Have a Voice and Use It

Today’s Wednesdays for Women blog is an insightful conversation with JDA customer Kelly Killingsworth, vice president of Supply Chain Systems Optimization & Transportation at Walmart.  I had the opportunity to connect with Kelly at the RILA conference in February and then again at the JDA ICON Executive Exchange in May where she spoke about Walmart & JDA’s moonshot to achieve the Autonomous Supply Chain. We discussed her love for her family, having a voice and using it.

Can you tell us a bit about how yourself and how you got started in supply chain?

I call Atlanta home, even though I’ve lived in about 10 different cities. I grew up in Atlanta and went to the University of Georgia. I have two children; my son is a senior on the basketball team at Columbia University and my daughter is in early commit to play tennis at Wake Forest University next year.

I played basketball at Georgia, and the only way I figured out that I wanted to get into supply chain was through one of our loyal fans, a business school professor that regularly attended our games and encouraged me to take some of his classes.  I took his introduction to supply chain class and fell in love with math, science, and the analytical part of supply chain.  That professor helped me get my first job in supply chain out of college.

Can you tell us about your career path that lead to you to Walmart?

My first 10 years in supply chain was in operations.  I was always interested in technology, but I knew I wanted to stay in supply chain. I was very interested in what technology could provide to the operator, so I started at Intertrans Logistics Solutions, later acquired by i2/JDA. They really took a chance on me having no background in technology, and no coding experience. But I rolled up my sleeves, as I was very interested in innovation and eager to learn.  I was raising my children and bounced between software and retail, like Home Depot at their global headquarters in Atlanta, and took an incredible opportunity for a role at Walmart.  I packed my family and moved from Atlanta to Arkansas 10 years ago where Walmart has proved to be a great place to work and raise my family.  Walmart is so large that it’s a dream for someone in supply chain. I’ve had seven jobs in the 10 years I’ve been with them. I have worked hard and gotten to do some fun things, met new leadership, and watched the growth of our ecommerce business.  Currently, I’m leading the digital transformation of our supply chain.  We went through a formal RFP process for software, looked at multiple providers in the industry and we selected JDA.  Now, I get to lead the program to redesign our transportation business processes, organization structure and implementing the technology – it seems to be my sweet spot of acting as the liaison between the business and technology.

How have your life experiences made you the leader you are today?

I’m a very collaborative, team-oriented leader.  The success I’ve found is by providing everyone a seat at the table and letting everyone have a voice.  There is a time for direction as the leader; you set the strategy, and then allow your strong team to have a voice to be successful.

On the program I’m running at Walmart now, I’m leading a large team across the business, JDA, Walmart Labs, our consulting organization Deloitte, and a lot of contractors.  You see five different groups coming together with a shared mission and shared goal.  I try to lead in that collaborative, team-oriented perspective and ensure everyone knows we’re all trying to win the same game.

How do you motivate yourself?

I am motivated by seeing how I can help other individuals succeed or help other individuals contribute to the team goal.  There are members on my team that are starting out in their career, with a lot of energy and are very bright and need mentorship, direction, and coaching.  A lot of my time is spent walking around, listening to my team, connecting dots, and trying to provide as much support as I can to my team.  That is what keeps me motivated.

What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?

One of the biggest risks I’ve taken in my career was about three years after I took the job at Walmart.  I, once again, packed up my family and moved to San Francisco to join the Walmart eCommerce team.  This was a huge opportunity for me in Silicon Valley where I learned our eCommerce side of the business. It gave me a whole new perspective on talent, diversity and the ability to rethink the supply chain and what that means to Walmart and our customers.  That was a huge energy boost for me, it reinvigorated me to have fresh perspective on what could be done.  It was hard, but it led to great things. I believe in risk. I believe in getting a fresh perspective and I believe in putting yourself out there to grow and innovate.

What is your proudest achievement?

From a work perspective, I look at it in two ways.

One of the proudest achievements was the success of my team when in California with the eCommerce team.  At this point in my career, I measure my success on my people and talent development. When we restructured that eCommerce division, everyone on my team elevated their career to take on new, exciting opportunities.

Another huge achievement for me I am living right now through our transportation digital transformation with JDA.  We got out of the gate strong, we kept to our guiding principles, we’re on budget, on time, and in scope.  Now the true battle is now to maintain this success and drive customer value at Walmart.  That’s the success I’m trying to track to now.

What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you know now?

To have more confidence and speak up.   Once you educate yourself, then have a voice and use it.  I tend to be quiet and blend in, and at times I could have added more value, I could have done more for my team and more for myself through my voice.  That’s one of my personal development areas, to know when to speak up and have the confidence to use your voice appropriately.  That’s something I’ve been focused on my whole career.

What about your career surprises you?

It’s hard and I keep expecting it to get easier!  Everyday there is a new challenge and something new to do or learn.  I don’t like to sit back and relax, and I seek out change and challenge. In this industry, and at Walmart, there is so much change and I have a desire for innovation and that keeps me on my toes!

Who is your role model?  Who inspires you and why?

I’ve had a couple of great leaders in my life.  If you go back to my college days, the supply chain professor who helped place me in my first supply chain role after college really acted as a sponsor and helped pull me along in my journey.

Another sponsor of mine taught me a bit about that work life balance.  When my kids were young and I would go home tired and stressed, he told me to plant a worry tree in my front yard.  He taught me when I come home from work to sit in the driveway and put all my worries on that tree and leave them outside.  He taught me not to bring my work worries inside to my family.  My kids can’t do anything with my work worries.  My kids know about it and they keep honest and say, “mom go back outside and put those worries on the worry tree!”  It might sound silly, but it’s worked for me!

And one final sponsor is now retired from Walmart and he taught me about the rule of thirds.  He gave a third of his time to his church, a third with his time to his family and a third of his time to continuing industry involvement.  This rule of thirds centered on faith, family and industry is a balanced approach and something I’m focused on now.  I’m almost an empty nester, which I can’t believe!  I have tons of energy and I’m very excited for what the future holds.