The Power of Transformation

From the June 2022 print edition

For Patti Vora, a big draw of a sourcing career is how varied the work is.

Image: Mike Ford Photography

“You never do the same thing twice,” says Toronto-based Vora, currently the senior manager for sourcing transformation at TD Bank. “It’s always something different. Things are changing, and you don’t have the same thing twice, ever.”

The field is dynamic and offers opportunities to learn about different businesses and industries, she says. As well, sourcing’s influence affects both customers and the bottom line. There are goals and objectives to strive for. And while sourcing has a methodology, practitioners must stay agile and pivot to adapt to what’s being sourced, or to customers’ needs.

“You learn how things are done, what happens in the industry, what’s important, who the players are and how they operate,” Vora says. “It’s a continuous learning process. That’s what I love about it.”

Vora was born in India, and moved to Canada when she was four. Her father was a math teacher who pursued a second master’s degree at the University of Oregon in Computer Science. Her grandfather, after being expelled from Burma (now Myanmar), returned to India to open a store exclusively selling clothing made in India as part of the country’s independence movement. “In support of the store, Mahatma Gandhi gave a speech in front of the store as a part of that movement,” Vora says.

Vora grew up in Markham, Ontario with two sisters. One of her sisters now lives in France and works as an electrical engineer for a graphic chip company, while the other is a partner for an investment bank in New York City.

Vora earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto in labour relations and sociology. She has also completed an associate certification in project management, a certification in change management, negotiation skills and some six-sigma training. She began sourcing 20 years ago when she started working at Dylex. At the time, the company was one of Canada’s largest retailers, operating chains including Harry Rosen, Braemar Clothing and another called Big Steel Man.

Vora worked for Braemar Clothing, which specialized in women’s apparel. One of her responsibilities was to buy and distribute boxes, bags and other goods to its outlets – items the stores didn’t sell but that kept them operational. She was also responsible for equipment in the company’s corporate offices, including photocopiers and coffee machines, adding facilities management to her role. The company didn’t use email much, and what was used was employed internally.

“It was very, very low tech,” Vora says. “It was just a touch of sourcing. It wasn’t even called sourcing – just trying to understand what their volumes were, trying to forecast what they needed and distributing it to the store.”

After leaving Dylex, Vora pivoted to the insurance industry. She got a position at Canada Life as the company’s corporate services manager – part of the real estate team – with responsibility for corporate supplies. Along with items like paper and envelopes, Vora sourced travel and food services.

It was around this time that Vora began focusing more seriously on sourcing as a career. She attended a Supply Chain Canada conference where one of the presentations focused on the process of centralizing sourcing, the function’s importance, and how it can save money. After the conference, Vora approached her superior to suggest centralizing sourcing for Canada Life. At the time, the company had already centralized its corporate buy, but little else.

“He thought it was a great idea,” Vora says. “We did a business case and hired a consultant.

In parallel, we did a sourcing event, saved some money, and used that money to fund the implementation of a PO system. We went to the C-suite and presented it to them. We got money and we were on our way to centralizing our sourcing team.”

Vora eventually moved to ING, the bank now known as Tangerine. Her role involved putting together a process to ensure the management of outsourcing risk and related policies. Her next move was to CB Richard Ellis Global Corporate Services, for a sourcing role within facilities management. The company had just gotten RBC as a client, and Vora looked after their sourcing needs within facilities services. That included construction, signage, store removal, window and ATM cleaning and other areas.

“I used the same practice,” Vora notes. “At the same time, there was a lot of learning to do because every category is different, every industry is different. There’s always the added complexity of understanding how that industry works or how the pricing works.”

A new world
Her next career move opened a new sourcing world for her, when she began working at Labbatt in 2006, Vora says. Other organizations she had worked at focused on services. But as a manufacturer, sourcing and supply chain were critical to Labbatt. The company also had a disciplined approach to its supply chain function. While focused on North America, Labbatt is owned by an organization called Ambev.

The chief procurement officer of Labbatt reports to that company’s CEO in Europe. Like in her previous roles, Vora learned a lot.

“One of the things I learned at Labbatt is that anything is negotiable, absolutely anything,” she says. “We had a lot of autonomy, and the corporate culture was very much that we needed to save money, we needed to drive dollars.”

Achieving those savings was very much part of the company’s culture, and not just in sourcing, she says. Savings were included in compensation. There was zero-based budgeting, and those who owned budgets were separate from those who used those budgets.

“There was absolutely nothing that we couldn’t put on the table. It was a huge learning opportunity,” she says. “Again, I managed a bunch of different categories. I outsourced facilities services. I also outsourced HR recruitment services and myriad other things.”

After Labbatt, Vora moved to Rogers in 2008. She was again responsible for new and different categories, pivoting to collections and training services, along with professional and contingent labour. At Rogers, she honed her contract management and negotiation skills. She also built up the organization’s sourcing strategy as she learned the details of contract negotiations during her two years there.

“Even though we were able to save money, which is typically your focus in sourcing, we were actually able to improve their outcomes on collections,” she says. “We were able to drive business revenue through that process. We were also able to improve customer experience along the way.”

Vora’s next career move was also within telecom, this time to Telus. That company, where she worked for the next seven years, had a different culture from Rogers. Vora again had a fair amount of autonomy and owned several categories including contingent labour and professional services. At Telus, she was able to move the contingent labour category up in terms of maturity.

The company went from a mediocre strategy to one considered world class, Vora says. Both service and contract levels improved significantly. Vora found herself owning sourcing strategy, operations, and vendor management.

“When building this program, I had the autonomy to challenge the status quo,” she says of the contingent labour program. “While not limited to the following, we in-sourced it and built the practice from the ground up, where everyone else outsourced it. We kept the number of suppliers very low, where most organizations had trouble consolidating suppliers. We partnered with the suppliers and utilized them to support and market the program with the business and held them accountable to our internal goals through scorecards and data transparency.

My team and the suppliers built trust with our stakeholders and improved our delivery time and quality, reduced costs and made it into a profit centre for sourcing. My team’s creative and data-driven approach is what led to the program being successful and recognized as one of best internally run programs in the world.”

Sourcing has a unique, enterprise-wide view, Vora says. It also has a responsibility to understand the landscape and consolidate suppliers to ensure larger, more meaningful supplier partnerships. At Telus, she had an opportunity to support two different teams while finding suppliers to provide services that met needs on both sides. She was also able to influence the businesses to participate in a competitive process, while showing them the value of the consolidation of services.

“Being a key client to a third party allows us to grow the partnership more strategically and gives us the opportunity to take more risk and be more creative in how the services are delivered while improving the service,” she says.

Vora’s next career move was into banking. She took a job at Scotiabank, where she was responsible for fixed-term labour, global delivery and contingent labour. But she soon made the move to TD where she became the lead in implementing an SAP Ariba solution. TD had an opportunity to increase system maturity. The implementation for the digital transformation took about three years, and the organization is now in the process of getting everyone on board.

“It’s a complete S-to-P system, I’m also including risk in that portion,” Vora says. “As a bank, risk is very important. So, we have executed, where you have a business come in and make a request. We do a risk assessment, we do the sourcing, we do the contracting. And then you connect the contract to the whole P-to-P cycle. It’s all connected from a data perspective. Then the transactions happen, and all the transaction details roll up back under the contract. You have the visibility as well as the control from the list perspective that, when you’re transacting against the supplier, the risk has been executed.”

When implementing any system, it’s difficult to anticipate potential outcomes, Vora says. One objective is getting as much as possible into the system. With organizations unaccustomed to issuing POs or having invoices in the system, there must be discussion about change management. It’s necessary to solve problems continuously, looking at the process from end to end.

Whatever else, sourcing resembles a continual sales job, Vora says. You must influence the business to use sourcing as a service, so the business will consult sourcing before the contract negotiation cycle starts. In some regions, such as much of Europe, sourcing is a more mature function, Vora notes. In North America, influencing the business and selling sourcing’s value is still an ongoing process.

“You can absolutely overcome it,” Vora says. “It’s just building that relationship and making sure the business understands that you’re listening to them and ensuring that you’re actually providing outcomes based on their needs.”

Sourcing and the business don’t always see eye to eye, Vora stresses. Saving money remains an important sourcing KPI, yet a business may value other indicators. Vora emphasizes the importance of focusing on what the business wants and what its problems are. From that, the savings will still come.

The projects that Vora counts as the most successful of her career were also the ones that were most transformational to the organization. Vora has sometimes been handed a category and told that it runs well. Yet she would quickly realize the category was far more immature than she was led to believe. Turning around such programs remains a highlight – renegotiating contracts, reconfiguring the system, redoing the KPIs and building a team from scratch all stand out. The process results in significant savings, improved delivery times and better supplier relationships.’

Her efforts have paid off. Fieldglass, a cloud-based vendor management system, named one of her programs among the top one per cent of programs in the world, she says. The company designated her as a “Pro To Know.” She also won the TD Legendary Award twice, the TELUS Top Rung Award and the CEO Award, TELUS Passion for Growth Award, among other accolades.

“For me, the devil is in the details,” she says. “You really need to understand the business to deliver a big outcome. Sometimes, even though it’s harder, trying not only to execute sourcing activities, but transform what you’re doing, is really important. Which I think is also what has made me very successful in some of the bigger projects that I’ve done. It’s transformational work, not just sourcing and negotiating.”

Vora is surprised by how many organizations haven’t yet done digital transformations. But the process is beneficial for several reasons: reduced cycle times, driving analytics to reveal more transparent data, and helping sourcing professionals to focus on strategy. Ultimately, automating tactical functions allows sourcing professionals to focus on strategic initiatives, she says.

Regarding future plans, Vora intends to continue the transformation at TD. She also plans to eventually turn her focus to thought leadership, specifically how to drive better sourcing and business outcomes.

Outside of the sourcing world, Vora enjoys biking with her husband, Whitney, and covers over 500 kilometres a month. She also spends time reading, and the couple are avid movie fans. Their older daughter, Kiran is in university, while their younger daughter, Maryn, is a high school student.

Focus on the business
When offering advice to sourcing and procurement professionals, Vora recommends focusing on business needs and solving business problems. As well, consider negotiation as an art rather than a science. Both negotiating and saving money are important, but the process must include benefits for the supplier, or the relationship will fail.

With any good sourcing initiative, details count, Vora says. Take the time to understand what a process will look like and incorporate that into building a contract to help ensure good outcomes. Vora cites the example of an agency of record initiative that she once did, in which she restructured and rewrote the master service agreement to ensure both parties involved were accountable. It took time, but the revamped contract documented the plan for the year, so that there were no surprises.

“I have had the opportunity to lead some very large multi-million dollar, high-visibility projects,” she says. “When I’m involved in these large projects, I use the opportunity not only to build relationships but also build knowledge of the industry I am sourcing from, as well as getting a deeper understanding of my stakeholders, their teams, operations, and the problems they’re trying to solve. As a trusted advisor, I worked with them to shape requirements and rebuild an agreement that supported solving their challenges and while helping build a strong third-party partnership.”

Sourcing and supply chain are great careers for those with a broad skillset, who love to lead, influence, and collaborate, Vora adds. “Success in sourcing is being able to have a customer mindset while delivering enterprise objectives, including total cost of ownership, continually increasing value to the end customer, and ultimately, giving the company a competitive advantage. Sourcing is a strategic role that touches every part of the organization. And while we don’t directly generate revenue, we certainly influence it.”