Vice President, Global Sourcing & Procurement at FedEx Corporation
Sue Spence joined FedEx in October 2013 as the VP of the newly centralised Sourcing & Procurement group. Her responsibilities include leading a team of over 250 professionals in managing US$17bn of spend, systems and policies related to the corporation’s sourcing and procurement activities.
Drafted in by the shipping and transportation giant to build that centralised sourcing and procurement operation from scratch, straight-talking Spence wasted little time in making a big impression.
“One of my favourite phrases is ‘begin with the end in mind’,” she says. “My approach to designing the future state of sourcing and procurement at FedEx was to first define what world-class looked like for our function. We came up with seven characteristics of a best-in-class organisation and then gave ourselves a brutally honest assessment (red, yellow, green) on how close or far apart we were from those characteristics. There was a whole lot of red back in 2013, but by 2018, it was a whole lot of green.”
Prior to joining FedEx, Spence had a 29-year career with United Technologies Corporation, in positions of increasing responsibility at the aerospace divisions of Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Sundstrand and Sikorsky Aircraft, as well as a key leadership role at the UTC Corporate office. . She had multiple roles of traditional procurement, strategic sourcing as well as managing continuous improvement for both the assembly and maintenance and repair operations at Pratt & Whitney – experience that has proved invaluable in her FedEx role.
“My time managing continuous improvement taught me the criticality of the measurement system as well as ‘learning to see’ through process mapping, root cause and corrective action, and especially in business processes where there is so much opportunity to streamline,” she says.
Spence brought that methodology to FedEx, which proved an extra challenge as she was an ’outsider’, but also gave her the distance from the company to see a clearer route forward. But when you are tasked with building a world-class procurement team, what are you looking for? Spence is quick to list demonstrating category expertise, managing effective stakeholder relationships, making decisions based on data, not emotion, -monitored by a robust measurement system, focusing on process improvement to improve productivity, raising the bar on performance for both suppliers and employees and leveraging spend across the entire book of business you have with your suppliers. Recognising that this is a Herculean task for an organisation as complex and vast as FedEx, it’s also essential to proactively develop and manage the existing talent on your team. And that’s just for starters.
In 2020, Spence won the coveted Institute of Supply Management’s J. Shipman Gold Medal – recognition of her advancement of the procurement and supply chain management profession. She is suitably modest about her achievement, saying her grown daughters now believe “mom may have a good idea or two every now and again” while also saying it has helped boost her LinkedIn connections. But don’t be fooled for a second – Spence appreciates the gravitas of the award, and her position as a role model both within procurement and in general.
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