Thriving in uncertainty

From the August 2020 print edition

Now more than ever, supply chains must pivot quickly to adjust to changing times and circumstances. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, that ability to be nimble has become even more important. Supply chain practitioners must be able to make rapid changes to operations when the need arises. It’s fitting then, that what Katrina Daaca, SCMP, is most proud
of during her time in the profession is her ability to not only recognize new opportunities for professional growth but also to pivot her career to pursue those chances.

Image: Ian McCausland Photography

“In my eight years of experience in supply chain, I’ve made significant leaps in my career, each one bringing new challenges and skills,” says Daaca, the owner of Kanekta Consulting, a supply chain consulting company.

And yet like many in the profession, supply chain management was not her first career choice while a university student contemplating her future. But a growing fascination at the time with the ways in which goods move from one point to another fuelled her move into the field.

“I went to business school with aspirations of being an accountant but quickly learned that was not the career path for me,” says the Winnipeg-based Daaca. “By my second year of university, I had met enough professionals in the field to know supply chain management was the area of business I wanted to specialize in.”

Since that realization, her interest in supply chain has only grown. A self-confessed “supply chain nerd,” Dacca also describes herself as obsessed with all things related to procurement. She finished her Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree at the University of Manitoba in 2014 and Supply Chain Canada awarded her the Supply Chain Management Professional (SCMP) designation in 2017.

She began her career as a lean program analyst at transportation and logistics solutions company TransX shortly after graduating from university. She then made the switch to public procurement, working as a procurement specialist at the University of Winnipeg – primarily a medical-doctoral school. She worked there until 2016, then became a procurement specialist at the Manitoba Housing Authority, which provides subsidized housing across the province. After nearly two years there she made the jump back to the private sector, taking a role as an intermediate buyer at Price Industries, a supplier of air distribution, critical controls and noise control products. She currently works as a sessional instructor for the post-graduate supply chain management program at the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology, which is run in partnership with Supply Chain Canada’s SCMP program.

A different route
Her recently established consulting company, Kanekta Consulting, is the first Filipino-Canadian owned supply chain management consulting company, Daaca notes. The company specializes in RFx preparation, contract creation, management and negotiation, as well as supply chain management training. Daaca considers starting the business as an example of what’s possible outside of the confines of traditional supply chain management career paths.
“There seems to be a narrow view of what job opportunities are available to supply chain management professionals,” Daaca says.

“This is especially true in Manitoba, where the opportunities exist only in a few industries, and those opportunities are heavily concentrated in manufacturing, agriculture and government.”

Her decision to start her own business reflects not only Daaca’s morphing career interests but also the changing world of work and ongoing trends that have accelerated due to the pandemic. The spread of the virus and the subsequent shutdown of businesses across the country gave Daaca time away from a conventional work setting to reflect on her career and reprioritize what’s important, she says. Self-isolation was a unique and rare opportunity to reflect on new projects without many of the usual distractions of regular, daily life. She is now proud to be the first Filipino-Canadian to own and operate a consulting business of this kind, she says.

“I thought, 10 years from now, when I reflect back on this time, I want to be able to say I did something meaningful,” she says. “I always believed I had the capacity and experience to take the leap into entrepreneurship, but I never afforded myself the time to invest in myself that way. When I look back at the last few months, it’s the first time in my career where I truly invested in and bet on myself. I can’t wait to see how the business grows and evolves from here.”

Kanekta Consulting has only recently begun its first year of operation so there is much foundational work that needs to be done, but Daaca says she’s happy to put in the time and effort to build something over which she can truly claim ownership. Every day presents new challenges – the toughest hurdles include keeping herself accountable while realizing when to shut down for the day. As a business owner and entrepreneur, it’s easy to stay in work mode all the time, so Daaca is looking to find a manageable work-life balance.

The process also made her realize that what she craves in her career is to challenge not only herself, but also the boundaries of what supply chain professionals can do. She is now carving a path in which freelancing in the field is a viable option. In the coming years, an increasing number of industries will integrate supply chain management more deeply into their overall company strategy, Daaca says.

Post pandemic, supply chain management professionals will help to lead business strategy and risk mitigation. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of these areas, a trend that is only set to grow. Now is an ideal opportunity to redefine what “normal” means for the profession while simultaneously tearing down the image of supply chain professionals as mainly administrative workers.

Going forward, Daaca says she wants to push the boundaries of what supply chain management professionals can do. Currently, there are only
a few entrepreneurs in the field and starting a business as a solo proprietor is an uncommon career path for most. She hopes that her work helps to broaden the scope of career opportunities for others in supply chain, inspiring them not only to seek new opportunities but also to advance the industry as a whole. Even more important, Daaca hopes to pave the way for other women and people of colour working in supply chain management to take on more leadership roles.

“There’s a saying, ‘if you’re lucky enough to do well, you have a responsibility to send the elevator back down,’” Daaca says. “I truly believe I have a duty to send the elevator back down through volunteerism and mentorship.”

More than cost savings
When discussing supply chain management as a profession, Daaca is also careful not to overinflate cost savings as the main benefit that supply chain brings to an organization. For those not involved in the process, there can sometimes be misunderstanding about the importance of cost savings, with many viewing it as the only true value that supply chain brings to a company. But those working in the field realize that is hardly the entire picture.

“Over the last two years, I’ve worked on resourcing projects that resulted in over $250,000 in cost savings,” Daaca says. “The projects where I created the most value include redesigning supplier rating programs and supplier evaluations in places where structure was non-existent or lacking. The result was stronger supplier relations and more opportunities to forge meaningful dialogue with suppliers, leading to other improvement and cost saving initiatives.”

Building relationships is a fundamental part of supply chain management, and Daaca has worked to forge ties for herself as well as helping others in the field do the same. One project that she feels especially proud of involves her time with the University of Manitoba Supply Chain Organization (UMSCO). In 2012, while president of the organization, Daaca’s team hosted UMSCO’s inaugural meet and greet, which has since become an annual event.

Representatives from companies attend, and students get the opportunity to network with them. Organizations with a presence at past meet and greets include HyLife, Manitoba Hydro, Boeing and TransX. Organizations such as Supply Chain Canada, APICS, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Bison Transport are among previous corporate partners.

Back in 2012, the meet and greet was the only networking event for supply chain management students at the University of Manitoba, Daaca notes. Now in its ninth year, it remains the premier networking event of its kind. “I’ve heard countless stories of students meeting their future employers at this event and I’m so proud of how the event has grown since it started in 2012,” she says.

Daaca also works to build relationships with communities outside of the supply chain management world. She is chairperson for Kultivation Festival F.A.M.D. The organization, which was established over the past year, is a grassroots volunteer-driven group that promotes the modern cultural scene in Manitoba’s Filipino community. Before the pandemic began, the organization was planning a two-day summer festival. The vision was to mesh traditional and modern Filipino culture by focusing on food, art, music and dance. The festival has now been postponed until June 2021 due to the pandemic.

Soft skills
As the future of supply chain management continues to steer away from its administrative, paper-pushing past, many of the skills that Daaca recommends that new practitioners develop are on the soft side. These so-called soft skills are critical in supply chain management, especially when it comes to negotiations, communication and building relationships, she says. These all contribute to effective negotiations, which are paramount for practitioners. Strategic negotiations happen during every interaction with suppliers and help to decide the leverage and power that supply chain professionals have during the process. If practitioners plan for negotiations only when they involve large contracts or jobs, those practitioners are already several steps behind, Daaca says. Supply chain management professionals should be aware of this and work daily to build those relationships. Offering a personal touch and providing a genuine understanding of what motivates others are powerful negotiation tools.

“In supply chain management, everything we do is some form of negotiation,” she says. “We negotiate with our internal customers when we need buy-in for a project and we negotiate when problem solving with our suppliers and customers.”

Analytical skills are a second area of expertise that supply chain professionals should develop, Daaca notes. This involves understanding not only the business and its unique supply chain issues, but also an organization’s concerns outside of the supply chain realm.

“I challenge supply chain management professionals to really step outside of supply chain in their organizations to understand the issues of the business,” she says. “If we want to truly provide value to our organizations and customers, we need to solve business issues, not supply chain management issues.”

The example of Daaca’s career path is instructive for those just starting their supply chain management journey. In the nearly a decade that she has worked in the field, she has been recognized by industry peers both provincially and nationally. For example, she was the first recipient of the Supply Chain Canada Ascendant award at Supply Chain Canada’s national conference in Winnipeg in 2017. And while she considers it an honour to receive such industry accolades, what Daaca is most proud of in her career have been the times that she recognized a new opportunity to grow, then pivoted to pursue those opportunities.

“In my eight years of experience in supply chain, I’ve made significant leaps in my career, each one bringing new challenges and skills,” she says.
Despite uncertainty in the field brought about by the pandemic, now is an “incredible time” to work in supply chain, Daaca says. The challenges have always been complex, but they have become even more so now, she notes. The pandemic has taught supply chain professionals that automated systems cannot always react appropriately to a crisis and that organizations need skilled professionals to solve complex problems. Companies will seek supply chain talent for both risk mitigation and recovery, and those in the field should take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

“To those new in the field, be bold and forge those network connections,” Daaca counsels. “Most of the job opportunities I’ve had are thanks to personal connections or referrals. I would not be where I am in my career without strong mentorship along the way, so I encourage those new in the field to use their network connections to find mentorship. For those currently in the field, it’s important to continue to set a high level of professionalism so those outside of our industry recognize supply chain management professionals as leaders in business.”