with Donna Karan Kids as a production manager in San Francisco, and then moving to New York, starting as a senior production manager on the launch of Marc by Marc Jacobs for luxury brand maker LVMH. She moved up through the ranks, until last year she resigned, having watched the brand grow to revenues of close to USD1 billion. She has now set up her own supply chain consulting business, Consult852, and is about to launch her own fashion range.

“I realised that I didn’t want to jump into a role working for another company without first giving myself the opportunity to run my own company,” she says, “which is really what I wanted to do right from the very beginning. So now I’m doing a lot of consulting work for some interesting brands in operations, sourcing and strategy, and I’m developing my own brand, which I hope to be able to launch by the end of the year.”

That brand will combine her personal passions with a trend in the industry, by focusing on the environmental, anthropological consumer that she says is really growing as a market, using brands as a platform for corporate social responsibility. “For the last year, I have been wanting to develop a brand around an emission-driven, e-commerce business, and the consulting is giving me the opportunity to do both concurrently,” says Kyriakopoulos. “The brand will be built around travel and luxury, underscored by a platform of wanting to do good in, and for, the world, in two distinct areas – empowerment of girls through sport, and education.” A proportion of profits from her goods will go into organisations furthering those causes.

Kyriakopoulos says that everyone should spend a part of their career working in consulting, because of the diversification it offers. For her part, she is drawing on a wealth of experience: at Marc Jacobs she spent four years as a senior production manager, one as director of licensing, three as director of production, and five as vice president of production for ready-to-wear, before taking on the global sourcing role out of Hong Kong in September 2012.

“I was really fortunate in entering the business in the nineties, at a time when businesses were investing in outsourcing, so I had a great opportunity to see new markets evolve,” she says.

Over the course of her career, she has worked in women’s and men’s apparel, in childrenswear, swimwear, leather goods, footwear and jewellery. She even spent time overseeing production of Bark by Marc Jacobs, a range of sweaters for dogs.

Kyriakopoulos moved to Hong Kong for her last role at Marc Jacobs, and has decided to stay and build her own businesses in Asia, attributing that decision to family commitments, the costs of doing business, and the state of US politics.

She says it’s not easy to find supply chain talent anywhere, and particularly female talent: “There’s a major lack of women in the supply chain,” she says. “I have been very lucky in that I have had the opportunity to work with some high-achieving women, from logistics management to global sourcing, and Marc Jacobs had no shortage of women at the top.”

Among her role models she points to Carolyn Risoli, former president of Marc by Marc Jacobs, and her successor Liz Fraser, as well as Sallie Scripter, a previous senior vice president at the company.

“She adds, “I think finding quality talent is a challenge for all organisations, because the core competencies that we need now are not the core competencies that we will need in five years’ time.”

“If a company is to remain competitive, I believe it is the organisations responsibility to challenge their key stakeholders to continuously forecast their future business needs and personnel skill set to achieve those goals. This enables them to engage with, develop, mentor and sponsor their high potential personnel.”

“Equally as I had mentors who sponsored me throughout my achievements at MJI, I also mentored and sponsored high performing individuals within my department. All of whom have been women and who now hold positions of Directors, VP, COO and a soon to be a President. It’s incredible to see their growth and champion their success.”

Kyriakopoulos says consumers are driving rapid change in the role of the supply chain professional: “Consumers are leading one big aspect of the change, and that comes back to the anthropological consumer that I was talking about before,” she says. “There are consumers out there that are passionate about wanting to spend their money on a product that they believe in, and such a product demands supply-chain credibility behind it.”

She points to brands such as Feed by Lauren Bush, which claims to create good products that help feed the world, and Livelihood, a clothing line launched by Ashley Biden, former vice president Joe Biden’s daughter, the proceeds from which go to alleviate poverty through education, training and job placements.

The other driver of change in the supply chain is technology, which means hotel brands no longer own rooms, and fashion brands need no longer hold stock: “You have to think far bigger about the changes happening on the consumer side,” says Kyriakopoulos. “There’s a lot of change about to happen, and it’s going to be rapid. It could be as simple as suppliers needing to take a larger role in the supply chain, so instead of just cutting and making the products, they may be responsible for shipping to consumers, for example.”

Whatever happens, she has no doubt about the growing importance of supply chain in the boardroom: “You can have the most incredible creative – whether it’s an engineer designing a car or a fashion designer designing clothing – but if you don’t have the back-of-house management, and the strategic agile thinkers, to support that creative, then that creative becomes irrelevant. Likewise, you can have the most amazing logistics and supply chain management team, but if they don’t have the product to deliver, it’s pointless.”

She adds, “I don’t see one as more important than the other, but the supply chain is so vital that it would be shocking to me if companies didn’t consider it part of the boardroom, because it has to be there in combination with the product design.”

Right now, Kyriakopoulos is “in the trenches”, handling both the creative side and the delivery of her own new line. “It’s challenging, but it’s just such a huge benefit that I know both sides of the business,” she says. “It’s exciting, scary and fun, all at the same time. You have to be a little bit crazy to be in this industry; that’s why I love it.”