A rising star—Gurkirat Singh is leaving his mark on supply chain

From the August 2019 print edition

Entering the supply chain field indirectly, for example by falling into it from fields such as finance or operations, is common for many in the profession. In that way, Gurkirat Singh’s story is a familiar one. Singh is a mechanical engineer who graduated from university with a Bachelor of Engineering in India. He worked in the tire and automotive sectors in technical roles before immigrating to Canada, pursuing an MBA and, finally, landing a supply chain internship and career.

But what perhaps sets Singh apart is the speed at which he has risen in his chosen field. In a short span, beginning in spring 2017, he went from a student intern at facilities management services firm BGIS in Markham, Ontario to strategic sourcing specialist at the company. In April 2018, he won the Rising Star Award during the EPIC Awards, held at the ProcureCon Canada conference in Toronto. The same year, he won the company’s internal accolade, the 2018 BGIS Inspiring Excellence Annual Award. Most recently, he was promoted at BGIS to strategic sourcing manager.

Singh studied in India’s southern state of Karnataka and graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering degree in 2011 before starting work in Delhi at an Indian company called JK Tyre & Industries for three years. He then worked at Honda for a year. During this time, Singh’s roles were quite technical, involving product development, R&D and quality control. Product development happens in conjunction with manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain teams, and Singh gained exposure to these departments during this time. He saw that supply chain professionals used a very different skillset than what he had become used to up until that point in his career.

“They don’t just rely on the hard skills,” Singh says. “They relied a lot on the soft skills—people management, relationship management, vendor management, which is very, very important.”

Making a move
After four years in the workforce, in an attempt to broaden his business exposure, Singh decided to pursue an MBA. Following the example of an acquaintance who had moved to Canada, Singh applied for and received permanent residency status here in 2015.

Singh landed in Calgary in the middle of that city’s oil crisis. This, he now says, was a big wake-up call for him. While he had by this time decided he wanted to get into the supply chain field, he found he was competing against professionals who already had the needed skills, along with a decade or more of Canadian experience in the profession, who had been laid off during the crisis. Singh realized he’d have to ensure he could compete.

“Frankly I did a kind of gap assessment, a skills assessment,” he says. “I thought that, ‘OK, I need to upgrade myself. I need to bring myself on par with the people I’m competing with. I saw that this industry is so competitive that I can’t just sit there and not do anything. That’s when I decided to do an MBA.”
Singh applied to several business schools and was accepted into the Schulich School of Business at Toronto’s York University. When asked, he would tell the school interviewers that his future career goals revolved around supply chain and that he hoped to rise to the executive level. Because of his experience at JK Tyre & Industries and Honda, he had a solid manufacturing background. But he now saw supply chain as a growing, evergreen industry where he could leverage his experience and hone his skills.
“I could have looked into something completely different, like finance,” he says. “But I don’t think that excites me. Supply chain has challenges and it’s a pretty dynamic field. That’s always attracted me.”
But once he began his MBA studies in earnest, Singh realized just how much he had to learn about supply chain. The first year featured a handful of supply chain focused courses that helped him learn more about areas like purchasing and logistics. The school also offered an internship opportunity, through which Singh landed his spot at BGIS. The internship, he says, was useful because it allowed him to get a foot in the door and demonstrate his experience.

Singh works at the company’s head office in Markham, Ontario. BGIS manages facilities on behalf of clients, overseeing the day-to-day running of facilities for those clients, including equipment maintenance, janitorial services, landscaping, snow clearing and so on.

Singh worked as an intern for four months, and BGIS then allowed him to continue working part-time while he continued studying full-time. The company then hired him full-time as a strategic sourcing specialist after graduation and Singh saw his responsibility increase. He could then work with a bigger variety of clients. And like many in the field, Singh says that every day is very different in a dynamic area like supply chain and procurement. One reason for that is, BGIS is a large organization with a range of clients across several industries. That environment allows Singh to work on several different things and avoid monotony, which he says is an important aspect of any job for him.

As a strategic sourcing specialist, Singh managed four categories for BGIS clients: elevators, fire light safety, UPS and generator maintenance. He prepared strategic procurement plans for clients, in which he would work to leverage BGIS’s volume and buying power. Once a client approves a plan, a baseline analysis must be done regarding areas like the spend and targeted outcome for such a project. From there, procurement initiatives must be decided to deliver value to clients and their customers. Vendor management also comprises a big part of the role.

“Procurement is not just about cost savings. I frankly learned that these two years,” Singh says. “People are moving away from just cost savings. They want cost savings coupled with service improvement, coupled with something which is innovative—something which is sustainable—and creates value for the client and the end user. Sometimes you need to give a bit to improve the service quality or achieve your complete target. It has to be a win-win situation for you and the supplier and the client. Everyone has to be happy in the whole loop.”

As of July 22 Singh’s new position is strategic sourcing manager, and he now manages multiple accounts. His area of responsibility includes overseeing sourcing activities for facility management, capital projects as well as managing vendor management activities. “This role provides me with complete end-to-end exposure and a great learning opportunity,” he says. “I’m looking forward to pushing myself and growing personally and professionally.”

Among his professional accomplishments so far, those that involve recognition from his peers stand out to Singh. Both the EPIC Award at the ProcureCon Canada conference and the 2018 BGIS Inspiring Excellence Annual Award—which he received in his first year working there—hold special meaning for him. The project that ultimately landed him both awards was a multi-client elevator maintenance RFQ. Singh’s executive team nominated him for the company’s quarterly performance award. From among those winners, the company’s CEO and executive team then choose winners of the annual awards. After winning the BGIS annual award, Singh won the EPIC Award for the same project.

“As a fresh graduate I don’t think there’s anything better you could ask for,” he says. “Your peers, your team members, your management team believing in your ability—once you get recognized, your confidence grows. You know that whatever you’re doing is right. And you have to continue doing it.”
Singh credits both the Schulich School of Business and BGIS for offering support and flexibility while he worked and studied simultaneously. During the second year of his MBA, he would spend between 25 and 30 hours a week working at BGIS while also studying. But the experience helped him hone his project management and time management skills. For example, he could attend class in the morning then work on projects for BGIS for the rest of the day from the school’s library. He also attended classes on weekends.

While Singh has accomplished much during his relatively brief sourcing career, he also has his sights set on the C-suite. His end goal is to reach the executive level, perhaps as CPO or COO. In the short term, his plans involve continuing to learn, challenge himself and take on more responsibility. On the one hand is the development of hard skills. Supply chain changes rapidly these days and practitioners must work to keep abreast of those changes. While his MBA degree specialized in supply chain management, Singh is also considering working towards a designation such as the SCMP, offered by the Supply Chain Management Association (SCMA).

“Procurement is not just about running solicitations. You need to improve the whole process,” Singh says. “I’ve also been looking at process improvement and the Lean Six Sigma. I got a green belt and in the long term I want to get a black belt, then bring that onboard with what I’m doing right now.”
In terms of soft skills, Singh says his major focus is improving his communication ability. In supply chain and procurement, relationships are paramount and the ability to deliver a message in the right way—a way that suits all parties—is important. To develop those skills, Singh says he is also considering taking public speaking courses.

And he hasn’t limited his accomplishments to the supply chain world. One of his personal interests is running, and Singh has completed six half marathons and one full marathon over the past three years. The experience, he says, has been exhilarating while also keeping his mind and body fit to perform at the necessary level for his sourcing role.

Mixed perspective
Because of his mix of experiences, Singh says he is well-suited to offer guidance from three different perspectives for those looking to enter the field: as a recent immigrant, fresh graduate and a sourcing professional already working in the field. While Canada is receptive to those from other countries, recent immigrants must remember that the Canadian job market is not easy—it’s a highly competitive environment. A skills or gap assessment can help those who are new here to figure out what areas they need to improve. Figure out your strengths and upgrade where needed, Singh advises.

As well, look at doing some certifications, he says. Having one gives job candidates “a star on your shoulder” immediately. A supply chain-related diploma or even an MBA can help, as can doing an internship within an organization. “Any opportunity to get in a company, take it,” he says. “I would suggest, don’t worry a lot about money, get your foot in the door. With this opportunity, demonstrate your skills and your strengths. Use this as a platform to grow, not just within that organization, but within the industry.”

For new graduates, Singh says that networking is key. Peers, alumni, professors and others can counsel job seekers on what’s happening in the industry, tips for professional improvement and employment opportunities.

Finally, for those already working in the field, Singh suggests focusing on relationship building and improving communication skills. View suppliers as partners and recognize that, whatever you do, work to create value for everyone involved—clients, suppliers, end users and others. That customer-focused attitude is part of what injects joy into his role. As an engineer, Singh would help to create products and, when the product was released, he got joy from seeing that product used by end users. In supply chain, especially the service industry, seeing those services run smoothly is now a source of joy for him.

“Until you see how you’re influencing that end user, I don’t think you completely understand what you’re doing,” he says. “Once you see how you’re improving someone’s life in XYZ, then you understand the impact of your work. Then you can keep on doing it.”

Along with the direct impact that supply chain and procurement have on an organization’s success and people’s lives, the field also offers a variety and diversity that keep it interesting. As well, Singh adds, those working in the field tend to be receptive to new ideas and open to helping to develop and improve newcomers. And a drive to continue to improve oneself helps to make any profession more interesting.
“You keep on working on new things, you keep learning new things—that’s a goal,” he says. “If you keep on learning, if you keep on challenging yourself, you’ll grow.” SP