Interview

Unlocking Innovation with Large-Scale Procurement Transformation – Our Interview with Executive Julia Formosa

December 16, 2019

Welcome to Argentus’ latest executive interview – our series illuminating the stories and insights of the leading lights in the Supply Chain industry.

Over the past few months, we’ve interviewed leaders within Food Production, Retail, Logistics/Distribution, Cannabis, and more, all with a simple goal: to show the tremendous breadth of Supply Chain leadership in Canada, and explore current trends in the industry. We’re interested in the ways the discipline is changing as it continues to become more strategic, more digital, and more valued by companies.

So it’s no wonder we were thrilled for the opportunity to interview GTAA’s Head of Strategic Sourcing, Julia Formosa.

With a career spanning over 15 years, Julia focuses on delivering value to organizations through her 4P transformational leadership principle of People, Path, Process and Passion. Julia is a disruptor known for her ability to drive change within Procurement organizations. Through her leadership and partnering, she has introduced innovation, strategic sourcing and SRM programs in the airport, consumer packaged goods and food industries. Prior to joining GTAA, Julia held senior management roles at Cadbury, Mars Canada, Dawn Foods and Parmalat Canada.

We spoke about:

  • The keys to successful Procurement business transformation within large organizations
  • How to go beyond simple cost savings and unlock opportunities for innovation through SRM and other strategic initiatives
  • Julia’s priorities when trying to hire the best Procurement talent
  • and more.

We hope you enjoy!

Hi Julia, thanks very much for taking the time to do this interview. Could you start by giving us a brief background of your career in Procurement and what excites you most about working in the field?

Prior to joining the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), I held senior management roles at Cadbury, Mars Canada, Dawn Foods and Parmalat Canada, progressively moved along my career path to leading Strategic Sourcing. My background was focused solely on CPG in the Food Industry, and although I made a significant change in my career many years ago when I moved from Engineering to Supply Chain, I stayed in my “Food” comfort zone. What has always excited me is the challenge of developing a team, influencing, creating the culture and framework and adopting innovation in its many forms to make a difference and add value to an organization. In my current role, I am also given the privilege to support the infrastructure and exponential growth of Toronto Pearson Airport, the Best Large Airport in North America.

Some of your big successes have been large-scale Procurement transformations. It’s a complex topic, but I think our readers would love to hear more about your approach. What are the key factors to make sure a transformation is successful? Put another way, if a Procurement transformation fails to gain buy-in from stakeholders across the business, what key ingredients do you think are usually missing?

My background as an Engineer and a Project Manager always serves as my foundation. Transformation is a step-by-step process, starting with the vision, aligned with that of the organization as a whole. You need to gain buy-in at all levels to be in the game, so your vision must be seen to be beneficial to the people including Leaders and Stakeholders within the organization. The question “what’s in it for me?” resonates across all parties impacted by the transformation. Other key factors to ensuring success are building relationships, having a logical, people-centric approach with communication underlying, and having at least one significant, meaningful, tangible, visible success in a short timeframe along your journey. I recently co-presented with my OPEx leader to the Canadian Public Procurement Council, sharing the Power of the Quick Win.

When you’re building a team of strategic Procurement professionals to help drive change as part of a transformation, what are you looking for? Most people recognize the importance of solid Procurement skills like sourcing, negotiations, supplier relationship management, and category expertise – but are there any other particular qualities (e.g. business acumen) that help set people apart in your eyes? How do you assess those?

I look well beyond the basic negotiator or the governance police. Along with category expertise and negotiation skills, I need, and my leaders share my expectations of the modern business mindset, with a logical approach, strong analytical skills and financial acumen, strong communication and influencing skills, with the ability to build relationships. In my estimation, these are the skills of a well-rounded entrepreneur. These are some of the skills that we review when we are recruiting for Strategic Sourcing professionals. In collaboration with our HR team, we developed a robust assessment process in which we have skill testing questions, business cases depending on the role and behavioural / cultural fit assessments.

Procurement is known for its ability to save costs. But from our perspective, one of the most exciting benefits of transforming Procurement into a more strategic function is the opportunity to find innovation through collaboration with suppliers. Could you describe your approach to this aspect of strategic Procurement?

Our Strategic Sourcing vision at GTAA includes Innovation, and, following best practice, the Supplier Relationship Management program (SRM) is a distinct function within my team and our means of meeting this expectation. SRM is the discipline of working collaboratively with those suppliers who are vital to the success of the organization, with the generation of Innovation for growth, efficiency and value creation as one of the key objectives. At the GTAA, we launched the SRM program this year, so it is still in its infancy, but have completed the segmentation exercise for Operations suppliers, and have made progress in including the SRM framework in new contracts. Strategic Sourcing has the overview of all the contracts and therefore views suppliers holistically. What excites me is that through SRM, my very creative SRM Leader has already demonstrated success in initiating novel approaches that will generate value for our organization.

In my past, in CPG, due to resource limitations, the SRM program was embedded in the Sourcing Manager’s role, which is not as effective, as it is not the sole focus of the role, hence we did not have the bandwidth to effectively hone in on all the potential. We did gain success by at least having some elements of SRM in place for Tier 1 & Tier 2 vendors, where as a result of the QBR sessions, we were able to generate Innovation ideas through our vendor network. We then held Vendor Innovation sessions with the Executive team present to showcase the ideas, some of which served as the building blocks for new product launches. These collaborative inputs benefited both the vendor and the organization served as both businesses grew through the introduction of Innovation.

You have held transformational Procurement roles in some pretty diverse industries, including food, consumer packaged goods, and most recently Toronto Pearson airport. Could you speak a little bit about what it’s like to transfer your Procurement transformation skills from one industry into another? Any challenges or opportunities particular to each industry?

As mentioned, earlier on in my career, the most significant transformation was moving from a technical role to Supply Chain, but I remained in the Food Industry. While there was a shift in disciplines, my technical, project and operations management background served as a sound foundation for leadership, and a logical thought process. I was able to merge the disciplines by introducing cost modeling, the breakdown of processes to define the cost elements for effective negotiation strategies. I was able to bring the business mindset and overview to the Supply Chain role, as I had the knowledge of food processing. In addition, Mars Canada was instrumental in providing my learning opportunities in Procurement for my growth. Dawn Foods was a great jumping off point for my tenure at Parmalat Canada, as I was exposed to the Commodity Market, both in energy and agriculture, giving me the expertise in preparing and executing hedging strategies. As Dawn was a smaller operation in Canada, and I was hungry for the challenge, I was empowered to undertake a larger responsibility across Supply Chain, as well as aspects of the Sales strategy. At Parmalat, I was able to apply all of my former experiences in setting up Procurement and transforming a team to support sourcing and contracting for an operation of 18 facilities across Canada.

The transformation out of the food industry to airport facilities and capital expansion was a significant change for me. It also came with the additional challenge of operating somewhere between Public and Private procurement, as well as having some members of my team being unionized. I approached this change by being introspective and bringing the strengths that I had to this role. Yes, I had my fears, but the potential for further growth and development was the driving factor to step away from my comfort zone.  I have the people skills, the respect, empathy and the ability to inspire, if I am inspired. I have the process and analytical background. I am a good negotiator, creative with the ability to influence. I believe in myself, so I am confident, engaged and committed. This confidence is the vibe that propels you forward.

The technical aspects of the roles were never the main challenge in leading my transformations. The challenges that I faced, and I would suspect most leaders face, are related to the change to a new culture. This is combined with the ability to quickly build credibility in a new environment with a new team. To overcome these challenges, from my perspective, it is vital to build your Brand starting with a transformation framework, with a clear vision, strategies and a long-term plan, fully aligned to the needs of the organization, so that you have a known value offering. It is important to have a supportive Leader and Leadership (my reports). Without that, I would consider myself doomed to failure and that is a deal breaker, as a successful transformation would not be possible. It is important to build strong relationships quickly to gain the buy-in. It is important to constantly communicate your value using facts and data with dashboards, showcasing meaningful KPIs. It is vital to build a capable, passionate, accountable, empowered team and Leaders who share your vision, who are rewarded and are having fun. Most of all, to be successful, I hold myself accountable to ensure that our culture is positive, progressive and we are indeed making a difference.


A big thank you to Julia Formosa for taking the time to do this interview! We hope you found it as illuminating as we did.

This will be the last Argentus post for the 2019, so we also want to also say thank you to all the readers in our network for your continued support, and stay tuned for more executive interviews and Supply Chain talent news in 2020!

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