What it Takes to Succeed in Supply Chain Management
In this Q&A, OMBA alum Ross VanNostrand provides an inside look at his role as a procurement specialist in the oil and gas industry.
What it Takes to Succeed in Supply Chain Management
Ross VanNostrand was one of the first students to take advantage of Baylor’s new Global Trade and Supply Chain concentration. Now he works as a senior specialist for procurement at a major player in the oil and gas industry. We recently sat down with him to hear about the skills that drive success in a competitive, evolving field.
What initially sparked your interest in supply chain management?
When I was exploring career paths during my undergraduate years, I was focused on going into a field with high demand. When I entered the supply chain management, there was a considerable shortage of candidates to fill open jobs. Over the years, it has been interesting to see how supply chain roles attract people from other disciplines, whether it is engineering or another department. There is plenty of opportunity in this space.
What motivated you to pursue an OMBA at Baylor?
When I began to consider an MBA, I had already earned a bachelor’s degree in global supply chain management and spent nearly a decade moving around the country, working in a variety of procurement, sourcing and planning roles for companies like Caterpillar Inc. and DuPont. I lived in seven states in eight years. Eventually, I realized that I wanted to make myself a more attractive job candidate going forward—and, on a personal level, I wanted to complete my graduate studies before starting a family. An MS in Supply Chain Management seemed like it would be too repetitive given my background in the field, while an MBA would give me a broader education. Baylor’s OMBA program offered me the perfect opportunity to pursue a degree from a respected institution while continuing to work and grow in my career.
What does your role as a procurement specialist involve?
I spend most of my time managing vendor contracts, negotiating and reviewing orders with the goal of creating value for my company. Supply chain management is largely seen as a cost center in that we are not generating revenue like our coworkers in sales or engineering. So in my role, I seek to create value by identifying cost saving opportunities. On a typical morning at the office, I may review a contract that is about to expire, or work with internal team members to understand which vendors they want to maintain and on what terms. Then, as the day goes on, I may spend more time on strategic decisions. My primary task is to analyze spend and break down data into different categories, like vendor region or specialization, to understand where there are opportunities to optimize, consolidate or reorganize.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I enjoy the process of turning over rocks to see where we can cut costs. When reviewing spend data, I can take a 10,000-foot-view to spot where something might need attention. For example, if I notice that we have a disproportionate number of suppliers in a given category, it may require a closer look. Is one vendor in the same category charging more than another for similar services, and if so, why? Are we paying an optimal amount for their services? Is it worth the time and energy to put out an RFP to other vendors in the same space? This is the kind of analysis it takes to stay competitive.
What is the greatest challenge you face on a day-to-day basis?
The first thing that comes to mind is the process of negotiating. Even when negotiations are not contentious, they can take time and communication to complete. Inflation is posing another challenge right now. With everything getting more expensive, it is taking longer to source components at the right price. Companies across industries are feeling the impact of the decreasing value of our dollar. What was once a lead time of 6-8 weeks is now closer to 14-16 weeks.
What advice would you give to Baylor MBA students who are interested in going into supply chain management?
First, I want to emphasize that there are a lot of different roles within this profession. Planning/materials management, procurement, logistics, strategic sourcing and other roles all fall under the umbrella of supply chain management. Gaining an understanding of your preferred work environment will help make the right choice when pursuing a job role. If you prefer spending more time negotiating or meeting vendors, procurement may be a good fit. But if you enjoy working with software and spending more time behind the scenes, you may be better suited for a planning function.
Whatever path you choose, master skills in data analysis. Even if you are in a supply chain job that has you negotiating over the phone, you need to feel comfortable navigating spreadsheets and reviewing data. Every supply chain professional needs to open an Excel spreadsheet and be comfortable manipulating and analyzing data—and then translating it into actionable insights.
Looking back, how did your OMBA help lay a foundation for future success?
First, Baylor’s OMBA program helped me build the critical thinking skills I needed to solve problems throughout my career. The coursework also demanded diligence over an extended period of time. Pursuing my OMBA did not just promote personal development; it also demonstrated to prospective employers that I was a disciplined, hardworking person who took my education seriously. Every prospective student should take the time to consider the opportunity cost before entering a graduate program. For me, the decision was clear.