A Vision for Procurements Future, with Conor Quarry, and Komal Patel

Posted: 10/04/2018 - 05:50

At SIG's Fall Global Executive Summit in 2018, SIG held its first annual Future of Sourcing Awards. Join Sourcing Industry Group CEO and President, Dawn Tiura, as she interviews the finalists nominated for the Rising Star Award. The Rising Star Award recognizes an individual newer to the industry who has shown initiative and promise by delivering a project, developing thought leadership or creating a new methodology that is likely to have a lasting impact.

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Dawn Tiura: Folks, I'm excited to introduce you to Conor Quarry. Conor is nominated as a Rising Star and he's from IBM, and Conor, I want to welcome you to the podcast.
Conor Quarry: Well, I'm happy to be here.
Dawn Tiura: You have just the most amazing recommendation that was sent in which is why you are a finalist in the Rising Star nomination category. Can you tell me a little bit about your inspiration? What inspires you every day, and what makes you do such an amazing job for IBM?
Conor Quarry: Absolutely. I would say that one of the things that inspires me is problem solving and trying to find the best answers to a process. Once you find the best answer, getting an even better answer. Now, in terms of who inspires me, that's a little bit different than what inspires me. I would say people that have a passion for something and a passion that really shines through… through their work. My personal passion is within analytics and problem solving and knowing how powerful my internal drive is to really be successful and do the best within the realm of those things and seeing someone else that has that same level of passion and intensity is inspiring to me because I know how powerful it is and when I see somebody else that likes something else, I know I can totally emphasize with how they're feeling about it. I always definitely can tell within two minutes of hearing a presentation, watching someone do a pitch that they're really, really invested in this, and that they really, really enjoy what they're doing.
Dawn Tiura: Oh, that's neat and I love when people get passionate about their jobs. That is just awesome. So tell me a little bit about your accomplishments that probably are the reason you were nominated.
Conor Quarry: Sure. I work for IBM and we do procurement outsourcing for our clients. I've done a few projects around professional services and facilities in the indirect space and one of our clients had a project around application management services or AMS consulting. We had six different environments that we consolidated into one RFP. It helped us a lot that they had created a very robust baseline. However, we ran the project and we achieved a significant, significant amount of savings for that client based on what the market was saying as well as realized P&L savings of over $8 million on around $30 million spend. You're talking around 25 to 30% of savings just in services of reshaping the rate  card and making sure the hours align to what they should, and what market best practice is.
Dawn Tiura: That's a great return, my gosh. No wonder. Wow. So, for you, did you happen to purposely go into sourcing as a career choice, or did you fall into it like a lot of folks that have been around for a while?
Conor Quarry: I bet this answer has changed over time like you alluded to but in college, my major was actually Supply Chain and Information Systems. I went to Penn State, and I would say I got into Supply Chain by chance. I had to take one of the classes, and I still remember the class. It was SCM301. It's one of the classes you take before you choose your major.
Conor Quarry: The class is all about problem solving in the real world through efficiency, conflict-resolution, and overall problem solving, and using data to help back your decisions. Whether you're talking about any kind of procurement... Sorry, any kind of supply-chain background, whether it's procurement logistics, inventory planning; everything needs a custom or methodological approach because most of the time, no one's ever looked at this problem before. It's just always been happening. It's probably been happening for 25 years and no one's really taken that and said, "Hey. How do we re-engineer this? How do we use the data that's available to us to help us understand our past trends so that we can better plan for our future?" And just being able to consolidate all that information in one, the class was a lot around coming up with creative solutions and then pitching them to the clients and having to work on your narrative and how you talk about it and all of the different facets that go into how you present to someone a new solution was really inspiring and really appealed to the analytical side of my brain, and the problem-solving side. I think they're both the same side, but it appealed to that side of my brain.
Conor Quarry: It helped me fall in love with it and immediately after that class, I was like, "I know exactly the major I want from Penn State."
Dawn Tiura: Wow. I love that. I love that you get passionate when you were back in college. That's fantastic to hear. Did you go right to IBM, then?
Conor Quarry: Right after college I was fortunate enough to receive a job with IBM services where we do procurement outsourcing for our clients so a procurement consultant specialty, if you will.
Dawn Tiura: Oh, that's awesome. So obviously, you have an IT background, as well, Information Services. How do you think technology is going to change your role or the role of sourcing in the future?
Conor Quarry: Where do I start? I'd say that technology, it's part of everyone's life now, but it'll become even more of a constant in our lives in the future. We live in an absolutely amazing time that I can, with historical data, model patterns and trends that used to take decades for people to develop and see. I can do that from the comfort of a boat in the middle of the Adriatic Sea with blue water around me and I can get around a 50% more accurate answer than I would have been able to if I had that experience just because of all the data backed decisions part of that.
Conor Quarry: That's not to say there's no value in experience. Don't get me wrong on that. Computer models are always wrong. That's the first rule of forecasting. I think they taught me that in Supply Chain 301. Forecast models are always wrong. You're never always going to be right, but I think that experience is invaluable because the computer hasn't lived through the pain and emotion of manual human analysis, but I think that's part of technology. Training the computer to better emulate a human mind is a very, very important and efficient use of people’s time. Instead of the person doing the work, have the computer do the work and you can work on strategy. I'm totally behind a fully digitized business. I think that that's where we're going and I'm excited for the future.
Conor Quarry: In terms of technology, I always want to be aligned with all the new tech, all the new ground breaking ideas that people are going through. The more I can be enveloped in that, the better.
Dawn Tiura: That's fantastic.
Conor Quarry: In terms of—you're right, it is fantastic. I'm more than—I think another thing that people underestimate a little bit when they think of technology is just how much untapped data there is in the world that we can begin to start utilizing. As I said earlier, people with that experience, when they retire, all those data points that they have retires with them. If we can start to build more models around people’s experience and what they're seeing and help... I think that's exactly where we're going as well.
Conor Quarry: I think there's a ton of other changes that are happening moving forward. I think one of the biggest things now, and I'd be remiss to not talk a little bit about machine learning and analytics as that's part of my job. We see companies in the world today. Your Netflix's, your Salesforce's, Google's absolutely obliterating the competition in stock price, market share, market cap. They're becoming the most valued companies of all time. I think there's a common theme. The common theme is that they're all built, and all their culture is focused around, "We use data to make every decision that we make." That kind of environment really, really enables machine learning programs to thrive. The best way I can describe it, I can give one sentence... two sentences is "The Netflix machine... of the machine learning knows exactly what it's users want, when they want it, and why they want it." And they may create the content that better suits that based on your preferences.
Conor Quarry: If you like shows about dragons, and you also like romantic comedies, and then all the movies you watch are... Aaron Sorkin is the executive producer, then "Hey. We know that users like you like this show, so watch this show." I think that when they can start creating content based on those types of decisions, then they really, really... that's why they're really killing their competition because meanwhile the competition's in a boardroom going, "Do we make a third sequel to this movie we made in 1998?" Whereas Netflix is like, "No, you don't make that sequel because none of the data is backing it up. Don't do that." I think that that is becoming so prevalent and that the companies that are adopting data-backed decisions are the ones that are thriving in this new environment, this new world of so much data, so much technology around all of us and I'm excited for where the future goes, of all of this.
Dawn Tiura: Conor, I'm excited to be able to talk to you and hear your excitement because there's no doubt in my mind why you were nominated as a Rising Star with this kind of passion, and certainly IBM is lucky to have somebody who's so visionary and so embracing, that status quo isn't acceptable, and you have this insatiable curiosity. I just want to wish you the best of luck and hopefully I'll be handing you an award on stage in October and I just want to thank you for your time today, Conor, it was fantastic.
Conor Quarry: Thank you very much for your time as well. I had a great time speaking with you.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah. I can't wait to see you in person and carry on the conversation. Thank you and have a great day.
Dawn Tiura: That was Conor Quarry, IBM, and up next to Kamol Patel from Kellogg.
Dawn Tiura: Hi, I'm so excited to introduce you to Kamol Patel from Kellogg. She has been nominated as a Rising Star in the Future of Sourcing Awards so welcome to the podcast Kamol.
Kamol Patel: Thank you very much, Dawn.
Dawn Tiura: I'm so excited by this nomination. So much was written about you and you have the backing of both the Kellogg CPO and the COO of GEP and so many amazing people wrote amazing things about you. Can you just tell me a little bit about what inspires you?
Kamol Patel: Dawn, it's my parents, and I'll tell you why. We moved from East Africa to Canada when I was 6 months old and during that move my mother was unfortunately unable to further her education because of that move. She came to a new country, never regretted anything she's done. I've never, in all my years that she's been with us, have I ever heard her say, "I wish I could've gone back to school." Even in that state, she's probably the smartest person that I know. She's innovative, she's creative, she's got so much drive, so much passion, and so much love for anything that she puts her hands on or attempts to do. If I think about the strengths that I have, whether they be organizational skills, perseverance, it comes from my mother and I see that in her every day in anything that she touches.
Kamol Patel: My father, if I think about, in addition to coming to a new country, the added portion there is, he grew up in India. He had some troubles. His family had troubles with resources, but he still didn't let that stop him. He pursued a better life for himself. He's helped his family, he's helped our family and he's instilled in myself and my two sister the philosophy of never giving up and always being able to stand on your own two feet without requiring any additional support from anyone else, so being able to persevere and have that continuous drive.
Kamol Patel: If I think about what my parents have accomplished in their life and I think about what I have, I always say to myself, I don't think I could ever get to what they've gotten to because they did it without a lot of the extra things that I have or were made available to me—whether it be education or just extra resources—but they've still been so successful in everything that they've touched and everything that they do. It truly is my parents that inspire me.
Dawn Tiura: Boy, they're going to love to hear this and that is a great story. A lot of people from an older generation sort of fell into procurement and sourcing. Did you purposely set out to be in this industry or how did you get here?
Kamol Patel: A little bit purposeful, and a little bit just fell into the industry, and I'll tell you why. Procurement is actually a second career for me. I started out in the healthcare field; went back and pursued an MBA because I wanted to actually go into the administration side versus being a practitioner; pursued an MBA in Supply Chain and Finance and when I was ready to come back out of school to the industry is when 9/11 happened so the market in terms of healthcare administration was very soft in terms of where I wanted to be. The opportunity at Kellogg came forward where it was a category manager or buyer role working within what we call General Professional Services more specifically on benefit plans. It's really sourcing and managing and engaging with benefit providers. Not completely what I was looking for but it was an opportunity that allowed me to marry my healthcare background with the recent MBA. It was a risk. It was a challenge for me to step away from what I had as a successful healthcare career and try something different, but I knew if I didn't make that move at that point, I would never make the move.
Kamol Patel: I took it and opportunities continued to present themselves and that's essentially how I ended up in procurement. Again, I don't regret the decisions I made to actually get myself here.
Dawn Tiura: That's a great story. It's great that you were able to marry your healthcare background with sourcing. That's fantastic. So, tell me—I know it's hard to do—just share with our listeners some of your accomplishments.
Kamol Patel: I think about my accomplishments from a professional perspective, but the first one that comes to mind is that career transition because they're two very different fields and career progression paths. To be able to successfully marry the two and succeed in what I've been trying to do at Kellogg, I think, is a really good sense of accomplishment for myself. Then, if I look at specific things that I've done while at Kellogg's, they really come back to the last few years in terms of the transformation that procurement has gone through at Kellogg. I didn't do it myself. I was part of a team, but the roles that I played in terms of leading some of the organizational design and effectiveness work allowed us to establish the structure and the operating models that we have today that have enabled us to continue to generate value back not only for procurement, but more importantly, to the wider organization. That would be probably the second accomplishment that I'm most proud of.
Kamol Patel: The third one is just, again, continuation of that journey and really stepping in and helping to develop source to pay as it is today within the Kellogg environment. We have established a source to pay model. It's a continuation of our global procurement journey and it is coupled with an overarching initiative that we have at Kellogg within global business services. I actually sit within global business services today, so no longer directly in procurement, but have a very, very strong partnership, collaboration, and alliance with the procurement leadership team and procurement in general at Kellogg. I would say those are probably my three biggest accomplishments.
Dawn Tiura: Wow. That's phenomenal. What can we expect to see in your future? What do you see in your future?
Kamol Patel: I'd like to continue with what I'm doing within source to pay. Ideally, I have a passion for procurement so I could envision myself at some point coming back into procurement in another strategic or visionary role whether it be in, perhaps aspirationally, in a CPO role in one of our regions. That's kind of the path that I would like to progress on.
Dawn Tiura: Wow. I definitely see you've got the talent to get there. In light of technology and the amount of change in technology that we're facing every day, how do you see that it might be changing your role or the work that's done in the future?
Kamol Patel: I think technology is one of those things that it's continuous change. So it's the one given constant that you have and technology is continuing to change. It is something that we have to embrace versus fear. I think it is much more than just the standard sourcing tools and things of that nature. I think as the introduction of things like RPA or AI or those type of things come into play, we have to embrace those, we have to invite those into the organization and drive that, because I truly believe that is where we're moving, and it's the how the work gets done that changes. So when you're putting in RPA activity, it allows the category managers or the leaders of the organization to spend much more time being more strategic and continuing to drive value. It allows you to perhaps drive some new innovation into the procurement organization whether it be within your organization or across industries. I see technology as a continuum and it must be embraced by the organizations.
Dawn Tiura: That's fantastic. Kamol, I have a feeling that we're going to be hearing a lot about you in the upcoming years, and I'm so happy to make your acquaintance. And you do have some tough competition, which is so exciting for me to see how strategic people have been able to elevate these roles to be. I wish you the best of luck in winning the Rising Star Award.
Kamol Patel: I appreciate that. Thank you, Dawn.
Dawn Tiura: Thank you, Kamol. That was Kamol Patel with Kellogg, a Rising Star finalist in the Future of Sourcing Awards.

About The Author

Dawn Tiura's picture

Dawn Tiura is the CEO of Sourcing Industry Group (SIG),  a membership association representing Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies.  Dawn is also the president of SIG University, an online and in-person training and education organization that offers certifications in sourcing, governance, risk management and intelligent automation.