“I believe my work in general management is easier than the time I spent in procurement,” says Daniela Weitmann, with only a hint of irony. The woman responsible for the Northern European business of Converse, the super-fashionable footwear brand wholly owned by Nike, worked her way up via supply chain and says that was where she really learned the skills to run a business.
Originally published March 2017
“In procurement you are very close to strategy,” says Weitmann. “You have exposure to all the senior leaders of the company, you need to know about the direction of the company and the health of the P&L, and you have to cut through all the functions and break down the silos. That’s what gave me my perspective on the consequences, both upstream and downstream, of my decisions, and how much of an impact it would have on the whole portfolio.”
Weitmann is a Brazilian, and has 18 years’ experience working in marketing strategy, innovation, supply chain, procurement, operations and merchandising. She began her career as head of customer relations for Latin America at Procter & Gamble, working on the Wella haircare brand in Brazil. “Being Brazilian, and not European, has helped me a lot,” she says. “It’s a country where the exception is the rule, and we are used to dealing with ambiguity.”
She always wanted to land a job in Europe, and from P&G she moved to Kraft, responsible for the long-term strategy of the chocolate business, and grabbed her chance to get across the world. “Since Kraft always had a fast-track for women that were high-potential talents, and they needed someone in procurement to be a game-changer and bring a different perspective, and bring the function closer to the business itself, they asked me if I wanted to lead that for Northern Europe,” she says.
Initially based in Stockholm, and later relocated to the headquarters in Zurich, Weitmann was responsible for brand procurement, one of Kraft’s biggest businesses, when the company was acquired by Mondoláº½z International in 2011. It was not much later that Nike approached her, to join the business in the Netherlands as head of European procurement.
“They asked me to lead their procurement transformation in Europe,” she says. “That meant setting up a team from scratch, and we did that in a way that was very much in line with what Nike stands for, which is a competitive spirit. The team was not really made up of the normal procurement profiles that a person would choose, but really it was the best in their fields, who could elevate the business.”
After three years, at the end of 2015, she was asked to interview for the role of general manager for Converse, and secured the job.
“I really think that what has helped me the most in my role in general management is that time spent in procurement,” she says. “Being able to transform and motivate teams, which is something you need to do very well if you’re leading a procurement function, and being able to manage operating costs, gives you the business background and the leadership gravitas that’s needed to operate at the most senior level.”
There were gaps in her expertise that she needed to fill before stepping up to a top job, most notably on the product and go-to-market side. “While I was head of procurement I spent some time doing merchandising,” she says. “For two seasons, I chose the assortments, presented the plans to accounts and really got to know how that works. That provided me with the capabilities to lead the people in that function with knowledge.”
Weitmann, who earned a master of science degree in engineering before joining P&G, will always have supply chain in her blood. She says: “I really enjoyed my time in supply chain, and that’s something that I’m fascinated with. It can be a big differentiator for companies in the retail industry, because fashion can change so fast, and if you can decrease your time to market, that can be such an important thing. I truly believe operations can make or break companies.”
Nevertheless, there are not enough women working in the function, she says, and she describes herself as a big advocate for women. “I love to have strong women around me,” she says. “I believe we bring a diversity of thought processes, and different skills, which is so important for a company serving consumers that are both males and females.”
Weitmann is actively engaged at Nike in leading a community of women in Europe, whereby senior female executives mentor younger women, and support them through key milestones on their career journeys.
She has some advice for females starting out on a similar path to her own: “I truly believe that women should not be intimidated. You do not need to behave like men behave in order to be successful. You need to be authentic, be yourself, be humble, and do not compete, but cooperate. That’s the advice that I would give, because one of the worst managers that I ever had was a woman that had many behaviours that were not maximising my potential.”
Weitmann speaks fluent English, Swedish, Spanish and Portuguese, and one gets the sense she was always going to do a pretty good job of maximising her own potential. Converse began as a rubber shoe company specialising in galoshes, and then it got cool. They say that when you buy a pair, “You determine their journey”.
Weitmann says: “The journey that I’ve had, starting with marketing, with a background as an engineer, moving into chocolate and an enabling function in procurement; all of that positioned me for success, and to take on this exciting general management role.”
She’s a fine example of determining your own journey in supply chain.