Elizabeth Richter, who is currently serving as chief of staff for the chief procurement and supply chain officer at contract manufacturer Flex, describes her current job as “supply chain heaven.” She has made her mark on her company with a focus on excellence and new challenges and is building a promising supply chain career. She was recognized by the 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars recognition program, a jointly sponsored initiative of ThomasNet and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM).
At Flex, Richter has been able to take part in leadership program rotations that gave her a wealth of experience including, in addition to her current role, a customer facing role, real-time asset velocity tracking, and driving the rail- and-road initiative while based in Hong Kong.
Richter also does her part outside the organization by helping encourage the next generation of supply chain pros. She serves as trustee of a charitable foundation where she manages a scholarship program for undergrads in supply management. She also serves as the vice president of professional development for Institute for Supply Chain Management (ISM)—Silicon Valley.
We sat down with Richter to get her thoughts on having a supply chain career in the high-tech electronics industry. We also wanted to find out more about what smart organizations can do attract and retain the brightest and best talent available.
EBN: You call Flex “supply chain heaven.” What makes it that? Can you tell us more about the supply chain leadership program at Flex?
Richter: I do think it is that. I can’t imagine a better place than Flex to learn the ins and outs of supply chain management. We are in 12 different verticals. We run a bunch of different mini supply chains under one umbrella which makes it very complex. That’s how I started viewing it once I started here. The leadership program was created by our chief procurement and supply chain officer, Tom Linton. His vision is to cultivate young professionals because he loves to give back to the profession. His idea was to give emerging professionals plenty of experience. He runs the program and hand picks the participants, no more than 10 at a time. We are getting 20 years of experience in just two, he says. We rotate throughout his organization and get opportunities to see supply chain management, finance, logistics, etc. We get to see so many different facets of the supply chain in the two-year program plus we get international experience.
I got to relocate to Hong Kong. It was an amazing opportunity and living abroad was quite the experience. I was tasked with researching how the Belt and Road Initiative might affect our customers and look at how Flex can benefit from it. I was also able to work with some of our third-party logistics providers and renegotiate some of our contacts. We are all post-graduate employees.
Flex gives you that autonomy where you can really take that project and run with it. Every manager I have had offered a ton of support. The projects are cream of the crop that will really move the needle for the company. Every project I’ve had has been high impact. It does give us a good outlook and better understanding of the company and roles we could take on in the organizational after the leadership program concludes. We’ll be placed somewhere in our global supply chain organization, but the program gives us an idea of the best fit for the person and our business needs.
EBN: What attracted you to the electronics industry and contract manufacturing?
Richter: It’s quite different from the retail industry. I saw Flex was moving to being more of a “Sketch to Scale” solutions provider from traditional contract manufacturing. It’s a really exciting time to be involved and that was the main attractor. It’s a place that is dynamic and innovative. Flex is using leading edge technology, really changing the way we work with real time data.
Another reason I was interested in this type of industry was because at Flex we have a unique opportunity to work in customer facing roles. Most supply chain managers primarily work with suppliers. At Flex, you get the chance to both the supply side and customer facing side.
I am from a small farm town in rural West Virginia. I ended up with a tuition scholarship for staying in state and started working on the board of directors for a charitable foundation and started learning about supply management. My first job was with Kohls headquarters in Wisconsin and then I decided to get a master’s degree from Michigan State. I’m so glad I pursued it. I never would have done so without the influence of my life coach and mentor, Nancy Richter.
EBN: What do you do in your role as chief of staff for Flex’s chief procurement and supply chain officer?
Richter: I am helping Tom Linton, our chief supply chain and procurement officer tackle big issues and projects that arise. I am working with several initiatives and learning from a forward-thinking leader daily. It’s a very exciting place to be. He’s such a force in the industry. He is incredibly creative about issues in the supply chain and how to influence it. I’m honored to have this role for the next six months. Seeing him think on his feet and learning from him about supply chain.
EBN: What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in the electronics supply chain? What did you learn about this career path that you wished someone had told you earlier?
Richter: First of all, I’d say it’s an amazing place to start your career. It helps you build a foundational knowledge of the business. Every decision you make is pivotal in an industry where there are such small margins. There’s plenty of opportunities. The leadership of companies turn to supply chain in a time of downturn. There’s no such thing as a daily routine and that’s the beauty of it.
At Flex, you get to own your projects and be the subject master of it. Owning it means you will be included in internal and external and face to face meeting, managing and analyzing large amounts of data, presenting to and getting buy in from senior management, recruiting at universities… the possibilities are endless.
EBN: What are the biggest challenges in terms of getting beyond old school attitudes and ways of doing things?
Richter: To that I would say, I’ve had great opportunity to work in the Flex Pulse Center. It’s really high tech and is really making the supply chain more visible. The democratization of data gives everyone who needs it the ability to see asset velocity, track products in real time, assess geopolitical risk and mitigate it.
New technology is changing way we work to make us more accurate and efficient. Real time data is much more accurate, so it saves a lot of time. It’s a better way to work but takes time for people to understand that.
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?
Richter: Within the Flex organization itself, everyone is more than willing to give you 30 minutes and sit down and have a conversation. I’ve been in organizations where that wasn’t the case. Here, people are willing and able to provide help if you need it on project or just want career advice.
They also give us a new hire buddy system and a mentor. Of course, you are also free to create other relationships on your own. In a company that doesn’t provide these traditional programs, you have to make sure new hires fit not just in the corporate culture, but are also excited about the work they’re assigned. If someone is excited about the project and material that’s the best way to keep them engaged. Organizations need to help people find their true fit, the right role that they can be excited about.