Great leaders create leaders, not followers

“With four assignments in four continents in two years, I got to see first-hand what that commitment actually takes – from the Executive Board, to the ground level within the business itself. It was an amazing start to my career!”

Why did you choose ABB?

After I finished my masters in Supply Chain Management, I wanted two things: to join a leader that was committed to facing social and environmental challenges, and to find a trainee program in a global organization that would help me to launch my career. In ABB, I found both! 

ABB has a noble vision: Let’s write the future, together. Were you able to contribute to this goal?

My introduction to Procurement & Logistics (PL) was to find a single partner who could supply all the employee transport we needed - we have projects in many different locations in South Africa so there’s a big demand. It was a classic buyer’s brief: define the scope, send out a request for quotation, manage the relationships with the suppliers and report back to the Country PL Manager with a recommendation.

For 25 years, ABB in South Africa has supported economic empowerment of previously disadvantaged individuals. We have a dream in South Africa that we can create a prosperous society, without sacrificing our ethics. Therefore, we wanted to find a supplier who could grow a strong partnership with us, while supporting this important social challenge. We found a qualified supplier who has now expanded beyond people transport into logistics and who shares our vision for the country. It is a long journey but it was great to contribute to this goal in my first role.

You moved to Zurich to work on a global transformation project for your second assignment. How was that?

When I arrived in Zurich, a new 1000-day program was beginning across the group. The focus was on driving productivity in Finance, HR, IT and PL by centralizing our efforts and resources. It was fast and demanding but I learned more than I thought possible! 

I was assigned to the new team responsible for managing the PL component. The three-tiered plan was to create: centers of expertise for direct and indirect sourcing; a network of global teams to execute procurement and logistics; and 10 transport management centers to coordinate all supply and delivery trucks worldwide. The overall aim was to cut costs, improve quality and boost environmental performance. That included building an industry leading digital platform to ensure transparency and take our continuous improvement efforts to the next level.

That sounds ambitious! How did it go?

The project had just been signed off by our Board so it was very high profile and challenging, but I got the opportunity to work with very senior management. For six months, I managed all PL communications around the project.

With many stakeholders and high level goals, this was a huge task. But I am proud to say the PL component delivered net savings of $150 million, 40 percent more than our targets (Read my manager’s summary of the project). Group-wide, the program delivered $1.3 billion run-rate savings versus a $1 billion target.

The biggest learning for me was how to manage myself. When I am new and learning, I can overthink things. I need to be able to ask plenty of questions and I need affirmation and confirmation I am on the right track. On a project like this, I had to build up to maximum efficiency. I learned what to ask, whom to ask and how to ask. Everyone has different preferences, and to get my part of the job done, I had to make sure I remembered them!

When you moved to China, did you continued working on the project?

Yes! I got to see things from the other end of the telescope. If you want to be the best in your industry and you are a global player, then you need to communicate best practice to the four corners of the earth! It was invaluable to see how the implementation of a global transformation project works at the ground level, in a very different culture.

I helped set up the PL team in our Global Business Services (GBS) center in Xiamen, on the southeast coast of China. They now have more than 100 people managing hundreds of millions of dollars in PL spend for 45 factories across the country.

The biggest challenge in moving to China was learning the language, and adapting to the different ways in which people work. We had support from Zurich and Bangalore where they had already set up a GBS center but still it was a huge learning curve that I will benefit from for the rest of my career. I loved it, though, and made many good friends during my six months there.

Now you are in the US. What are you doing?

I completed the GTP in March 2017, and since then, I have been working as a Category Manager in ABB’s Electrification Products Installation Products office in Memphis, Tennessee. I manage the plastic parts category which has a budget of many millions of dollars and is quite complex. You need good skills in negotiation, time management, communication – all of which the GTP helped build – and industry knowledge which I am now learning, fast.

As part of our efforts to reduce the number of suppliers in the category and consolidate spend, we run supplier days where we review key relationships. The preparation is a great way to learn. You need to know as much detail as possible - what percentage of a final product each supplier contributes, lead times, sale terms and quality and delivery records.

Even though I am no longer in the GTP, I still receive plenty of support from my colleagues, my manager and a mentor I have in Zurich. 

During my first years at ABB, I have seen how business leaders can contribute to world economics, society, and environment. Thanks to the ambition of the PL team and the incredible support I have had across the group, I believe I can really make my own contribution, too. It might take a long time to reach that level, but the seeds of inspiration are definitely growing.

Name: Fleur Schipper 

Global Trainee Program: Procurement & Logistics
Education: Bachelor of Commerce (Supply Chain Management), University of Pretoria, South Africa. Master of Science (Supply Chain Management), Tilburg University, The Netherlands
South African/Dutch
Interests: Traveling, horseback riding, paddle boarding, and good conversations over coffee

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