Podcast: Director of Supply Chain Analytics at The Home Depot. – Gonzalo Cordova
Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple
In This Episode:
We speak with Gonzalo Cordova, most recently Director of Supply Chain Analytics at Home Depot, who has been focused on data-driven continuous improvement throughout his career, but also has written a book on Individual Development Plans. He shares his thoughts about how supply chain professionals should develop their plans, plus his thoughts on how he got started in supply chain. Gonzalo emphasizes the need for data-driven solutions that can actually be implemented based on understanding real problems and perspectives. He encourages everyone to schedule and prioritize their own continuous professional improvement, to become as nimble as possible to take on the constant changes found within supply chain.
Gonzalo Cordova’s Bio:
As Gonzalo’s career evolved, his passion for continuous improvement intersected with his desire to enable people to achieve their full potential. Hence, he created the Leadership Turf (www.LeadershipTurf.com) to help other professionals along their development journeys.
Gonzalo earned a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering and a Master of Business Administration from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He also holds a Black Belt in Six Sigma and a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. Gonzalo is a long-distance triathlete and an avid reader.
(01:43) How did you get started on your supply chain career journey? What were some of the greatest influences that got you started and helped you along the way
Wow. That is a really good question. I’m one of those people who is fortunate enough to have discovered his true passion for optimization very, very early in my life. I think I was about five and it became very obvious that I was wired to do things in a particular way and very specifically how to improve things that are already in place. So because of that, I, at some point discovered the world of industrial engineering and the specialty of optimization. I wanted to just make the world a better place. I probably didn’t know that at that point, but that’s why industrial engineering always resonated with me. I also started to see the application of that knowledge and to see how supply chain has a purpose in the physical world and has a purpose to help people.
So, I became more and more excited about finding how we do that in real life. And that goes from creating a supply chain for wind turbines at that point. Now we do a lot of analytics for transportation, I’m always looking for something that touches the real world and helps people in the process.
(03:19) How did you get started on your supply chain career journey? What were some of the greatest influences that got you started and helped you along the way
Great question. I’ve been a Jack of all trades, which is very fitting for an industrial engineer by nature. From capital planning, supply chain, network, design, optimization, procurement, a lot of PMO logistics center of excellence. And probably from there, you can tell the common denominator is that I’ve always being willing to explore. I think there is a chance to do in my case optimization to make things better wherever I go and whatever the role is, I’m not too hung up on titles or the actual description of the role, as long as there is a process to optimize, as long as there is a problem to be solved and enough data to obviously make it interesting along the journey.
So, I think that the biggest lesson so far that I have acquired then continues to serve me well is just to be open to change and open to explore things that I don’t necessarily know yet. As long as there is the understanding that there is a problem to resolve, the problem is interesting enough, and there is a lot of data.
If you look at my LinkedIn profile, all very large organizations with one exception on private equity, everything else has been fortune 500 companies. And it’s obviously unique, is not for everyone. Some people love it. Some people hate it. For me, what makes it super appealing is that if it’s big, and it’s vague, that’s part of the excitement of fixing a problem, even though it’s not within your own control. So, you need to deliver value otherwise no one will pay attention to what you say.
(05:24) Are there one or two of the transitions that you had along the way that stick out in your mind but it's a really different direction as you make that transition, why you made it, what you were thinking and what kind of prompted that transition
Great question. When I left business school, I was recruited by a building’s materials company and great company but the culture was different. The rules of engagement were different and the scope was very large. So that was the logistics center of excellence for the whole east US. So you had, ironically enough, the east US cover even Canada. So you even had some Canadian sites that were under the scope. I had for the first time, people will tell you, or at least they have told me if you don’t wake up in the middle of the night, thinking, what have I done, probably you are not reaching far enough. So, I remember waking up in the middle of the night and thinking, oh my gosh, This is big and now people depend on me. And now there is a lot of other deliverables that is not just random model, make it theoretically feasible, and then someone else will do it. Now it was on me to do both.
And that is what I like to do. I like to see real problems, talk to real people, figure out how to find a true solution that they value and use data to create that solution, and always put the systems in place, implemented, make sure that it works, put the metrics in place. So, it was the full circle of going from very theoretical thinking to actually delivering tangible value. And it’s always going to be very different because everything was new. I think from that point on every new assignment has been different, new and exciting, but has not been everything new and everything exciting and scary at the same time.
(07:37) You've got to have the soft skills and the right level of communication. What is your tactic and what do you think are the keys to success as it relates to working and partnering with stakeholders throughout the company? You're in this enormously large, vast corporations with massive physical footprints, lots of moving parts. How do you get things done in that kind of environment?
I know you actually have hosted some of my former mentors in your podcasts. I always remember the saying assume good intent and respect the past. That has stuck with me and that helps me a lot. Whenever I approach a new set of stakeholders, or I approach has situation where people are not happy to change, and my roles usually involve a lot of change, and it’s obviously a scary thing, but if you approach trying to understand, truly hearing to understand the problem versus just telling a solution, I think you are able to find a solution that at least that all the parties understand that it’s for the good of the company. We’re all human beings. We all have egos and the moment you are able to understand where they are coming from and they understand that you are not attacking. That is usually what opens the door and establishes the dialogue that needs to happen. The only constant in life is changing. I think we all need to adapt, embrace it, but I think also there is good change and there is bad change, but if you leave a lot of bodies behind that is not good change. And unfortunately, not many people realize that.
(09:31) When you're interviewing and looking for candidates it's not the easiest thing to assess, can candidates not only deal with change, but can they be on the influencer side? Do they have the right soft skills? Do you have any tips for how you go about assessing that particular skillset?
Yes. So, I will share with you something that I learned from Adam Grant, who is a very famous author and organizational psychologist, and in one of his podcasts, they started talking about how to evaluate these types of ideas. The question is simple, if you were to be a boat on a lake, what type of wake do you create? The question that I normally will ask someone goes along the lines of tell me about the biggest misconception that someone has about you. So that gives you an idea of the awareness that people will have about how they come across to others. And I’m always very eager to understand how do you learn from your failures? Because we all make mistakes and that is not the Cardinal sin. The problem is when we don’t learn from them. So I think as long as you are able to be sensitive about how you come across with others, and also more importantly, how you learn when you have not done well, how you have incorporated that for the next iteration. You put the two of them together and you’re able to evaluate how people are going to be able to interact with others and how they are going to be able to implement change in a positive way.
(11:19) What is different about a data analytics team and how does it differ from some previous teams that you've worked with?
That is a great question. One of the privileges that I have had so far in my career is that whenever I am in purely analytical teams like the one that I have now, everything is based on data. So I have no excuses not to use data. And I love that. Usually we’re called whenever there are two conflicting opinions or there is no solution. And we’re able to say, this is what the data is telling us. So let’s talk about the facts and let’s figure out what the data is telling us to do. And these are the options. So it’s pretty cool in that regard because we are able to do what we love, but also to serve the business in a way that people are not just basing their results on emotions, but actually based on the hard data that we have in front of us.
(12:20) Looking back to your academic days, what would you tell the younger Gonzalo? Both as he was starting college and as he was graduating?
I still answer that question quite often because I do work quite a bit with people who are still in school. We hire a lot of people into my team directly from school whenever they finish their academic programs. And after correcting myself several times on my answer and really understanding what I’m trying to tell these students, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two things that I could have done better. One is understanding that not everything moves the needle the same way. There is a fantastic book that is essentially the disciplined pursuit of less. It goes back to simply acknowledging that there’s only a finite amount of time in the day, and you need to choose to do versus having to do it. So that, that is obviously an important part in intrinsic motivation. Then the next part is really interesting because you need to prioritize so you can do everything you want, but
not everything. And within that prioritization, one needs to understand that not everything is as valuable and I was the guy that will catch every ball. It had to be perfect. And that was not very smart. I think I was working harder through brute force, not smarter. The corporate world forces you to realize that you could work 24/ 7, and you will never catch up or finish with everything that needs to be done.
So you need to learn to prioritize and you need to pick the right battles and deliver big on those. Or like Colby used to say, you need to find your ways break those five pinatas that week instead of tapping a hundred of them. The other is that the willpower, self-discipline is super important, but equally important is the opposite side of that coin. That is self-compassion. So just like any good perfectionist, how was I was hard on myself. I always wanted to push myself harder instead of acknowledging that the shortcomings were natural and that I should have probably slow down, learn a lot more from those mistakes and then keep running faster. My idea of success was just going through the wall and I don’t know if every single perfectionist out there actually thinks the same way, but whenever I tell this story, a lot of people just nod and say like, yeah, I feel exactly the same way. So, I’m not the only one who had that approach to success in general.
No one teaches us to learn and to care about the learning and to prioritize the learning and the joy of learning. We’re all driven by the grade that we make from greatest schools. So we can get into a good college and in college so we can get a good job. So also, the system is against us, right? Deprives us from the joy of understanding why we’re doing what we are doing.
(15:48) I'm a big proponent of mentorship. Have you been involved with mentorships yourself and what would you advise someone that's striking out on their career early on, how they should approach mentorship and seek their first mentor?
That is a great question. So among my many passions, developing careers is one of mine. I think the first time that someone was kind enough to let me lead a team that was the most joyful part of the job. It’s to be able to also help someone else with their careers. You can make the mistakes by yourself and it will take you a lot longer, or you can find great people who have either learned by mistake, learn by experience or learn from others that are willing to share their time and their wisdom with you. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have mentors coaches. Whenever I get a chance to help someone, I’m always willing to do that. And I know a lot of people want to do the same.
I guarantee a lot of people are going to be surprised how easy it is to find someone else who is going to devote that portion of their time and share their wisdom and the answers that you are taking a shortcut at that point, you don’t need to make the mistake. You are learning from someone else, or also you can use that person as a sounding board. I been fortunate enough to have many great mentors and coaches throughout my career, and I still stay in touch with most of them. They are so busy, but whenever they give me 30 minutes of their time is worth it. And it’s like, time has never passed since the last meeting that we had. So cannot emphasize enough how important it is as a catalyst of your career and to catapult your career and to expedite also the success in your
(17:56) As someone that is over a fairly sizable data analytics team, I'm sure you get to see a lot of cool technology. Would love to hear some of the things you're seeing in terms of trends or influences that you feel will shape or reshape supply chain careers in the coming years?
I am fortunate enough to see a lot of cool technology, especially on the data side and to play around with different algorithms and things that thanks to computing power, we were not able to do even five years ago. Then now we are actually able to solve that problem.
This is an interesting take for a guy who works with a bunch of data scientists. I think the real need in the future, is what they call the translator. The person that is going to get a lot of data and actually be able to interpret that data for a physical process for a physical solution to a problem. And we don’t have enough of that yet because we have this super smart kid that graduates with a data science type of degree is able to write in every possible language, talk to every single potential computer that is available on the planet. But then you ask, do you think that the answer makes sense or not? And the only answer is, well, the answer is right, but if that’s not the question, the question is does it makes sense.
I’m willing to bet that in the next few years that we’re going to have a lot of business people on one side with problems and a lot of various more people on the other side with the data ready to be used, but no one is going to be able to be the bridge in between the two, at least not at the pace that we are growing. I always tell people if you like the data science side, go big on that. I obviously learn the tools, have a large toolbox, but it’s spending enough time learning how to use that, to translate into something that the business can use. When I talk to my friends in many other companies around the world, that is the type of capability that they like. That’s the capability we lack. That’s the capability that I see that we are not developing because it takes time. It takes years, it takes a learning and no one is paying attention to that sector right now.
(20:59) When you look at openings on the team, are you looking at the background or the experience with tools or different industries, what comes into play when you're evaluating the team, how do you analyze that?
Many people hire for fit, which means in my book, you just hire a lot of people who think alike, look alike. That is usually a recipe for disaster. I tend to focus on the diversity piece. I think we, as a team become a stronger when we find the areas of opportunity that are being filled by that next person. It depends on the need of the team or why you have a new role, but I think it goes back to something that I was sharing with you earlier in, from my journey. I always be looking for that person that is willing to roll up his or hers sleeves and try different things because you usually have the type of candidate that is just focused on machine learning. And is the buzz word. And through the whole interview, you don’t hear anything, but what do you do about machine learning? So it’s really hard for me to get excited about a candidate like that because I do not have only hundred percent machine learning jobs in my work. On the other hand, when
someone says I like machine learning and I do things through machine learning, but I’m willing to solve any problem. I’m passionate about solving problems. And I’m passionate about learning about the industry and the business, and to bring value through data, to solve this problem. That is a very appealing candidate.
(22:47) Supply chain careers have to have a lot of continuous improvement. How does a team like yours, go through the process of continuously improving? From both your team and from your own viewpoint, how do you do that?
I have always been in the search of any tool or tools that work, and I think you need to be very disciplined about that. So you need to make it a priority. I always think about the people that want to improve, but then you look at their calendars and they don’t have any time devoted to learning. They don’t spend time reading about where the industry is doing. They don’t spend time playing around with new tools. So, it’s kind of hard to believe that development is that important for that person? So for me, it boils down to your individual development plan. You need to be intentional about it. It needs to be meaningful. It needs to be tangible. It needs to get you excited, because is like eating vegetables for some people, right? They just believe that’s the right thing to do and they hate it. They don’t do it. But when they do it, they really dislike it. I think you get to develop when you align what you really want to achieve with what you really are.
You actually need to put a catalyst to make sure that happens and that you learn when it does not pan out the way that you want it to. For years now within my teams, I have one of the goals for my team every year is to have an individual development plan for every associate. At the end of the day, we like to be rewarded for the things that we value. And in that case, we are committing to making sure the reward system in every company actually contributes to your development and incentivizes you to make sure that you’re excited about it and that you don’t feel that you’re wasting your time.
(25:00) I became aware that you have written a book on individual development, would love to hear what inspired you to write this book and a little bit more about your philosophy.
For a while I left business school and I thought that I had all of the answers. I map out my career. I was going to be the CEO of that company in no time. And by the time that I got to the job, there was a reorg and I updated my plan very quickly. And three months later I had to update it again and long story short, I had no plan and I had no idea what to do. And I kept reading books. I kept asking people and no one knew what to do, especially people my age. So, I just stumble for probably a good five or six years in my career, just trying to figure out how to get better. So from there I being a process guy, being an industrial engineer, I started to put several pieces together in my mind. And from there I developed this framework that basically has four simple steps. It starts with who you are aligned with, who you want to be in the long-term. I think that’s the secret sauce. And from there you put the two of them together and you focus on the capabilities that ideally, regardless of what path life takes, moves you from where you are to where you want to be. And once you have those capabilities, you can
choose and put a solid, tangible individual development plan behind it that you can track with metrics. And that is what you work on.
So I started doing that for myself and it worked. Finally, I had a framework that gave me peace, I was very happy, very successful developing capabilities, thanks to the framework. And then as I started to lead that team, as I shared with you earlier, my passions is also to help them to become the best version of themselves. So I share my framework with them. And every single time the person say like, wow, I have been working for X number of years. No one has ever shared anything close to this. Where did you learn about it? And I answered, well, here’s my story, right?
About three years ago when I started writing the book, I had two realizations. One, I was getting terrible having to repeat the same framework. Every time I will meet a person and I wanted to have a tool that will be a lot simpler for them to capture the notes and to be able to refresh their version of the framework. And then the second one is that I also had the realization that I am helping people, that I get the pleasure to lead or to meet through my different engagements, but it’s not enough. And it’s a shame that very simple things like these are not widely known when we’re in a school, when we’re about to leave a school, so we can truly start our careers with purpose.
So my goal was to be able to reach out to a lot more people than I’m ever going to meet in life. And one of the obvious ways was to document the framework in a book and to make it available for the public. And now is out there for public consulting. And it’s been great. It’s been a great journey because it taught me a lot of things. It is so rewarding to hear every single time when someone randomly has purchased the book and reaches out to say, wow, this is exactly what I needed. I’ve been a mom that is trying to return to the workforce after 10 years now that the kids are in school and this is giving me the chance to do it. Very rewarding.
Well, thank you for asking. The name of the book is Individual Development Plan 2.0. The good news is that you can get it through any place that you buy your books from, especially electronically
(29:28) Is there a specific instance at some point in your career where you had one of those moments where you went, oh wow, this is a big challenge. And maybe how you went through the approach.
There are a lot, I will tell you one that comes to my mind and probably is very relatable to anyone who leads people. What happens when a person is not performing. Because obviously as a leader, your role is to make sure that the team delivers results, but also you want to be able to allow the person to be successful and to have all of the tools and all of the capabilities that are needed to do well in their jobs. And sometimes you’re just not getting through. And the exact moment was when we had to actually start the process that will end up in termination, right. And different companies have different names for this type of a processes. And it’s always tough. Leading people is amazing, but it’s a big
responsibility too. And there are some things that are tougher than others to do like managing performance. And to me, the key theme during that exercise was thinking, how are we going to manage this? How am I going to find what this employee really needs to be successful? Let’s define the drivers for that person. We ended up finding out that this person was passionate about things that were not part of the job, and we establish a good transition process. So that person was able to get there in the long-term. It was not immediate, and it was painful for everyone. It was not comfortable, but I think it went back to finding a way that everyone needs to be successful and where their passions are.
I honestly believe everyone wakes up trying to do a good job in whatever we do. So when things don’t happen, usually it’s not because the person doesn’t care or doesn’t want to be successful. It’s usually because the environment is not right and changing the environment is very hard. And it requires a lot of intangibles that for an engineer who leaves and thrives in data is really hard to understand. So I had to develop that part of myself, the skills that probably at that point was not that developed. And a lot of coaching, a lot of mentoring obviously supported that process. So that was very helpful along the way, but it ended up saving the career of the associate. And most importantly, making sure that the long term what’s going to be fruitful for both the associate and the organization at that point.
(32:26) Gonzalo, as we wrap up, we like to give you a chance to share pieces of advice that you've received, that really made a game-changing shift with your career.
Absolutely. And I will tell you from personal experience from the mistakes I’ve made from the things that have worked out, also from the things that I keep learning from others, I think the key, especially for a young professional is to be nimble, is to experiment as much as you can. Use the analogy of the ladder that is too close to the wall. If you want to build a foundation, it actually is not that helpful that you are very, very deep into one area. You want to have a broader foundation, so when the wind comes the ladder doesn’t fall. And that is very important because what I hear all the time is like I did, I want to get in, and I went to get promoted very quickly doing one thing, and I want to be leading the company as soon as possible is really hard unless you have that broader experience.
And also, something that is unique, that many don’t appreciate is that it’s a lot easier to navigate a larger organization while you are still at the beginning of your career. Because I always tell this to people, how many CEOs do we have? How many analysts do we have, right. We go from one to thousands. The higher you go, if you want to take lateral moves, it’s a lot harder. And there is a lot more risk in that process. While you are in your entry level assignments, you’ll have a lot of latitude. There is a lot of things that you can do. A lot of people are willing to take the risk because it’s minimum. And the benefit is that you can translate a lot of what you already knowing to the new role and be successful, deliver value. And that is helpful. So I would say having that mentality will be an asset for any person that is leaving college, grad school and joining a company, don’t focus on going up, focus on going broader first. Then by default, you will keep climbing up the ladder because people will realize what you bring to the table and you will
have a lot more to offer in the future.