A champion of change

From the August 2022 print edition

In many ways, Maria Greaves-Cacevski views her supply chain career as atypical. She has created a unique path in the field out of necessity, and the journey has allowed her to adopt a unique role within the organizations at which she has worked.

“I don’t see myself so much as a supply chain leader,” says the Toronto-based Greaves-Cacevski, who is now senior category sourcing lead at Chemtrade Logistics. “I see myself as a change leader, as a champion for the supply chain process.”

Something that has provided her with this unique perspective, she says, is her status as a second-generation Canadian. Greaves-Cacevski was born in Grenada, an island country in the West Indies northwest of Trinidad and Tobago. Her parents migrated to Canada in the late 1970s, and she grew up in both Canada and Grenada.

This cross-cultural background also provided her with a unique education. Setting her apart from many other supply chain professionals in Canada is her education from the British, Canadian and American school systems. She returned to Grenada with her parents in the early 1990s, completing what’s called in the British education system the General Certificate of Education, or O Level (ordinary level) education.
From there, she attended the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, earning a diploma in physical therapy, before returning to Canada. She continued her education here, earning a certificate in marketing management from the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Studies at Toronto Metropolitan University (then called Ryerson University).

But her education didn’t stop there, and Greaves-Cacevski also pursued several professional designations.

“When I joined the business stream within Canada, I had to acquire education to support my experience and knowledge,” she says. “That’s when I started to acquire business certificates. This culminated in my Master of Business from Athabasca University in 2015.”

Greaves-Cacevski is now working on her Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Global Supply Chain from Walden University, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Although Greaves-Cacevski is a certified physiotherapist, she switched to business when she came to Canada. “Then, slowly, my career came full circle,” she says. “I slowly got into the pharmaceutical field, but on the manufacturing side.”

With an education spanning three countries, Greaves-Cacevski has also worked for several iconic Canadian organizations. The time she spent employed at Canadian Tire, Loblaws and The Hudson’s Bay Company taught her not only practical supply chain skills, but also that she was destined for what she considers an unconventional career.

A start in leadership
Greaves-Cacevski’s early roles in business were mostly in retail. That’s where she got much of her supply chain foundation, taking on roles like marketing pricing specialist, buyer and supply planner. Along the way, she began to develop her leadership skills. She also continued strengthening her education in the field during this time.

“While working, I was also taking courses to build my supply chain knowledge, because by now I had learnt the words ‘supply chain,’” she says. “I joined APICS courses for being a certified supply chain professional, as well as The Logistics Institute, where I completed my certificate as a professional logistician (P.Log.).”

These industry certificates have allowed Greaves-Cacevski to work within the manufacturing sector of the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Along the way, she is always looking for a challenge. As well as working full time, she has created learning materials for supply chain and operations at triOS College. She also teaches part time as an adjunct professor, supply chain management, at Durham College in Oshawa.

Along with a diverse professional background and education, Greaves-Cacevski has also worked in several cities across Canada. These include Red Deer, Vancouver and Moncton, and her current home of Toronto. Her experience in so many locations has provided a sense of what the business world is like across the country, she notes. Greaves-Cacevski began working in the pharmaceutical industry when she returned to Ontario. From 2010 to 2015, for example, she worked at Teva Canada as supply chain planner, later promoted to site lead.

“This is where I got my managerial start in terms of leading others,” she says. “In your roles as a buyer or as a planner, you’re indirectly leading but you don’t have that formal title. When I joined as a manager for procurement at a contract manufacturer for pharmaceuticals, I was given the opportunity to really use the skills that I’d learnt from my other jobs to try and craft new processes and new policies. That’s why I see myself as a champion for change, not necessarily a supply chain leader.”

In Ontario, she has also worked at ESTEE LAUDER as indirect procurement assistant manager/regional category lead, and at Thermo Fisher Scientific, as strategic sourcing manager. She is now senior category sourcing lead at Chemtrade Logistics, based in Toronto.

Her current role has her overseeing 55 sites across Canada and the US while managing the indirect category. “That goes from MRO items to uniforms to corporate travel,” she says. “It’s a wide spectrum of categories that fall under the indirect banner.”

Greaves-Cacevski has worked to ensure that her typical workday reflects a schedule that works for her. She’s an early riser, she says, and has always worked the early shift. She starts her day by scanning her emails for issues that need immediate attention. She then checks in with her team – a habit she learned from the manufacturing and retail worlds.

“As you start your shift, you always have a huddle with your team to identify what work was completed and what work needs to be done,” she says. “Bringing that mindset to a corporate environment, I always try to check in with my team just to make sure everyone is OK. Everyone is now online or, if they’re going into the office, we know where everyone is for the day, and where they’re situated so in the case of an emergency, we can address them accordingly.”

Greaves-Cacevski then works on her priorities for that day. Regarding time management, what works best for her is identifying those priorities that, if dealt with first, will provide the biggest return. Anything with strategic directive is top priority, followed by operational issues. Third in the priority queue are tactical concerns or administrative tasks. While these issues take a backseat to the strategic and operational, they’re still important and, if ignored, can become fires that needs putting out.

“My day basically involves trying to understand, high level, what’s on the plate in terms of my priorities, checking in with stakeholders to make sure that everyone is doing OK and that there’s alignment with what our day-to-days are, or what our week involves,” she says. “Then, finally, there’s going through the execution. It sort of follows a rinse and repeat cycle.”

For Greaves-Cacevski , supply chain isn’t a field with clearly defined and regular tasks. Rather, it often involves managing ad hoc issues as timely and efficiently as possible.

“Supply chain doesn’t have a carved-out plan of what you’re going to do, especially with my role,” she says. “It’s basically managing your ad hoc and urgent issues in a timely and efficient manner. I found this is what works best for me.”

Back to the beginning
For Greaves-Cacevski, some aspects of her career have come full circle. In the middle of her career she was part of several software project implementations involving, for example, Oracle or SAP products. In those projects she was deemed a contributor in helping to put in place the software to modernize or optimize an organization’s systems.

Since then, she has shifted to leading, rather than contributing to, such an implementation. Her current organization is working to improve its legacy system by onboarding a new module to optimize the indirect procurement category. Her role with the implementation involves helping to design the business solution and establish a supplier network, as well as support end-user training and development.

The implementation grew from a previous project that Greaves-Cacevski launched, in which she helped to improve the company’s MRO category. She helped to drive a three-phased approach, with the first step involving standardizing the category. The next step involved consolidation and removing unneeded items. The third step was optimization and ensuring value and cost benefit from the first two stages.

The new IT implementation is designed to support and expand those activities. The project will help to standardize how data is entered, maintained, stored, categorized and used, Greaves-Cacevski says.

“This for me is a huge career highlight, being that about 10 years ago I was in that position as a contributor and now I’m actually leading this initiative,” she says.

For the past four years, Greaves-Cacevski has also worked as an adjunct lecturer and professor at Durham College, where she also earned a post-graduate certificate in project management. She teaches an introductory course. There was no professional roadmap when she began her career, so Greaves-Cacevski is grateful for the opportunity to give back.

“I would have appreciated a mentor or guide as to what to expect and what pitfalls to avoid,” she says. “The thing I’m most proud of is being able to use what I’m learning and experiencing day-to-day and to help improve and guide our supply chain students.”

That guidance is perhaps more important than ever. Supply chain faces unprecedented challenges, not least of which is the mental strain of working remotely and the lack of interpersonal connection, Greaves-Cacevski says. That’s why the daily check-in each morning is so important. It helps to ensure everyone is grounded and knows exactly what they’re doing.

It also allows everyone to voice concerns. Change champions must fight constantly against people’s fears regarding shifts to their job structure and roles, as well as their ability to adapt.

“One of the challenges is really trying to keep our people focused and engaged,” she says. “It’s a challenge now because we’ve gone through COVID and we’re still kind of going through it. Change has been very dynamic.

It’s been constant. Not everybody reacts the same way to change. Some of us thrive in that environment and then some of us don’t.”

Another challenge lies in the tactical arena, Greaves-Cacevski says. Implementing new technology has a steep learning curve. Ensuring that people have the technical skills to adapt is important, but so is knowing what will be affected by downstream or upstream changes to the process.

As the pandemic winds down, staying connected with suppliers has also remained a priority, she notes. Many organizations are focusing on improving supplier relations and better contract management systems to mitigate the risk of supply interruptions.

Greaves-Cacevski says she is especially proud of her academic accomplishments. She was named “Most Consistent Overall Student” when she completed her undergraduate degree. At the time, the label was confusing. But as her career progressed and she began guiding others, she realized the importance of consistency. The trait paid off, and 15 years later, when graduating with a post-graduate certificate from Durham College, she was awarded the highest-ranking graduate of her fall convocation, based on having the highest GPA.

“To me, those two awards really stand out, because they fortify that education is a cornerstone of my personal growth and development,” she says. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have that firm foundation from all of the institutions that have trained me over the years.”

Along with continuing to push for process improvements through implementing a software solution for her organization’s indirect category, Greaves-Cacevski is working to complete her Doctor of Business Administration through Walden University. She also provides bursaries to primary school students in Grenada who excel academically as they enter secondary school. The bursaries are given anonymously to students at her parents’ former primary schools.

Greaves-Cacevski’s husband, Oliver, is also a supply chain professional and has worked at ESTEE LAUDER Canada for 17 years in supply chain and operations. The couple met at that company. They also completed their master’s degrees together through Athabasca University. The couple have a daughter, Olivia, who’s nine, and an 11-year-old black pug. Their dog’s name is Sirna, which means “black” in Macedonian (her husband is from Macedonia).

Greaves-Cacevski works to ensure that her work and home life are balanced. She enjoys exercise and goes to the gym or spends time outside. She spends 30 minutes exercising outdoors in the early mornings, and does yoga.

“During COVID my mom and I were doing online yoga together,” she says. “We were all able to connect – I’d call in from Canada and my mom and the yoga instructor would be
in Grenada. That was our bonding moment.”

Supply chain is a career that offers almost endless opportunities and possibilities, Greaves-Cacevski advises. But benefitting from those opportunities takes motivation. While there are several core elements, supply chain doesn’t offer a single, clearly defined blueprint to those entering the field. It’s therefore important not to compare one career path to another. Critical to success in supply chain is the constant search for innovative ways to change and adapt, Greaves-Cacevski says.

Also important is the ability to take risks while focusing on professional integrity and improvement, she says. People are more willing to accept guidance from a leader or champion that they relate to, rather than someone who remains emotionally unaffected by change.

“I really do see myself as more of a change champion and I think especially in the supply chain industry where it’s constantly changing and evolving with new priorities and new processes, we have to be spearheading those change initiatives,” she says. “We have to be thinking of avant garde ways to be more innovative, to work smarter with less, and to identify and mitigate any of our potential risks, because we  are such a global platform right now.”