Seasoned Leadership in Action™! An Interview with Paul Kretz, Head of SCM at Church & Dwight!

Paul Kretz

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Paul Kretz
Paul Kretz, SCM at Church & Dwight

At Supply Chain Game Changer we believe in sharing experiences and expertise from people in every industry and from across the globe.  As such we have introduced our “Seasoned Leadership in Action™” Interview series at Supply Chain Game Changer.  This interview is with Paul Kretz, Head of SCM at Church and Dwight.

I first met Paul at Celestica.  He left to purse other interests but our paths crossed again later on.  I was at a company that had just implemented a new WMS system in the Distribution Centre.  The system cutover  was a disaster.  And the operation had been run without true Warehouse Management experience as well.  As I looked to recruit a new leader I was looking for a someone who could lead change.

I toured my final two candidates through the Distribution Centre, including Paul.  Their reactions would help me decide who to select.  The other person seemed overwhelmed and lost while looking at the mess in the warehouse.  It wasn’t clear what they would do.  Paul looked at the disastrous situation like a kid in a candy store.  He saw opportunity at every turn.  And instead of  being intimidated by the situation Paul was motivated and inspired.  I found my leader!

Paul ran that operation with World Class efficiency.  He tackled every problem and systematically turned the situation around. In the process he impressed and endeared himself to everyone who he worked with.  I consider Paul to be an elite Supply Chain leader.

Thank you Paul  for your friendship and taking the time to share your experiences and expertise with us.

Here is our interview with a genuine Industry leader, Paul Kretz!

Tell our readers a little about your background and experience?

I have been lucky in my career to work with many different companies and businesses.   My educational background includes a diploma in Industrial Engineering and a Business degree.  These degrees gave me the learning I needed to have both shop floor exposure and board room experience.

I started my career in Automotive parts manufacturing as a shift supervisor and can remember when my boss asked me to come off shift and become a master production scheduler.  He felt that would be great for my career as I would learn the customer and have a broader scope.  That was really my first taste of Supply Chain and I have loved it ever since.

Another key turning point was when I was asked to run a project to shut down operations in Canada and move a plant to the southern USA.  I was going to move to the States when the leadership team asked me to run the Canadian warehouse.   That is how I got into logistics management and gained deep warehousing and transportation experience.

I moved into the third-party logistics industry just as that was taking off and gained a ton of experience in logistics costing, WMS installation, selling services and technology skills.   Then I went into Contract manufacturing and gained some great exposure to lean, became black belt certified and saw what best in class Supply Chain operations really looked like.

I also had a great additional experience working for some brand owners in office products, electronics and consumer goods.  Toss in a dash of time as a retail logistics leader, sometime consulting and I have seen many aspects of Supply Chain and Operations.

My perspective about Supply Chain is that the skills required to be great at it are very transferable.  While some industry experience can be beneficial great Supply Chain leaders can hit the ground running most times no matter the industry.

What are some of your greatest achievements in the Supply Chain and in Business?

One of the proudest achievements I recall is related to fixing a warehouse operation in Mexico.  We had overwhelmed this plant with too much business and really had severely compromised the logistics and warehouse operations.

We had something like 30k items in 1500 locations, terrible systems and basically a broken operation. Productivity was like 1 line an hour.   The site had been trying to fix it and were using the manufacturing engineering team to drive the improvements.  With all due respect to my manufacturing friends logistics operations are not production operations and do need different skills.  The site was getting all sorts of help from corporate.  They used to call it seagull logistics.  Folks would fly down there, crap all over everyone and fly out.   I had been doing that and when I came back after 6 months I saw that zero progress had been made and that the site was even in deeper trouble.

So, I said no more seagull logistics!  I would stay until the problem was fixed.  I asked for $1.5M  of capital and some consultant skills.  I pulled together a team of systems and local skilled players and kicked off the project.   We installed new racking with over 32k locations, installed a new WMS using the latest technology created all new processes with pick faces and over flow locations, used six sigma tools to drive fool-proof processes and trained up the local team on RF guns and the new processes.

We did it all in 6 months and $400k less than budget.   I will never forget the General Manager’s face the day of go live when he came out to the warehouse.  He asked for a part number, a random order picker keyed it into his handheld and walked to the part.  The part was there which was for him a semi miracle.   To this day, the warehouse operation continues to work well and the site is successful.  It was fun when I was working two companies later that this warehouse was serving me as a customer and I got to connect with the leadership team again.

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We had many challenges to overcome on this project.  Tight timelines, customer escalations, engineering problems, board presentations, inventory variances etc.   But the theme of working collaboratively, of respecting the local players and letting them decide on how things should work allowed us to adapt and overcome all challenges so that the project was successful.

I will never forget that 6 months.  Stressful, lots of travel, great relationships and huge success…. all related to not being a seagull!   I have had other great successes with driving lean, fixing operations, global projects or building teams.    This one holds a special place in my heart because of the people and the challenges we overcame collectively despite differences of nationality and geography.

How has the Supply Chain changed over the course of your career?

Over the course of a 30-year career one would expect changes to occur.  In SCM I think that the changes have been seismic.  When I started out the term “Supply Chain” did not even exist.  The departments were called production and inventory control, warehousing and transportation.  Now there are “C” level Supply Chain Executives and global scope roles.  And for many Supply Chain needs to be a competitive advantage and it commands Board level scrutiny.

For me perhaps the biggest change is the move towards optimization rather than minimization.   How to trade off inventory and transport costs?  How to find the lowest points on the cost curve where more than one cost or driver is considered?  The availability of advanced supply chain tools that can help with these concepts is critical but most critical of all is the skill and ability of the people using the tools.   After all optimization is considerably more difficult than minimization.

I think that more than any other career Supply Chain personnel need specific training for the company they work for.    This is not like engineering where for the most part an engineer can come and do their job with little training required in the tools and processes of the company.  Supply Chain is different I think.  While SAP is such a broad-based tool in use, how it is configured and how it is used with other tools makes the training curve for a Supply Chain person longer and more intense.

So, while the concepts are similar between companies the tools are not and hence great people are required for great Supply Chain teams.  Today Executives need to think about this and how to attract and retain great skills.  In many respects the Supply Chain competitive advantage comes from people and culture rather than tools and process.

What are some of the lessons you learned in your career that you would like to share for others to learn from?

  1. Always face your reality. Understand the true nature of the issues facing you so that you can solve the right problems.
    • This has many corollaries
      • Make your problem ugly…. but not so ugly that you do not have time to solve it prior to being escalated!
      • See it, own it, solve it, do it. These are the step towards accountable behavior when solving a problem
  2. Have balanced, relevant and valid metrics. In my training this was called QDC for quality, delivery and cost….and you fix your issues in that order.  No sense being low cost if your products are low quality and always late.  Customers will eventually quit you.  Plus, metrics protect you.  All too often frequency of 1 is always.  I am fond of saying yes, we were late on some orders but 99% were on time.  Of course, this assumes safety measures are in place which comes before all others
  3. Always have a hint of paranoia and looking over my shoulder. Am I keeping up?  Are we doing enough to satisfy the customers, my team, my friends and family.  Not enough to be too stressful but enough to keep you pushing for the next level.
  4. Have fun and enjoy. I try to be even keeled no matter what the situation.   Getting frustrated and angry only compounds the problem.  It distracts the team and creates useless energy not focused on the prize.
    • Be very careful of the states of competency and never be in the unconscious category.  It is never good to be unconscious.
      • Unconsciously competent…don’t know what you do know and forget others might not get it.
      • Unconsciously incompetent…. don’t know what you don’t know
      • Consciously competent…you do know what you know
      • Consciously incompetent….you know what you don’t know…and hence can find out
  5. Try to be a great leader. Work at it, learn about it.  Become self-aware.   People make business run and if you can attract and retain great people you will be more successful.
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What challenges facing the world are important to you?

For sure there are many global challenges. Environmental, social accountability, rising trade issues, Amazon, driver shortages, gun control…. the list is endless.

But one of the things that is really starting to concern me is the scourge of mental illness.  I don’t know if the problem is getting worse or I am just learning more about it and paying more attention.  The issue has recently hit close to home and has opened my eyes.   I think that many of us are unware of how much anxiety and depression and the variety of other disorders there are affects the world.  I think it is a pressing issue that is just now starting to get visibility with the Bell campaign and people talking more openly.

What is the role of Supply Chain and Change Leadership in addressing these challenges?

In the long run, we will need to solve this.    How can industry and Supply Chain specifically adapt to allow people to have fulsome and satisfying careers when they struggle with these disorders?  All too often admitting mental illness drives a stigma and rejection in the working world.  Why can’t we find ways to accommodate?

Schools and universities do and I think that industry and leadership need to do the same.  I don’t think it can be legislated.  While legislation is helpful and exists in many ways it really is a personal decision thing and societal change.  I for sure don’t have all the answers but do know we need to work it.

Can we create work schedules that can accommodate doctor visits and hour of work limitations?  Can we train our leaders to identify, accept and help people?  Can our processes be made easy?  Can we identify certain jobs that are suitable for the mentally ill and hire towards that.  Just imagine if we created a target of 1-2% of our work force being suitable for mentally ill people.   Worthwhile work is a key driver for improved mental health and for sure there is more industry can do.

What are you working on these days?

I’m working for my first CPG company on an interim basis as head of the Canadian Supply Chain.  This has been a great learning and eye opening.  We work with regulated and non-regulated products so gaining an understanding of the requirements of the food and drug regulated world has been great skill expansion.

Equally interesting is watching the E-Commerce space from the manufacturing side.  Lots of challenges here.  How do you keep the brick and mortar customers happy while aiming at the growth of E-Commerce space?  How should you innovate on the product side for the E-Commerce space with such things as shipping ready packaging?  Will you be an E-Commerce shipper or not?  While many retailers see E-Commerce as a risk on the manufacturers side there is tons of opportunity!

I love starting at a new company.  Learning the culture, the products, the processes…. driving improvements, introducing lean (continue to get surprised at how few companies use lean) and in general improving Supply Chain.  It reinforces some of my previous points   SCM is very transferable but it does take some time to learn the specific processes.

The other surprising thing is how often people and companies do not know what good looks like.  Understanding best practice is so important when starting a new role.  That allows you to quickly identify the issues, understand your leverage points and make an impact quickly.  It is finding that low hanging fruit that is so satisfying and people go…wow that’s amazing.

What advice would you give people who have a career in, or who are considering joining, the Supply Chain?

Do what you love!   The reason I love Supply Chain is the breadth.  You touch every part of the business and can have an impact in many ways.   So, learn from other people’s perspectives, gain skills in all the fundamental processes, understand how they all interact and learn to connect the dots.

Get an education.   All too often people fall into Supply Chain from other disciplines so continuous learning is great insurance for a long career.  More than once I have seen a person rise through the ranks at a company and achieve great career success.  A restructuring happens and if they don’t have that piece of paper it can be very difficult to get back to the same level in another company.  A diploma gives a lot of credibility.

Set career goals and create a plan to get there.  You own your career and while your boss can help and guide ultimately it is up to you

Networking is important.  Roles can go away, strategic directions can change, and life can get in the way.  But your network will endure if you nourish it and for sure it will help you find your next role.

How can people contact you?

I am always available via LinkedIn.

Originally published on March 13, 2018.
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