A 25-year P&G veteran, Sue Nock joined Coty in October 2016 with the completion of the merger between Coty and P&G Specialty Beauty, which created the world’s third-largest beauty company with approximately $9 billion in net revenues.

Originally published March 2017

In her role at Coty, Sue is responsible for the go-to-market supply chain, ensuring that raw materials get to factories, and products get out to customers

Sue also has functional responsibility for the supply services side in-market companies, and for the operational teams within the countries, which means looking after more than 50 teams around the world managing customer service in their local markets.

“Being part of this merger was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Sue. “It’s a pretty unique situation, because we really built the new Coty from the ground up. The two organisations were about the same size, with roughly 10,000 people in each. This was about creating a new organisation and defining a new way of working to suit our increased size and scope.”

She adds, “From the supply chain perspective, we were looking at every process and making choices about the best way to operate. Overall, it’s a collaborative and productive way of working, because everyone is committed to doing things in the best way for the new company.”

Sue’s path to the beauty industry was not traditional. She received a maths degree before studying for a master’s degree in manufacturing and joining P&G straight out of university. She started in customer service, working with big clients like Tesco and Sainsbury’s to make sure they received their consignments of Pampers nappies and Ariel laundry detergent.

But she very quickly switched into the beauty business, with brands like Wella, Clairol and COVERGIRL, all of which transferred to Coty. “I’ve done 23 years in the beauty business,” says Sue, “and it’s a fantastic industry to be part of. From a supply chain point of view, you have all types of roles here, from highly technical product development, looking at the right chemical compounds and identifying equipment that can handle certain fluids with certain viscosity that you want to pump in a certain way.”

She adds, “It’s great to be able to work in partnership with marketing to launch new products and think about way to engage your consumers, or you can be working on the manufacturing side with four hundred people reporting to you and you need to know each part of your operation really, really well.”

Sue was able to try every element of the supply chain as she built up her career, and particularly enjoyed working on the planning side. She says: “The interesting thing has been looking at how to organise the supply chain, because the planning side sets the heartbeat for that. So what is the right rhythm for a mascara supply chain, or fragrance, or hairspray? Understanding those different products and their consumers, and turning that in to a supply chain strategy, is a tremendous challenge, and I really enjoy that.”

Another role that she loved saw her leading the customer-facing global supply chain for the professional haircare business, where she worked for five years. “That was working with salons, with maybe tens and tens of thousands of customers, who each ordered two bottles of shampoo and a poster, which of course is completely different from dealing with Tesco. That was much more personal and human, and I really saw the business that I was working in come to life,” says Sue. “I had to understand what was compelling about our product and how well it sold, and from a supply chain point of view, make sure that we met the needs of those customers.”

While women are better represented in the beauty business than they are in other areas of supply chain, Sue says it is not always easy to find diverse talent, including diversity of gender. “I’m recruiting a lot at the moment, looking for senior people with 10 to 25 years’ experience, and I’m encouraged to see a lot of very strong talent out there,” she says. “I’m looking for very particular things, because this is a lean organisation, and I need individuals that are willing to roll their sleeves up and get on with being part of creating something new.”

She says the candidates coming forward have been about 40% female, and so she is feeling positive: “There’s a visibility problem for women in supply chain, rather than an availability problem,” she says. “There’s a perception that there’s very few women out there, but it’s not necessarily true. I’m looking for a mixture of men and women with different backgrounds and cultures in my lead team. So far, that’s going quite well, which is important because if you end up with too many of one particular dimension you don’t get access to the best ideas or the best minds.”

Women are not always as confident as men in putting themselves forward for promotions, she says. As such, she has three tips for those starting out in supply chain: “First, know yourself and know your strengths,” says Sue. “Then make sure you use your strengths every day to build your reputation.”

Secondly, have a clear idea of where you want to get to with your career, whether that’s in the next six months, or in the next six years. And finally, says Sue: “Make sure the right people know about you, what you can do, and where you want to get to. If your boss knows you well you’re at a huge advantage, and if not, that can be a huge barrier to success.”

The good news is that over the last 25 years, Sue has seen a transformation in the way supply chain professionals are treated within her business, and more broadly. She says: “Our understanding of the value that comes from being extremely talented at logistics management, or procurement, or initiative management, has developed tremendously. There’s been a gradual realisation that actually the supply chain is a large and complex organism, and having strong talent with mastery of each element delivers the best results for the whole business.”

Sue is now driving forward a new company, with supply chain at its very heart.