Finding Opportunity in the Fast-Paced Apparel Industry
PVH is one of the largest apparel companies in the world with 30,000 associates in more than 40 countries and iconic American brands such as Calvin Klein, IZOD, and Tommy Hilfiger.
What role do you play in this huge operation?
I lead a team that is focused on the future of supply chains, and how PVH should be operating in that future space. We’re not responsible for day-to-day supply chain operations, but we explore, build, and implement how they’re going to work in the future.
We look three, five, and ten years into the future, trying to anticipate opportunities or changes that would require an adjustment in how we develop, manufacture, and deliver our apparel. We watch what others are doing, both in our industry and outside, and also creatively solve opportunities for our consumers.
We then make strategic decisions based on changes on the more immediate horizon, the next one to five years. Any further out and you encounter too many variables that could shift; VUCA really comes into play.
What is the path you took to land in this role?
I started out in a traditional product development, production, and sourcing role. I was very fortunate to work for a small company where I could be really hands-on and learn the mechanics and foundation of the industry. It was a wonderful opportunity to travel the world and understand the supply chain as a whole.
From there I went into management consulting where I could use that foundational knowledge, but also learn the strategic side of the business: how to make changes in organizational structure, process, systems, and tools that position a company for success in the future.
I now combine my skills from those two experiences—the foundational knowledge of how the industry operates, and the strategy skillset—to run this team that serves as an internal consultant for this large, complex organization.
Over your 17-year career, what changes have you seen that affect supply chain management and strategy?
I would say today, the consumer is much more at the forefront of everything we do. The different generations have different expectations and spend their money differently. When you combine that with the technological advancements over the last decade or two, it means companies have to be faster, more responsive, and they have to have a better understanding of the consumer.
All that has led to the development of faster, more agile supply chains that are rooted in consumer intelligence.
On the strategy side, the biggest change is that companies now need a strategy. 17 years ago, models were much more traditional and transactional, so companies could survive without a clear-cut strategy.
Roles like mine, at least in the apparel industry, were not very prevalent 17 years ago. But in the last 5 to 7 years, we’re seeing these types of teams being created in many different organizations of varying sizes.
Larger, more complex companies will definitely need these strategy teams if they are to not only survive, but compete. In the past, you could go from point A to point B to point C—today’s world is not so linear. Strategy teams are crucial to move forward amidst this uncertainty.
Smaller companies and start-ups, particularly the successful ones, likely have leaders with strategy skillsets already inherent, or they might be doing it without realizing it. If a company has no strategy competency at all, it can survive for a little while, but when you look long-term, that’s when you really start to need it.
How does each part of the VUCA acronym manifest in what you do?
I have seen the pace of change over the last couple of decades exponentially increasing. An easy example is to think of how quickly we’ve gone from the launch of the Internet, to being able to shop online, to having mobile access at your fingertips, and now, not only can you shop online, but you can get it within two hours.
Connectivity, access to information, ease of use—it’s all speeding up at an exponential pace.
And now Amazon is introducing services and devices that amount to having a personal stylist right at your fingertips. It impacts how a consumer reacts and purchases, and what information they share with their friends.
The most recent example of uncertainty is found in trade regulations. We know what the laws are right now, we know what is being discussed in Washington, but we’re not exactly sure of where it’s going to land.
You can’t react overnight to a shift in trade regulation, and you also don’t want to run off and set up your supply chain for something that you’re not sure is going to happen.
In some cases, you wait to see what’s going to happen and prepare to respond faster than your competitors can.
First, with modern technology, the ease and cost of entry into the apparel industry is relatively low. So there are a lot of startups popping up that address a specific need, and consumers are responding to that.
Second, the consumer has such fast and easy access on mobile devices. That increases the pace of the industry.
And outside of the consumer, there are many additional variables—politics and trade agreements, legal factors, chemicals and environmental issues; you have to comply with regulations, think about what consumers want, and in general, choose the most efficient and ethical course of action.
With all these factors, you have to wear several hats; you have to think like a politician, a lawyer, a commodities broker, and an economist. The world is in constant flux and it’s not just elections and the price of gas and cotton anymore.
Ambiguity really comes to play when you start trying to answer the question, “what might happen?” The competitors of a company in the apparel space are not actually who you know. It’s who you don’t know, and that’s where the ambiguity comes in.
When you think of all these VUCA elements together, how do you process it? How do you react?
I think if it was overwhelming I’d be in the wrong job! Rather, I find it exciting. It’s how I see opportunity and it’s what keeps the world moving, really. The best thing to do is embrace it because otherwise, you get left behind.
The best thing to do is embrace VUCA because otherwise, you get left behind.
How do you react to VUCA?
As Kristie said, today’s world is not as linear as it used to be, progressing from A to B to C. Her approach of looking many steps ahead, and looking outside her industry, is a practice that is common for adaptive, resilient, and transformative leaders.