Always leading

From the June 2021 print edition

Few people who pursue careers in procurement or supply chain complain that the work is boring. For Sanja Cancar-Todorovic, who is leading the enterprise procurement, outsourcing and vendor management team at Home Capital Group Inc., not only are no two days the same but the work is never dull.

“Although I plan my days and there are reoccurring meetings and cadence of different stuff that I have to do on a daily basis, you really can’t pinpoint and say, ‘this is exactly what I’m going to do on this day, and this is how it’s going to happen,’” says Cancar-Todorovic, who describes herself as always looking for
a new challenge in her role.

And like many others, Cancar-Todorovic didn’t set out for a career in the field. In 2008, she was working in risk management at Bell Enterprise, now called Bell Business Markets, which at the time was forming a vendor delivery team responsible for responding to RFQs. Cancar-Todorovic found herself recruited onto that team.

“A leader at that time recognized that this would be something I’d be good at,” she says.
“I joined the team, and the rest is history. Which is why I say, no one dreams about this job. You fall into it, and you love it.”

While her career in procurement began in 2008, her stint at Bell Enterprise started in 2000 while she was still a student at Toronto’s York University. She began with a part-time, entry level position in the company’s contact centre, which deals with customer support.

Her time there was great training for later leadership roles, she says, since the environment
is high stress, high turnover and monotonous. Leading a team in such an environment means thinking outside the box to ensure you’re coaching people to do their best, while also motivating them to minimize turnover.

Shortly after graduating, Cancar-Todorovic moved to Bell’s corporate security team, which focused on broadcast security and governance. At the time, around 2003, Bell acquired ExpressVu, now known as Bell TV. When the company was looking to ensure the new acquisition was Canada Labour Code compliant, the company’s corporate security leader asked Cancar-Todorovic if she was up for the challenge.

Cancar-Todorovic jumped at the chance, and she now credits the role as allowing her to move into sourcing. The person who brought her to the vendor management team realized that if she could get the government aligned with what the company was doing, she would be adept at negotiating with large companies.

At the time, Cancar-Todorovic was still a new graduate, having fast-tracked a four-year program and graduated with honours in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, consisting of a double major in law and political science. She had always been interested in a law career and York University, with its affiliation with Osgoode Law School, seemed the logical choice after graduation.

And yet, her new director on Bell’s corporate security team suggested an alternative. An eMBA was like the Swiss army knife of degrees, he told her, since it could be used in multiple ways and locations. A law degree would provide only niche opportunities.

“That kind of did the trick for me,” Cancar-Todorovic says. “Also, Bell had this tuition reimbursement program where they supported the development of their employees, obviously as long as it makes sense. You can’t go to cooking school and expect Bell to pay for it. But for graduate programs they were more than happy to pitch in.”

In 2006, Cancar-Todorovic completed a double degree – an executive Master of Business Administration and a Master of Management at Landsbridge University, a school that has since been absorbed into the University of New Brunswick.

Jumping into procurement
Not long after Cancar-Todorovic joined Bell Enterprise’s vendor management team, Telus offered her a procurement position. She accepted, working in that position for five years, until 2015, before another opportunity opened in the Telus outsourcing world. Specifically, Cancar-Todorovic focused on outsourcing the customer experience through the company’s contact centres. The role represented a shift, as the contact centres are the “bread and butter” of telecommunications companies, she says. The service must be impeccable, so that customers don’t know if they’re speaking with a representative based overseas or the city in which they live. The position proved fun, since it was a challenge she had never faced before. She worked in the role for three years until another opportunity arose.

“I had a call with a recruiter who said to me, hey, it’s been 18 years in telecom – do you really want to retire one day and not know anything except for telecom?” Cancar-Todorovic says. “That made me think about it. Up until that point it was just, ‘OK, 10 years at Bell, eight years at Telus, what’s the next move?’ It would be Rogers. Is that really going to be any different from the previous 18 years? Or is it just
a different sign above the door?”

Cancar-Todorovic eventually accepted a position at Manulife, representing a complete shift from her career until then in the telecommunications industry. The job was on the investment side and focused on rates. She spent about two years in that position before accepting an offer from Home Capital. In her current role, Cancar-Todorovic leads a team responsible for the organization’s enterprise procurement, outsourcing and vendor management.

The role has allowed her to combine the past 20 years of experience in one position, she says. Rather than focusing only on risk or vendor management, the job also emphasizes third-party risk management. This allows her not only to expand her knowledge of third-party risk management but to take best practices from her other employers and incorporate them at Home Capital and its vendors.
“One of the things that I was happy about is that being in Home Capital, which is the smallest organization out of all that I’ve worked for, it allows me to make changes quicker,” Cancar-Todorovic says. “It’s a lot more agile. It’s not a big machine that you have to work hard to move the needle on. Things just happen a lot quicker.”

In just over six months at Home Capital, Cancar-Todorovic has also launched a corporate supplier diversity program. Supplier diversity has become more topical over the past year and a half, and she sees great value in such programs.

“I’m happy to say that we’re actually doing very well,” she notes. “I’m looking forward to finishing off a year, starting from zero with supplier diversity, to coming to some meaningful number that we can build on for next year before we turn our focus to tier-two suppliers as well.”

While she plans her days, attends recurring meetings and completes regular tasks, Cancar-Todorovic stresses that an appealing aspect of procurement is that each day is unique.

A typical day starts around 8am or 8:30am and lasts until the evening. At the same time, working from home can see personal life and work life blend together.

Cancar-Todorovic puts a lot of emphasis on engagement while leading her own team. Once a day, she ensures the team meets virtually to talk about what members might need help or support with. Meetings also provide a human element, which is even more important now that colleagues can’t see each other
in person. Cancar-Todorovic has a portion of each day blocked off for that facetime with the team, as well as meetings with executives, stakeholders and vendors.

“One thing that I love the most about this job is that it’s never boring,” she says. “It really, truly never is.”
Perhaps the most stark, recent evidence of that comes from the pandemic. Like many in procurement and supply chain, Cancar-Todorovic faced supply chain obstructions last year, especially when seeking personal protective equipment (PPE). A product that previously cost pennies per unit suddenly jumped to $15 or $20. Aside from cost, PPE became practically impossible to procure, with shipments held at the border for months.

Procurement has long been about just-in-time delivery, Cancar-Todorovic says. And yet, with PPE during the pandemic, using just-in-time delivery meant everything stopped. The experience has turned the concept of procurement and supply chain on its head.

Far from being a fad, the demand for PPE will likely remain, says Cancar-Todorovic. Given that, why not hold onto inventory going forward? Why not procure now that prices have fallen back to the market value?
“It started off with PPE, but now I’m looking at everything,” she says. “What are some of the items that are actually worth holding in inventory and incurring that bit of cost as an assurance that you won’t fall back into the same trap that a lot of us fell into last March, April and May?”

One silver lining of the pandemic has been an increased focus on third-party risk management, Cancar-Todorovic says. There’s been a shift for many during the pandemic from simply paying lip service to risk management towards engaging stakeholders to review each vendor annually, rather than just at the onboarding stage. Business continuity plans have become more prominent during vendor management calls. Whereas they used to be simply status updates, there’s now discussion of how to mitigate risk in the future.

“You’re also looking at reputational risk, which is something that I don’t think anyone really thought about up until now,” she says. “But reputational risk is resurfacing as being very important.”

Cancar-Todorovic counts herself lucky to have worked surrounded by people quick to recognize her achievements. In 2019, she was awarded the Future of Sourcing Award at the SIC Global Executive Summit in California – the only Canadian amongst the nominees to win. Then, in 2020, Cancar-Todorovic received a Stars of Excellence award from Manulife, representing the highest recognition achievable from the company. She received the award after being with the organization for only a year.

“It was a humbling experience but also an important one for me because after 12 months of being in a new organization, to get recognized and actually win the highest honour and recognition is pretty cool,” she says.

Open to learning
Cancar-Todorovic is always open to learning new things and expanding her horizons. Taking a risk by leaving telecom for the investment management, assurance and banking world paid off, she notes. The telecom world is perhaps the most advanced in terms of digitization and technology alignment, and Cancar-Todorovic says she’s excited to apply her experiences there to her current field. The pandemic has helped to open banks to the possibilities presented by embracing technology, she says.

“Up until the pandemic I never really thought that much about security and having people work from home because it was something that was just too risky,” she says. “Now that we have all done it for over a year and business is going great – no one has skipped a beat – I feel like there’s more appetite to get more technology involved in all the internal processes as well.”

Cancar-Todorovic is now rolling out a third-party risk management automated tool and automated processes around due diligence and vendor registration. At Manulife, she created a central contract repository and digitized the company’s contracts. She’s replicating that currently and is excited about how it’s shaping up. Cancar-Todorovic’s goal is to establish analytics to pull data from multiple processes.
Cancar-Todorovic’s two sons, Marko, 10, and eight-year-old Petar help to keep her negotiation skills sharp, she says, noting that before the pandemic her part-time job was chauffeuring them to various activities. Now, like most people during the pandemic, that part of her life has slowed. Cancar-Todorovic and her husband, Mario, have a cottage at Wasaga Beach where they like to spend time, although pandemic travel restrictions have limited how often they can go there. The family also enjoys skiing
in the winter.

During the pandemic, the family has also gotten a puppy, a Bichon poodle named Todo.
“It’s probably the greatest thing that we did,” she says. “Ever since we got him, anxiety levels have dropped in the house. I really didn’t think, when they talk about dogs being support,
emotional animals, I didn’t really believe it until we actually got one. It just brings so much joy.”

Cancar-Todorovic enjoys speaking at conferences, especially about the value of supplier diversity and the value minority-owned businesses can bring to large corporations. She also enjoys writing for industry magazines. While it can sometimes seem like a chore, writing about a topic she’s passionate about is a much different experience.

“When you’re writing articles about something you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work. It actually feels like enjoyment,” she says.

Cancar-Todorovic recently joined the Supply Chain Canada Ontario Institute, a move she says is valuable for those looking to progress in their careers and improve their networks. Membership in the organization helps her to continue learning, something she recommends. It’s easy for people to stagnate in their careers, going through the motions without advancing. Continuous learning, however, helps to guard against stalling in one’s profession.

“Don’t stop learning, because that’s career suicide,” she cautions. “You’ll be on autopilot for a while, and someone will come in with fresh, new ideas and openness to change and innovation. If you’re lacking that you’re doing yourself a disservice for sure.”

Developing your network is another way to advance, she advises. That’s especially important now, as most people are unable to see one another face-to-face. Groups like Supply Chain Canada and minority-owned certification organizations such as CAMSC and WBE Canada are excellent ways to meet like-minded people, expand a network and learn from one another.

“For people who are at the beginning of their career, your network is your net worth,” Cancar-Todorovic says. “I didn’t appreciate someone telling me this 20 years ago. I really didn’t understand. But now, 20-something years into my career, I truly, truly agree with that statement. The bigger your network the more opportunity for growth. The more opportunity for the exchange of ideas. The more opportunity for development on personal and professional levels you have.”