A Quarter-Century in the Supply Chain and No Regrets

As a parent of two teenage children who will soon face a dizzying array of college and career choices, I often find myself reflecting on the best career advice I received when I was in their shoes many years ago: find something that helps you make a positive difference, and you will have found a career you’ll love for life. It wasn’t formal engineering or business education that introduced me to the challenges and joys of supply chain management, but work as a young manufacturing leader in an asset-intensive, complex semiconductor manufacturing environment in Northeast Pennsylvania that opened my eyes to the art and science of supply chains. In what appears to be a blink of an eye, a quarter century has gone by, but I’ve never stopped having fun.

Driving profitable growth, and maximizing factory throughput while minimizing inventory and operating expenses has been the mantra for manufacturers – and I was blessed to have learnt that directly from the master, Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, the founder of the Theory of Constraints. Putting constraint management into real-life action in the 1990s was one of the most fulfilling accomplishments of my early career at Harris Semiconductor. Working with Self Directed Work Teams – where production associates worked without supervisors in a union environment — we were able to move mountains and deliver strong operational and business results. Together with other talented colleagues, I had the privilege to co-author a book, Leading the Way to Competitive Excellence: The Harris Mountaintop Case Study (Editor William Levinson; ASQ Quality Press 1997), outlining our approach and accomplishments. Suddenly, I had opportunities to speak at academic universities, contribute thought leading articles to business journals and trade publications, and become an active industry speaker on supply chain and manufacturing technology topics.

This early experience also made me aware that supply chains extended well beyond the four walls of a factory – deep into the realm of demand planning, inventory planning and order fulfillment. Supply Chain Management was becoming recognized as a formal discipline in the mid-1990s and rapid advances in technology were allowing best-of-breed software companies to take supply chain solutions to market more broadly. When the opportunity came to work at i2 Technologies, a leader in supply chain software solutions looking to create business value for global supply chains, it was an easy choice from my perspective. Working out of Dallas in the professional services team at i2, I had an opportunity to work hands-on with many leading supply chain companies across industries, including semiconductor, consumer electronics, automotive, chemicals, metals and industrial companies. Almost universally, I could see tremendous opportunity for companies to make better decisions, remove waste, reduce latency and improve their end-to-end supply chain performance. It was tremendously gratifying to help a wide range of companies, at different stages of supply chain maturity, with intelligent decision support software solutions to improve overall customer service levels while minimizing investments in working capital and others assets. I was able to help consumer products companies comprehend and plan for volatile demand better; automotive companies schedule assembly lines more effectively; semiconductor companies drive integrated business plans cross-functionally; and industrial companies utilize manufacturing assets more efficiently. In 2010, i2 became part of JDA Software Group, a leading provider of end-to-end supply chain solutions, and our horizons expanded to serve the Retail industry undergoing the massive Omni-channel transition. I was now able to see how further business value could be generated linking supply chain planning to downstream execution processes such as transportation and warehouse management. The more I learnt about supply chains, the more I recognized how they could drive business value and competitive differentiation for companies. In 2016, it was my distinct honor to be named amongst Supply & Demand Chain Executive’s Pros to Know – a recognition for professionals who have helped their supply chain clients, and the supply chain community at large, prepare to meet significant challenges ahead.

As it turns out, I continue to learn every day, which has truly been a blessing over my career. Currently, I am the vice president of solution strategy at JDA Software, where I am responsible for JDA’s manufacturing solution and marketing strategy for the global manufacturing business. Over the past 25 years, I’ve had the good fortune to work closely with global manufacturers and industry leaders to help solve their most complex supply chain challenges. I’ve helped companies deploy new and robust supply chain processes – from demand planning, master planning and inventory optimization to sales and operations planning, factory planning and supply chain segmentation – effectively enabling seamless supply chains across suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and, ultimately, end-customers. I have had the privilege of being associated with talented people at global companies that are ranked amongst the Top 25 supply chains in the world. I have helped make a positive difference to the world with supply chains in my own little way, and not surprisingly, I continue to love what I do. Hopefully, my teenagers will take notice as we enter the interesting world of digital supply chains next!

Three generations: A life in the supply chain

I grew up immersed in the supply chain industry. My father worked with The Raymond Corporation as a brake supplier, and I witnessed industry changes and advancements from a young age. Recognizing the supply chain industry as innovative, exciting and a promising field of work, I chose to study industrial marketing at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. The knowledge I gained there on topics like ergonomics, product management and pricing prepared me well for my future career.

After graduation, my father recommended I apply for a position at The Raymond Corporation — I was hired in sales and marketing. I am fascinated by the constant changes in the supply chain and material handling equipment. I’ve always enjoyed seeing just how far the supply chain reaches. Just think: Every item in homes or offices, in your daily life or anywhere was once handled by a forklift. Raymond invented the reach truck, which has revolutionized warehousing and is still the backbone of warehousing 65 years later. This alone showcases the veracity and steadiness of the supply chain industry.

I gained far more from my career at Raymond than I had ever imagined I would. The way I feel about the supply chain industry has reached my family, as well. Through the industry, I met my husband, who also is a Raymond employee. Our daughter, who is now a junior in college and an engineering student, is a co-op student in Raymond’s quality department. Student programs like this serve as one example of the strong ties the company has to the surrounding local community.

Raymond is the largest employer in our rural Greene, New York, area and because of the company’s large presence in the Southern Tier of New York state, it has a significant impact on the community. Last year, I was proud to be involved with facilitating a donation of a deep-reach truck to our local food bank. It took several months to work through specifications and to find, update and prepare the correct truck so it could be placed directly in service. This truck now helps the food bank deliver to those who need it most, and donated food is transported much faster than it could be with only manual labor. My career enables me to contribute to my community like this every day.

I love that I can have a positive impact on those around me when I work with customers and help them improve their material handling operations. I also teach training programs to our Raymond Sales & Service Centers, where employees are prepared to work in the field, learning where to apply the right products and how to identify problems we can solve. A mentor of mine once said, “You need to learn a product so well that you can set it aside and focus on the customer,” and I repeat that to each class I train. This program allows me to help not only the customers I work with directly but also the customers my trainees interact with. It is an honor to have such an impact on the service Raymond provides.

In my 30 years at Raymond, I have learned this industry is so much larger than just material handling. I have worked with many companies and experienced the unique ways they conduct business. Different processes, speeds, items and waste all lead to different configurations of material handling solutions, so I have learned to be adaptable. I have seen that although customers may not be experts in material handling, they are experts in the materials they handle. This experience has offered me countless learning opportunities, and I am so thankful for a career that challenges me to grow and give back every day.

Shattering the Manufacturing Glass Ceiling: How One Woman Rose from Receptionist To Plant Floor to C-Suite

“I’ll do it”!

That pretty much sums up the way AriAnne Sproat of Tempe, Ariz., operates. At age 37, she proudly wears the trailblazer label for women in business and, in particular, the manufacturing industry. As chief operating officer (COO) of ITC Manufacturing in Phoenix, one of the world’s leading supplier of steel products, she has spent the last 18 years as a role model, demonstrating to the company founders and all employees that there is no task she can’t handle – and handle successfully.

You could say that AriAnne’s career began by being in the right place at the right time. In fact, she explains, “I was working as a customer service representative at the cosmetics counter of a major department store in 1999 when the then chief financial officer of ITC came into shop. He mentioned that there was a receptionist position open at his company and that I should apply for it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Little did AriAnne know then that 16 years later she would become the chief operating officer (COO) of the one of the largest producers of wire mesh fencing and other steel products in the U.S. Today she oversees manufacturing operations at both the company’s Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio facilities.

“It was my first time working in an office,” she recalls those early days in her career. “There were only four people working in the office and two of them were the owners who were in their 30s. I could immediately see that it was a very young and dynamic company and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

“I was answering the phones, but anything that needed to be done, I would chime in with “I’ll do it” and they (the owners) would let me do it. I took every opportunity as a learning experience and became exposed to every aspect of the business – customer service, parts procurement, shipping, sales and more. I was the jack of all trades,” she said.

With just a year into her job, it became clear to the management team at ITC that AriAnne was ready to take on more responsibility. Again, the timing was perfect. The company just secured Lowe’s home improvement stores as it largest customer to date. It needed somebody to create the shipping processes and manage the parts. “I’ll do it!”, shouted AriAnne, who moved into the shipping department and soon became the shipping and inventory manager.

By 2002, that scenario repeated itself as the rapidly growing company faced challenges in its production department. “Since I already was familiar with all the parts, parts ordering, production, shipping and other company functions, I became production coordinator,” she added. “The company was still young and didn’t have people in these positions, so it wasn’t a case of me replacing anybody. By moving from department to department, I was able to make each one my own by establishing the processes for successful operations.”

Despite the progress made in her new career, one of AriAnne’s goals in life was to complete her education. Before she was hired at ITC, she had been taking classes at a local community college. However, she decided to enroll at Western International University in Phoenix where she attended night classes and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. “It took me awhile but I did it,” she exclaimed, adding that the knowledge gained solidified her confidence in what she was already accomplishing on the job.

As the years passed, she had gained the respect and admiration of the owners and every employee she worked with. By 2014, it became very clear to the owners that AriAnne was ready to move up to the “next level”. However, as it turned out, there was another major challenge in AriAnne’s life.

“That was the year I had my first and only child. It was a very difficult pregnancy and I was bedridden and in the hospital for six months. Fortunately, my son Carter, who is now two and a half, and I are fine. But I remember Faruk Gole (ITC president and CEO) telling me that my absence was the worst time of his career. Until then, I was his right hand, and when I wasn’t there he realized how much value I added to the company.

“I returned to my job in early 2015 and in April Faruk made it official – I was being promoted to COO. To this day, it is probably the most accomplished moment I have had in my life. The response from everybody was phenomenal. They all told me how proud they were of how I could move up the ranks and reach the COO position.

“It was a shining moment for me, and as a woman it was even sweeter because I work in a male-dominated industry. Now that I am older, the challenge is not as difficult as it was when I was in my early 20s and in charge of an entire manufacturing plant floor of mostly men. I always had to work 10 times harder to prove myself, but I have always been fine with that,” she said.

“Achieving the COO position, especially as a woman, is even more satisfying because it just proves that you can do anything you set your mind to, regardless of whether you are male or female.”

AriAnne is quick to acknowledge that the recognition she has received for her career accomplishments is due in large part to working for a company that is progressive.
“ITC was willing to give me the opportunities to succeed and I took advantage of every one of them through initiative, dedication and hard work. If I had waited for all the opportunities to be handed to me, I wouldn’t be where I am,” she said.

Recent studies conclude that the number of women in manufacturing leadership positions is increasing from the current 29 percent level (only five percent at the CEO level). The research has found that this increase is largely due to women’s ability to believe in themselves, their willingness to fulfill their vision for career success and their ability to surround themselves with people who want to help achieve their goals.

“Throughout my career, I have always tried to lead by example. I wouldn’t ask any of my employees to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I may have the COO title, but everyone here knows me as the person who has been here forever and has performed most of the functions the jobs entail.

“I am proud of the fact that no one is afraid to ask me how to do something and I am willing to get my hands dirty in the process,” she added.

Asked what is one of the main things she has learned during her 18 years with ITC, AriAnne said:

“No matter what position you have, you are part of a team and you play an integral role. I grew up on the plant floor, so I respect every single employee whether they are in the production departments or in the office. I treat everyone the same.”

“AriAnne is – without a doubt – a shining star,” says Gole. “She is sharp, dedicated, hardworking and, most importantly, a very charismatic leader. Her no-nonsense attitude, resilience and desire to strive for excellence will always take her and her team to the next level.”