Managing Director, West Monroe Partners
*As published in our September newsletter issue
What is your educational background?
I graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering from l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. Job opportunities were scarce when I graduated, so I decided to pursue my education and I completed a Master of Engineering in 1992 with specialty in Management of Technology. Like several classmates, consulting had always appealed to me, however I found my first job opportunity within the retail industry.
Why and how did you go into IE?
When I first started looking into Engineering, I really had never heard of Industrial Engineering. During my first year at University, I was still undecided about which field to pick so I went to a career session organized by the school, where guests from different engineering fields came to talk about their various jobs and positions. Before the session, I leaned towards Electrical Engineering but as the day went by, I didn’t feel the same excitement hearing from the person who came to talk about this field, compared to the person who represented Industrial Engineering. The mix of skill sets required seemed to perfectly fit my skills and abilities, so I firmly believed I would do well in that field.
After graduating from my Master, the economy was still not the best at that time in Montréal, so I came to Toronto and I started working with National Grocers (now Loblaw Companies Limited). I had the opportunity to be one of the first Engineers to join the newly formed Industrial Engineering department. At that time, we felt we were at the leading edge of the application of Industrial Engineering principles in the retail industry. The impact we were having on productivity in the supply chain was such that the department grew very quickly. Other retail companies started hiring Industrial engineers from that point on.
How did your professional career develop from there?
In 1996, I became Director of the Industrial Engineering Department at Loblaw Companies and led 4 Engineering Divisions deployed across Canada, working with Controlled Label suppliers, in distribution facilities, in retail stores and in supply chain strategy. In 1998, I went to SERCA Foodservice where I became the Vice President of Logistics wherein I provided leadership in the design, development and integration of their logistics network. In 2000, a few colleagues and I then founded a consulting company called LxLi International Ltd. where we continued to apply industrial engineering principles within the supply chain. We got the opportunity to work with large retail companies such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Hbc, Sobeys and many others, where we helped re-engineer processes, optimize logistics, develop supply chain strategies, and implement warehouse and store productivity programs. LxLi decided to merge with West Monroe Partners in 2006 where I am currently Managing Director. West Monroe Partners offer business and technology consulting services to the Mid-Market and certain specialty services such as Engineered Labour Standards to Fortune 1000 companies.
Why did you choose supply chain management?
Initially, I have to say that Supply Chain Management chose me. My first career opportunity being with a retailer, I learned how critical the supply chain was for any company wanting to be a market leader. I developed a passion for supply chain management and my career continued to develop in that direction. As new competitive market forces develop, and new business models emerge (outsourced manufacturing, mass customization, and globalization of demand…), the supply chain continuously needs to adapt to new reality and allow the company to deliver its goods and services to where people are willing to buy them.
Today, I still feel Supply Chain Management offers great challenges and career opportunities for experienced professionals like me and for new graduates. Energy costs, explosion of the demand in Asia, the multiplication of customized products and services offered continues to challenge all of us in the field to find new efficient ways of doing things.
For people who want to have a long career in a specific field (such as SCM), it is important to continuously develop innovative approaches and solutions, especially in consulting, where companies look to us to bring the next concepts to fruition and help them develop their competitive edge. In short, you have to be known for something no one else can do – when people think of a challenge to tackle, if they think of you first – you’ve got it made.
Where do you think our nation is standing when it comes to Supply Chain Management? How about other nations?
I feel Canada has always been ahead in trying to optimize its logistics efficiency. I attribute this fact to our large country to service and our low population density. We also have the advantage of seeing how new trends are affecting the US or Europe and gives us a head start in trying to adjust before it affects our country. We are good at looking at trends in other country and adapting those to our market.
American companies are quicker than Canadian companies at making investment decisions, especially in systems and technology. The US also has an advantage in lower labor cost and its flexibility. Europe is very advanced in system and technology; however real estate and labor costs are much higher.
What advise can you offer to students in the field?
It is important to enjoy your university years and realize it is just the beginning in a long journey of learning. At the undergraduate level, we basically learn how to learn fast and integrate different concepts to design new solutions, and we need to maintain those skills throughout our career. It’s important to study and do your assignments not just to meet the criteria of the course, but as an opportunity to apply a new skill in a controlled environment, where mistakes won’t impact a person’s life, or the profitability of a company.
As Industrial Engineers, we also have to consider various aspects in our work. We have to have a strong technical foundation to be able to design and implement new solutions, and we also need to understand the impact on people to facilitate their transition to the new processes. Today’s IE also needs to be skilled at manipulating large amount of data – a lot of the answers we are looking for when designing a new process or system are hidden in very large amount of data. We need to be able to efficiently extract pertinent information from large databases.
As a last thought, I also encourage new grads to take time to build a solid foundation by working on the ‘shop floor’ for a few years. Take the time to study the operations, understand the organization and the people within it – in my first few years doing work study and work measurement in distribution facilities, I was able to gain an intimate knowledge of the supply chain that still serves me almost 20 years later. Engineers can be progress rapidly in the management ladder, and the connection to the reality of the operations often can come from those first few years out of school.
What is your favourite book?
There are a number of books that I really like; each of them affected me in a different manner:
“Good to Great” by Jim Collins is a classic: ‘don’t focus your time on improving weaknesses, there is much more leverage in focusing on improving our strenghts’
Its your ship (Captain D. Michael Abrashoff) – I saw the former Commander as a keynote in a Conference, and I thought he could explain simply and clearly the very basics of Leadership
‘Lore of Running’ (Tim Noakes): My new passion, running – everything there is to know about running!
Various books by Marvin Bower – the person who basically invented Management Consulting and created McKinsey (Will to Manage – Will to Lead – Management Consulting)
‘Mintzberg on Management’ by Mintzberg – has a contrarian approach to Management education
‘Outliers’ by Malcom Gladwell – ‘Talent can be defined as the willingness to work hard’
What do you do in your free time?
I am lucky to have a great wife and two healthy and smart children – they occupy a lot of my non-working time. I also developed a passion for running which keeps my body and my mind sharp.