Talking to a Rising Supply Chain Star: Debbi Wan, Cisco

Today, smart OEMs are attracting young talent directly out of college. Debbi Wan, strategic sourcing manager of Global Manufacturing Operations for Cisco Systems, knew early on that she wanted to work in the supply chain. Since then, she's been making a difference for her company.

Wan was one of the young professionals recognized in the 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars recognition program, a jointly sponsored initiative of ThomasNet and Institute for Supply Management (ISM)

Wan earned a triple major that included supply chain, marketing, and sustainability. She started her supply chain career at Cisco as a business operations analyst. Since then, she's gotten a reputation for out of the box thinking and solid follow through that makes the organization perform better. Just one example: Wan noticed the sourcing team was using offline documents for tracking, an inefficient and outdated practice that made collaboration difficult. After enhancing the spreadsheet, Wan wanted to do more. She leveraged her network to design and develop a robust web-based tool to solve the issue. Next, she led efforts to develop an efficient way to view sourcing analytics that gave greater visibility and improved collaboration, allowing for aggressive pricing on new products and substantial savings. 

We talked to Wan about her experiences in the electronics supply chain, as well as for her advice on other young professionals who might want to enter the field.

EBN: Tell us a little about your role at Cisco. How do you see your job evolving over time?   

Wan: I work in the Partner and Sourcing Management team within Global Manufacturing Operations of the supply chain organization. My days are spent collaborating with key stakeholders in order to deliver value through management of the strategic sourcing lifecycle. This encompasses overseeing the supplier evaluation and selection process to proposing, negotiating, and executing strategic agreements with Cisco's global manufacturing partners. My goal is to make educated, data-driven sourcing decisions while communicating tradeoffs and influencing business outcomes in alignment with our strategies. I also manage a database of all the new product introductions that our team is engaged in, providing an exciting opportunity to see the new and innovative offerings Cisco has planned for the near future.

Over time my job will see a trend of digitization and automation allowing information to flow faster, be better connected, and more mobile via apps. Business processes will be more transparent, efficiently managed, and accessible in real-time. This shift enables us to be agile and make more intelligent decisions. It is impressive to be a part of this significant movement, and it definitely won't happen overnight. The transformation is under way now and will continue to change the way we work.

EBN: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about a career in the electronics supply chain?

Wan: Manufacturing of high-tech networking equipment is justifiably complex, but it is also exciting and enlightening. I would highly recommend a role in electronics supply chain – whether you're interested in technology, manufacturing, process improvement, managing relationships – there is something for everyone in this field. Be ready to embrace the intricacies of working in global, cross-functional, and diverse teams. In addition, be prepared for projects that span different offices, cultures, languages, time zones, hemispheres, and operational dynamics. This field is very appealing to me because of its cutting-edge, forward-thinking, and multi-disciplinary nature.

I believe the electronics supply industry offers a meaningful and fulfilling career. My work life boils down to managing complex, ambiguous, multi-stakeholder projects. Overcoming these challenges is satisfying from a professional and personal perspective. My instinct is to enjoy everything about what I do; otherwise it's time to explore a different domain. It is important to find projects that excite you and that will play off your strengths, while helping to build new skillsets and broaden your experiences. In general, hard work will not go unrecognized and new opportunities will follow.

EBN: What are the biggest challenges in terms of getting beyond old school attitudes and ways of doing things?

Wan: It is important to make it a priority to evaluate all angles of a situation, seek opportunities to continuously improve, and make yourself more effective. Realize the habits that are inefficient and do not contribute to a productive work environment. Always try to collect feedback from those around you – teammates, peers, and your superiors. Make sure that you understand and align the team, organization, and company's visions and strategies. It is also important to build trusting relationships with the stronger members of the team so that they are comfortable with sharing their experiences and imparting wisdom that they have cultivated throughout their career.

Remember that any great performer started somewhere; be comfortable with sharing challenges and asking for help. Also be cognizant of any existing misconceptions of the younger generation, interpret their perceptions, and figure out an approach to change these misunderstandings. Younger workers bring energy, momentum, and excitement – they are anxious to get things done, gain experience, make an impact, and succeed. They often have the potential to do as well, if not better, than their peers. However, it is important to be observant and emotionally intelligent in order to guide your overall thinking and behavior.

EBN: What help and support have mentors offered you? What advice would you offer to electronics OEMs who want to be an employer of choice to the next generations of supply chain managers?

Wan: In general, when you're early in your career, you don't necessarily know which projects to take on or the final outcome of a project that is assigned. Mentors can help to provide guidance on the potential impact of a project, expose you to significant opportunities, or steer you toward prospects that are a better fit.

My advice to the electronics OEMs who want to be an employer of choice to the next generation of supply managers is to connect newcomers to a team that they would be successful with, in a role that they are enthusiastic about. It is also critical to connect a new employee with a high performer who has abundant knowledge to share, and will help the newbie focus on his or her strengths. The mentors chosen should be passionate about their work and the company, fueling enthusiasm of the next-generation employees. 

I also suggest that the prospective employer promote a strong connection between the employee and the company – what does the company stand for and why should we believe in its offerings. Managers looking for talent should hire with a purpose, ensuring that the everyday tasks and activities support the success of the product or service. Empower employees, provide meaningful and challenging work. Be supportive and transparent, express recognition and constructive criticism where it is due.

EBN: What else would you like to say about supply chain as a career or your experiences?

Wan: The team you decide to join is very important. Realize that there are experienced people in every organization who have been there since the start, and are very talented with a lot to learn from. On the flip side, mismanagement and imperfections are a reality – be sure to do your research and ask the right questions. Avoid focusing on the things you can't change and do something about the things you can change. Don't drown yourself in data and be left starving for knowledge – work smart and have fun while keeping the big picture in mind. 

2 comments on “Talking to a Rising Supply Chain Star: Debbi Wan, Cisco

  1. shivani336
    September 15, 2016


  2. meus
    July 6, 2017

    Very interesting! I am also an entrepreneur and I love reading about it.

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