Lifetime of Achievement: Deborah Surrette

Deborah Surrette
Deborah Surrette is Chief Commercial Officer with warehouse robotics giant GreyOrange, and explains why the role is all about problem solving

Deborah Surrette is Chief Commercial Officer of GreyOrange, the multinational tech company that designs, manufactures and deploys advanced robotics systems for automation in warehouses, as well as distribution and fulfilment centres.

It is a massive job in a rapidly expanding market, because a tight labour market globally means that automated warehouses are rapidly becoming a must-have in the move towards resilient supply chains. 

US-based GreyOrange uses automation to accelerate and scale the warehouse fulfilment operations of its customers. 

“We want to make warehouse fulfilment quicker, more flexible, more scalable, and more cost-efficient,” Surrette says. 

Speaking to Accenture, as part of its Logistics Disruptors series, she adds: “The way we do that is through robotic automation and our AI-driven, enterprise-level software platform.”

For Surrette what differentiates GreyOrange in the automation market is that its clients “look to us when they want to achieve extraordinary scale”. 

She adds: “They look to us for our expertise and our years of experience, and for us to help them take the next step in automation.”

Surrette’s background is in technology sales. Most recently, she was VP Sales with Oracle, where she led the company’s North America sales operation,  focusing on large and medium-sized retail enterprises throughout the US and Canada. 

Prior to this, she was VP Sales North America for IBM, a role that saw her lead sales for its Smarter Commerce and Watson Customer Engagement Business Unit. 

The experience is standing her in good stead for her role at GreyOrange, whose customers, she says, are asking for one thing above all else: education. 

“A huge part of the job that our go-to-market teams and industry experts have is to educate clients on how they can solve their problems,” she says. “About 60% of our time is spent on education about opportunities and alternatives.

And there is a lot of educating to do in a market that is growing at a rapid pace. Education is one thing that can make it easier for clients to move forward. Seeing how other customers have done it can help here.” 

As COO, growth is something Surrette thinks about “on a 24/7 basis”. She says: “The way we’ll grow is by continuing to innovate and by understanding how to help clients do things in a repeatable, scalable fashion so that they can recreate initial successes throughout their enterprises.”

GreyOrange is also helping drive growth through innovation.

“We launched our Certified Ranger Network platform this year,” she says. “This allows various vendors’ robots to join our platform and be used by our clients.” 

Surrette says, too, that because automation requires a lot of capital, the company offers robot-as-a-service models that commit customers for only a year, instead of committing to capital outlays that cover ten years. 

“Sometimes, we might encourage a client to bite small and chew fast: take a project that’s smaller, get through it quickly, and then take it from there. You don’t necessarily have to boil the entire ocean to get good value out of starting an automation journey.

The challenges that Surrette and her team help customers meet come from all angles, including the labour market. 

“Today’s talent market in logistics is very tight,” she says. “A retailer might want to put in place same-day shipping but because they don’t have labour available to them that turns into three-day shipping.” 

This, she says, is a challenge GreyOrange can handle. 

“We can do that in a multitude of ways that fit into the client’s existing footprint, meaning they don’t necessarily have to go out and buy a new greenfield space to build another warehouse.”

Serving customer needs is what drives Surrette. She says: “I always want our teams to think about everything from the client’s perspective. Clients will weigh the risk of moving forward versus the cost of staying where they are, and their decisions get cloudy because by staying where they are they haven’t broken anything, but neither have they fixed anything. 

“So I always encourage our teams to ask themselves what the client is thinking about that’s going to either hold them in place or help push them forward. And then give them clarity on how we make it easy for them to move forward.”

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