“A Long Way”: Bonnie Fetch’s Journey to Supply Chain VP and a Plea for “Non-Traditional” Attitudes | 2022-04-05 – Natural Self Esteem

There’s no question that demand for supply chain management executives is exploding. And as companies hit by the crisis seek to diversify their suppliers, they must also expand the network of Chief Supply Chain Officers (CSCOs).

Bonnie Fetch, Cummins Inc.’s new vice president of global supply chain and manufacturing, is stepping into a role that is still male-dominated. Fetch, who joined the company in 2018, was selected in January to lead supply chain operations at Cummins, which designs, manufactures, sells and services a broad portfolio of energy solutions including diesel, natural gas, battery and and fuel cell electrical products.

Fetch, who describes her career path as “eclectic,” hopes to inspire other women to join or climb the supply chain ladder. Here’s what she has to say about disrupting the industry, working on its terms, and transitioning from restaurateur to supply chain executive.

family ties

Fetch’s father and grandfather both worked for Caterpillar Inc. during periods of instability in US manufacturing, and she often saw them unemployed, laid off, or on strike. When she decided on a career, it didn’t seem like an attractive place for a young woman.

“So I went in a completely different direction, into hospitality, and ran restaurants for a few years,” she says. “But this business is very hard for the families. They work early mornings and late evenings on a chaotic schedule.” Fetch decided to start his own business and founded Take Me Away – a small, privately owned travel agency. It was there that she received her first lesson in industry disruption, as the internet came along. “The entire mission structure changed and led to the exit from the business.”

After leaving the travel industry and pregnant with her third child, Fetch decided she wanted to work until she had the baby and then take time off to stay at home with her kids for a while. She applied to a recruitment agency for a temporary assignment and was employed as a clerk at Caterpillar Logistics.

“I thought that would be the last place I wanted to work. But it was an inventory control job for the logistics department, and it was quite interesting.” She worked for three months and went on maternity leave again, but decided after six months that she “wasn’t a very good housewife”. As a mother and wife, she managed the unusual feat of negotiating flexible working hours in industrial production in the mid-1990s that met the needs of her children. “It was unthinkable back then,” she says.

Fetch worked in incoming goods in the warehouse and then had the opportunity to become a warehouse manager.

“That was the first time I had the intuition that I didn’t know what a supply chain was. Management and logistics were separate functions back then. But I liked being where the action was. I liked supervising people and seeing products coming in and organizing that.”

Caterpillar saw her potential and placed her in a human resource management position.

“I was willing to try something new, but I wasn’t sure why they asked. That was probably because I was good at it [leading] People,” she speculates, “but also because my boss saw an opportunity for me to grow within the company.” She did, and as a result positions were offered at the company’s headquarters, two and a half hours from home. This wasn’t going to work due to her dual career/family situation, so she decided to leave and re-enter the restaurant business, first in HR but then as an executive managing several retail outlets in Boston Market.

‘serpentine’

Perhaps realizing what they had lost, Caterpillar invited Fetch to create a shared services division that would centralize all HR functions, where she became senior HR director, supporting a vice president in one of Caterpillar’s key businesses. In this role, she discovered that the supply chain was her true path.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in manufacturing facilities, rotating shifts at different locations, and really understanding manufacturing. I just loved being in a factory making things.”

She spoke to her boss about running a business again.

“He asked me to speak to some of his colleagues in senior positions and they thought I had an interesting background,” she says. “But it wasn’t a typical supply chain and manufacturing background. So he put me in the role of running a transmission business in Europe.” It was a $400 million operation with three locations outside of North America—a big promotion. “It was there that I really learned the importance of the supply chain, building supply chain capacity, including sourcing, planning, logistics and manufacturing – the whole end-to-end flow. You cannot neglect any of these components.”

Eventually, Fetch ran Caterpillar’s after-market parts distribution business, the most senior position in the supply chain she has held to date. Somewhere along the way she met Cummins Vice Chairman Tony Satterthwaite and they spent almost a year talking about what Cummins was trying to do to transform its supply chain from a collection of diverse functions into a collective whole, integrating the newly acquired distribution channel into the supply chain. Eventually, Satterthwaite persuaded Fetch to join Cummins to complete the transformation. In September 2020, she was promoted to Vice President and then came her current role as Head of Supply Chain and Manufacturing.

“It’s been a long, varied and winding road,” she says. “I feel like I’m back where I started, in the supply chain. What I like about it is that it’s so complex, and I like complex things. The supply chain offers great opportunity and no shortage of challenges. It was a really rewarding opportunity to help people solve complex problems and travel the world. This is where I want to end my career.”

diversity challenge

Fetch is acutely aware of the challenges women face in business in general and in traditionally male industries like manufacturing in particular. In 2017 she published the book (Un)Skirting the Issues: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned Man in Today’s Workplace, with co-author Jessica Poliner, a corporate attorney who has served in senior positions of increasing responsibility in legal, sales, marketing, Sales, operations, mining and government affairs.

“We need more women in leadership positions in supply chain management,” says Fetch. “We are still underrepresented. It still feels like we’re not attracting women because we’re looking for people who have been in key positions in manufacturing, rather than looking for people who would appreciate the opportunity to transfer their skills.”

Yes, being a woman is unusual in this role, but what’s important to her is that she wasn’t classically trained in supply chain and manufacturing and has come to love it.

“I come from a non-traditional background and am a woman in what is still a very male-dominated industry,” she says. “I would love to motivate someone by showing that with my diverse career, a person can rise to lead the supply chain of a $24 billion company. I want them to feel encouraged.”

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