The ISM Supply Chain Diversity Summit will take place Feb. 26-28 in San Francisco. Shelley Stewart, vice president of sourcing and logistics and chief procurement officer at DuPont, who is an active member of the Institute for Supply Management and has served on its board of directors, including a two-year term as chair, played a key role in helping to create the conference.
At the conference, Stewart will participate in a panel discussion that’s part of the event’s Black Executive track, called The Buck Stops Here. On the panel with him will be Cathy Martin, CPO at Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission; Keith Hines, director of procurement at PricewaterhouseCoopers; and Joseph Black, vice president of procurement and CPO at Aetna. The four plan to speak about their careers — how they got to where they are today — their biggest challenges, and where they see the supply management profession heading. That is what Stewart discussed with My Purchasing Center.
“Taking a risk is where I’d start,” he said in response to the question about how he got to where he is today. “I worked for United Technologies Corp. for 20 years, and some opportunities came up outside the company,” he noted. “I had to make some decisions. It was a great place to work. I learned a lot there. I could have stayed and would have done well. Yet I accelerated my opportunities by being willing to take some risk, and try some different things.”
Still, Stewart said: “You can’t do that until you believe you have a good foundation. UTC gave me a good foundation. They gave me multiple experiences across two businesses and the corporate office. I had the chance to learn a lot. I was exposed to a lot. These things were foundational for me, to believe in myself that I could do that plus more at other places.”
After United Technologies, where he held various senior level operations and supply chain roles, Stewart moved on to Raytheon. He was vice president of supply chain there. Next, he served as senior vice president of supply chain at Invensys. Later, he was senior vice president of operational excellence and CPO at Tyco. He joined DuPont in July 2012.
Stewart holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of New Haven and both bachelor’s and master’s degrees of science in criminal justice from Northeastern University.
Stewart is co-author of the book, Straight To The Bottom Line: An Executive’s Roadmap to World Class Supply Management, with Michael Katzorke, Robert A. Rudzki, and Doug Smock, contributing editor to My Purchasing Center. He received the supply management profession’s highest honor, the J. Shipman Gold Medal award in 2011, and was recognized in 2012 by Black Enterprise magazine as one of the most powerful executives in corporate America.
“The story I share with people is that I am the first person in my family to go to college,” Stewart told My Purchasing Center. “All I really knew is that my parents said, ‘You need to go to college.’ I intended to be a journalism major. When I stepped on campus, one of the first people I met was the dean of the school of criminal justice. It was a relatively new school. The dean made the program sound exciting. I got a great, well-rounded education. Then, once I started working, I decided to get my MBA.”
Stewart says one of his big challenges revolves around getting promoted early and rapidly. “There were not many African Americans in the kind of job that I had,” he recalled. “When I walked into a room and said that I was the vice president, I got an interesting look. The challenge was to understand how to convince people that I had the knowledge and subject matter expertise to be in the role, to make the right decisions to create value for the company.”
It’s not surprising that Stewart is a strong believer in having a mentor and being a mentor. “I think you should have more than one mentor, people you can talk to,” he said. “Having someone who can help think about your career holistically is critical.”
At the same time, he says he has “a whole list of people” he mentors. He advises them to think in multifaceted ways. “It’s so easy to get caught up in your environment and try to get the answer from around you, as opposed to looking outside, understanding the outside environment and how it influences you,” he said, advising, “don’t be a linear thinker.”
Stewart is actively involved with people just beginning their careers. He is a member of the Northeastern University Corp. and chair of the visiting board of directors at Howard University’s School of Business, where he was instrumental in launching the supply chain management program.
He’s got nothing but good things to say about the co-op program at Northeastern; a student is on his team at DuPont. He helped start the student lab program at A.T. Kearney.
“I am excited about these things,” he said. “They keep me occupied. At Howard, I’m in the mix with the curriculum and involved with the student lab. Students will be at the Supplier Diversity Summit, participating in the event’s case competition. That’s a highlight for me, watching these young people perform.”
Closer to home, Stewart actively encourages diversity. He started a diversity council within the sourcing and logistics organization at DuPont. “We have hard targets for increasing diversity,” he said. “We have a new supplier diversity leader who rotated into the job, and a new strategy to increase our numbers and broaden our capabilities. Our mantra at DuPont Sourcing and Logistics is to be the most diverse organization in the company.”
To that end, his team hosted a luncheon late last year for all the affinity groups in the company.
“We talked about organization and our goals,” he said of the event. “We have an open and engaging policy. We want everyone to work for our organization.” The team recently hired an African American man and an Asian woman. Plus, a colleague is moving from China to work in the United States for two years.
Stewart encourages people to attend the ISM Supplier Diversity Summit. “The conference is continuing to evolve,” he told My Purchasing Center. “It’s a place where people can learn and, at the same time, network. That was my hope when we created the Black Executive conference. We combined the three events — Black Executive, Woman Executive, and Hispanic and Latino Executive — during the downturn in 2008. At the end of the day, it became more powerful than saving money– it created a triple network.
“We have a lot in common, a struggle for inclusion in the workplace,” he continued. “It’s important that we make sure we continue, maintain some separateness in the conference, yet share some common sessions. It’s working well for us.”
As he sees it, the importance of the summit is that it continues to be relevant. “It’s always been our goal to be able to have candid conversations with one another and do some learning about the profession,” he noted. “That occurs during these conferences. I’m excited to go, and I look forward to a great event.”
Susan Avery is Chief Editor at My Purchasing Center. She writes articles, blogs, and white papers and manages and creates other content for the online procurement and supply management publication. She produces and moderates webcasts. Susan has more than 25 years experience covering procurement and supply management for Purchasing magazine and Purchasing.com.