Seasoned Leadership in Action™ – An Interview with Scott Cleaver, COO at ecobee!

Scott Cleaver
Scott Cleaver, Ecobee
    Scott Cleaver, COO at ecobee

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 Scott Cleaver, Chief Operations Officer at ecobee.

I first met Scott while at Celestica.  I managed the Supply Chain function for the business and Scott was an Expediter in the Production Control Department.  While it was very early in Scott’s career it was easy to see that he was a tremendous individual.

Scott was driven, he completed any task put in front of him and he worked with lightning speed.  Scott never had any excuses; he set his mind to whatever task was put in front of him and completed it with complete professionalism and integrity.  He clearly stood out as having fantastic potential.

I watched Scott progress in his career with great interest.  I had worked with Kobo as a supplier, and then as a sister company when I was at Indigo.  When someone asked me who I would recommend for the job at Kobo Scott’s name was the first that I mentioned.

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

Here is our interview with a fantastic leader, Scott Cleaver!

Tell our readers a little about your background and experience?

As I started my career I really knew very little about supply chain and operations.  I was working as an inside Sales Rep at Wesco and moved to Celestica in the same capacity.  The next 5 years were pivotal in my career as I was exposed to many other aspects of Supply Chain and Manufacturing.

I was very lucky to have some great Leaders and Mentors who encouraged me to obtain experience in various roles to position me for success in the future.  Through my 13 years at Celestica I gained invaluable experience across all facets of the Supply Chain and Operations role, and more importantly was able to identify what made a great leader.

When I moved to Spin Master it was a whole new experience as I really had limited knowledge of the CPG industry and working with Retailers. I was now in a position working with 30+ manufacturers and managing hundreds of sku’s with expected life cycles of a few months to a few years.  Creating an S&OP process that ensured we had the needed flexibility while managing the risk was critical.

In my next move I joined Kobo which was another great Canadian success story.  I was intrigued by the business model which included both a physical good as well as content.  Understanding the Customer Acquisition, Retention and Churn model and the role the physical good played was both challenging and exciting.

As I visited CES every year I became very interested with IoT and Connected Homes space.  When the opportunity came up to join ecobee I was excited to join yet another great Canadian Success story.   Utilizing my skills and experience in Supply Chain, Manufacturing and Customer Support to go and position ecobee for long term success has been amazing.

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

When I joined Spin Master we re-engineered our process to improve our inventory performance.  When I joined we were struggling with a high % of non-performing inventory.  Through re-engineering the S&OP and planning processes we were able to significantly reduce the non-performing inventory and free up the capital to support growth.

In a 2-3 year period the revenue tripled to $1B usd but our actual inventory levels were lower than when we were a $300M company.  This allowed the business to introduce their new product lines and not worry about needing to first clean-up the “old” inventory and/or cannibalizing sales on the new products as you sell off the old products.

When I joined Kobo the focus was on Growth and Customer Acquisition.  Our device business was losing money as we were selling devices at low prices as a tool to obtain new customers.  In the 3rd year our parent company Rakuten changed our focus from 100% growth to be have more balanced Growth and a Profitable business.  Over the next 2 years we sustained a level of growth while removing $100M annually from the business.

This was executed through a strong leadership team that was able to table and challenge each of the functions to determine where we needed to spend and focus for best results.  At the same time we focused on product costs/features/specs to create a device line up that was now profitable.  Sku rationalization and having clear product and accessory “hurdle” rates allowed the business to have a clear understanding and alignment when requesting to move forward with new sku’s.

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

This is an interesting question. As I reflect back to my manufacturing days, the supply chain function was really a support organization who needed to ensure we had the parts to keep manufacturing lines running.  The Supply Chain functions were distributed through out the business, and we were really not looked upon as being strategic to the business.

I still remember the excitement when we started looking at “what-if” scenarios and identifying strategies to improve flexibility and reduce risk.  As Contract Manufacturing commoditized, the focus to have dynamic, flexible and efficient Supply Chains quickly changed.  In today’s business, it is almost table stakes that you have a highly effective and efficient supply chain.

I tell my team that managing our inventory well will not be core to the companies success but not managing it well could be disastrous.  Lastly it is the pace of change that continues to accelerate.  The introduction of Machine Learning and AI into all aspects of the business and leveraging this technology in the supply chain functions is still evolving.

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

I have a few lessons that I share with my teams.  To really understand Supply Chain and make effective decisions you need to be curious and constantly learn.  Look for opportunities to expose yourself to all aspects of the business as having this exposure allows you to make balanced and effective decisions.

Even with 30 years of experience, I am still learning every day as new tools, processes and approached are introduced and new challenges arise that you have not faced before.  People that succeed in Supply Chain and Operations are not the “traffic cops” who identify who is right and who is wrong.  Being able to provide clear focus and direction and empowering your team to accomplish what they are working on becomes infectious and leads to great results.

What challenges facing the world are important to you?

The new Tariff war is becoming very disruptive.  We have become very comfortable outsourcing manufacturing to China with very little concern or risk of supply chain disruptions.  I recall putting together “disaster recovery plans” 20 years ago and thinking they were a waste of time.  I had to brush off the dust recently and we are now very focused on having a strategy that will allow us to make the best supply chain and sourcing decisions for the business.  I

am also monitoring the area of Block Chain in Supply Chain closely.  There are so many companies that are using “Block Chain” as a buzz word to sell you their services.  Having lived through the pain and frustrations of large scale ERP solutions, I am wary of introducing cost and complexity without having a clear understanding on how this will bring value to the business.

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

Being able to filter through all of the new systems, processes and proposals to find the solution that is best for your business.  Identifying where to invest and what approach will bring the largest benefit to the company is critically important.

On a global scale, the idea of supply chain flexibility has expanded.  Having a manufacturing solution that is able to provide the best total landed cost, simplest vertical supply chain and provide options to move around the world has become a very high priority.

There is much uncertainty around the Trade Wars and agreements which could have sudden impacts.  Finding the right partners who you are able to work with and trust through this turbulent times will be imperative.

What are you working on these days?

Our growth has been incredible, and we are currently investing a lot of our time, effort and resources to ensure we have the right systems in place.  What worked when we were a  much smaller company will not allow us to scale and manage the growth.

Identifying what we need today and, in the future, while also ensuring we are not adding unneeded complexity is key.  In the Customer Care area we continue to invest to ensure we are providing a great service.  The use of Chat Bots, AI and Machine Learning is re-defining this space. In addition we are seeing customers expectations changing and they now expect to be supported through multiple channels at all times of the day.

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

I still remember one of my first managers telling me that being in Supply Chain is thankless.  You are never right, and you spend all your time working on challenges and problems.  As you start out your career – always be learning.  Keep current on what is happening throughout the industry and learn from others from their experiences.

I also put a lot of value in working for bosses that I both respected and was able to learn from.  Lastly I look for individuals who are always positive and looking to improve.  It is easy to critique, blame and make excuses – but the most successful individuals are the ones who focus on solutions and results.

How can people contact you?

I would provide you with my ecobee business email but this would result in additional cold calls from companies selling me something.  The best way to reach me is to connect through linkedin.

Originally published on August 7, 2018.