BusinessSupply Chain

Audrey Clayton, Senior Supply Chain Planning Manager

Audrey Clayton, Senior Supply Chain Planning Manager

EHC: Can you please explain what you do as a Senior Supply Chain Manager?

Audrey: I am responsible for the end-to-end supply chain planning process for my company’s North American skin care category. A lot of people don’t think about what it takes to get a bottle of lotion onto the shelf at a Target so you can pick it up and put it in your basket or to Amazon’s warehouse so they can ship it to you. A lot happens behind the scenes, and my team has a big hand in coordinating that process.

I manage a team of seven demand, supply, and requirements planners. Demand planners are responsible for collaborating with our cross-functional S&OP (sales and operations planning) team of finance, marketing, and sales colleagues to create a forecast for the items we sell. That forecast is then cascaded down to supply planners who utilize it to schedule production at our internal and third-party manufacturing sites. They are responsible for ensuring we make enough product to meet the forecast and hold appropriate safety stock levels.

The requirements planner is responsible for making sure we have the right stock in the right place within our distribution network so that it is available for customer orders.

At the end of the day, I am responsible for leading this team to deliver customer service (dispatch rate or cases ordered by customers/cases delivered), cash (dollars tied up in finished good and non-finished good inventory), and waste (reducing the amount of product we destroy due to production errors, quality issues, etc.).

EHC: What type of degree or experience did you need to get into this career?

Audrey: It’s interesting because supply chain is still an emerging field. Until recently, most companies just treated supply chain as a cost driver and not something that could become a strategic advantage. Up until a decade ago, most universities didn’t even have a supply chain management (SCM) program. They had perhaps an operations class or a logistics class but nothing that focused on the strategic management of the end-to-end supply chain. I was actually one of the first classes to graduate from Kelley with a supply chain management degree in 2010.

When I was starting out, having a degree in SCM wasn’t required. I’ve encountered folks working in supply chain from all different backgrounds and degrees: finance, business administration, etc. For today’s graduates though, having an SCM degree is much more important, and when my company hires new graduates, that’s what we look for. Having relevant experience in any of the different areas of supply chain (manufacturing, planning, logistics, etc.) is also critical.

EHC: What steps did you take to get into this career?

Audrey: I majored in supply chain management, but I also gained work experience while in undergrad. I was a franchise manager and ran my own painting business for a summer.

The next summer, I interned at a major food manufacturing company working in a cereal manufacturing plant where I worked on a supply chain cost savings project. From there, I was offered a full-time position in the company’s supply chain leadership rotational program. I held multiple roles in my first couple years out of school at a yogurt factory including on the manufacturing floor with the operators, as an ingredient and packaging planner, and as a production scheduler.

I then made the move to my current company, one of the world’s largest fast-moving consumer goods organizations. I did so for personal reasons; I’d gotten engaged, and my career path was leading me across the country. My fiancé and I made the decision to stay on the east coast, and I moved from the Boston area to the New York area where there were loads of opportunities in my industry.

That was six and a half years ago, and this is my fifth role with my current company. I’ve moved a lot, which has kept things exciting! I started out as a supply planner working with our internal and third-party factories to manage production and inventory levels. I then worked as a demand planner forecasting sales before moving out to a field office in Arkansas where I worked on strategic supply chain projects with our biggest customer. I was soon promoted to a customer supply chain operations role where I managed a team responsible for order management and fulfillment for our second largest customer.

That unique combination of manufacturing, planning, and customer supply chain experience prepared me for the end-to-end role I’m currently in, which I just started in mid-August.

EHC: What is your favorite part of your career/what you do?

Audrey: I get bored easily. I like to constantly learn and be challenged, which is why working in a supply chain is perfect for me. There’s always a new problem to solve, and every day is different. I would also say the people. I am fortunate to work with folks in departments across the organization from manufacturing, marketing, finance, sales, logistics, quality, and R&D.

EHC: What is the most challenging aspect of your career/what you do?

Audrey: Because I work with so many different people and departments, there are often conflicting interests and even opposing goals and metrics even though we all work for the same company. So, I’ve had to really hone my influencing skills to advocate for my department, but I also try to be a good business partner and support other departments when it’s the right thing to do for the business as a whole. Effectively managing relationships is the key to getting anything done, and it can be a tricky balance to manage at times.

EHC: What advice would you give to young women?

Audrey: When I think about what I wish I had known when I was fresh out of school, a few things come to mind:

  1. Don’t let others dictate your self-worth and happiness: The truth is people are flawed. Most have good intentions, but some don’t, and you will encounter both in your career. I used to get so bogged down by what others thought about me or said about me, and I finally realized that it’s wasted energy and unproductive. Don’t give others the power to control your emotions and confidence. You are one of a kind, and you bring a unique combination of perspective and skills that no one else can. Don’t let the actions or words of others convince you otherwise.
  2. Advocate for yourself: There will never be anyone as invested in your career progression and success as you. You have to take responsibility for that and completely own it. You can be the hardest worker and drive incredible results, but you shouldn’t expect other people to notice because everyone is busy and has their own priorities. You first need to take a hard look at yourself and identify your strengths and weaknesses. And although it can feel like bragging and be uncomfortable, you have to make your career stakeholders (whether that’s a superior or a customer) aware of your skills, of the great working you’re doing, and where you want to go. Always have that elevator pitch ready.
  3. Find a mentor: While it’s crucial that you first advocate for yourself, I’ve also found that it’s critical to have someone in your corner rooting for you, developing you, and advocating for you where possible. Seek out a mentor who is in your desired field or position and learn from them. I’m grateful to have five people I consider mentors who I’ve gone to for help and advice so many times. They’ve also advocated for me within my organizations, and I know I wouldn’t have made it to this position without their support.