Angie Stocklin has a BS, Psychology from University of Evansville and an Ed.S, School Psychology from Indiana State University. Pooja Agarwal has a BA in Economics and Anthropology from the University of Michigan.
Both started their professional fields far away from direct-to-customer operations. But as time passed, both Stocklin, the Chief Operating Officer of One Click Ventures, and Agarwal, the Vice President of Operations at Birchbox, both stand out in a traditionally male-dominated field.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Nontraditional Occupations for Women study conducted in 2009, male-dominated industries and occupations employ 25% or fewer women. For example, the study showed that just 17% of transportation, storage, and distribution manager positions were held by women, and only 17.1% of women held all positions categorized as laborers and freight, stock, and material movers.
But the times have changed. For example, at One Click, about 78% of the operations team members are female, and nearly the same amount of women (75%) make up the operations team at Fairytale Brownies. Roughly 60% percent of omnichannel women’s apparel, bedding, home accessories and beauty brand Soft Surroundings’ operations team are women.
But both Stocklin and Agarwal say their degrees have come in handy in their new careers.
Stocklin manages her company’s fulfillment, customer happiness, and merchandising teams.
“Although I originally obtained my psychology degrees with a career in school psychology in mind, my psychology background continues to help me better understand people in a variety of ways,” Stocklin says. “From decisions around team culture, hiring, and professional development to everyday things like motivation and team morale, psychology is helping us reach our goal of becoming the world’s most people-focused eyewear company.”
At Birchbox, Agarwal manages its warehouse, transportation, procurement, supply chain, subscription operation and web production functions.
“A key component to operations is relationship management and in particular working with many different types of people in many different roles,” Agarwal says. “Anthropology as a domain focuses on learning about different cultures from an unbiased position. I think bringing this same perspective to my career has helped me build relationships that are most beneficial for all partners.”
Like Stocklin and Agarwal, Kristin Bauer, Sr. Director, Supply Chain Operations of Ulta Beauty, didn’t go to college with the intent of becoming a trailblazer in operations.
When she was graduating college with a dual degree of B.S. Information Technology and Management and an MBA from the University of Minnesota while looking for a job, most of the opportunities presented to Bauer were in IT consulting.
“I knew that was an area that I wasn’t interested in from a career perspective,” says Bauer, “A local distribution center heavily recruited on-campus and I loved the passion and energy that I saw for leadership and development, so it seemed like a great fit. Other than a couple classes that I took in college around operations, that was really my first introduction to the field.”
Nancy Spector, VP-Business Operations at Plae, a children’s footwear startup, started out in operations in a New York City fashion company after she received her BA from Brown University in Urban Studies. And on the advice of her father, moved into marketing and strategy where, her father told her, “the smart people gathered.”
“I never felt truly ‘at home’ in this type of work, but shortly after I arrived at Timbuk2 Designs [in 2005], a need arose for someone to take on the day to day in our San Francisco-based factory/warehouse,” Spector says. “I raised my hand, though I had no experience and, embarrassingly, didn’t know the names of the warehouse or factory team. I remember walking out onto the floor, quite nervous, but thinking that I belonged right where I was.”
The Pros and Cons of Operations
Agarwal says the biggest pro to her career in operations is that it is an incredibly fulfilling field where you get to solve hard problems and make a direct impact on consumers.
“I would say the biggest con is that you do have to at times prove yourself in this field since it has historically been led by men,” Agarwal says. “You have to be assertive, tough and extremely decisive as an operations leader.”
For Angela Goldstein, Director of Operations at Bonobos, it’s exciting executing the behind the scenes pieces to make the business run.
Goldstein said it can often be a thankless job, particularly because you are behind the scenes and often problem solving issues that resulted from something out of your control, but by being so familiar with many facets of the business, you’re often best suited to recommend and help implement change that can have a significant impact on the bottom line.
“You have to look at issues that arise as opportunities to flex your operational mindset to roll out improvements,” Goldstein said. “You have your hand in a lot which helps give perspective and gives you insight for what’s to come.”
Catherine Harrison, Director of Operations at eBags, says operations is a very metric driven field, and if you have a competitive streak to you, it’s going to be a lot of fun to make and beat your numbers.
“When you do, it is completely gratifying,” Harrison says. “No matter how much you continuously improve, you will always be asked where to find additional efficiencies and how to reduce more costs.”
Bauer says there are constantly large scale disruptions that are changing how leaders need to operate and think in order to be competitive. The ability to leverage creativity and strategic thinking is abundant, given the challenges faced by the supply chain team.
“It’s a great industry in which to develop strong leadership skills,” Bauer says. “With that being said, we still have huge opportunities to help grow and develop women in this space to lead at higher levels of companies. Developing mentorships as well as sponsorships becomes critical to having a successful career.”
Up For the Challenge
Kimberly Silva, the Operations Team Leader at Fairytale Brownies, says seasonal staffing is her biggest challenge. Fairytale Brownies runs year-round with about 40 regular team members, but ramps up with about 120 temporary team members for peak season.
“Beginning in late July we start the hiring process and it continues up through October,” Silva says. “We normally run one shift for production, but during this time we ramp to three shifts and run 24/7.
The temporary hires run across the board for production, shipping and customer service.
“We hire direct without the use of agencies, so it’s a big task for my small team, but we have quite a few returning team members each year,” Silva says.
Grant Williams, the owner of Knights Limited, Home Decorators and Soft Surroundings, felt Laura Barrett would be great in inventory planning and procurement. And Barrett, the Sr. Vice President of Operations at Soft Surroundings, says she loves the vendor relationship part of the merchandising role, because she really enjoys working with people.
“I found out I was pretty good at my new inventory role because I understood the merchandising side of the business,” Barrett said. “The company started adding more and more operational responsibility to my job responsibilities. Figuring out how to improve processes and solve problems motivates me.”
eBags’ Harrison says her biggest challenge is getting 525 drop ship warehouses to have the same urgency and commitment to excellence that we have with our own warehouse.
“While we monitor and report weekly on the performance metrics of every drop shipper, such as processing times and backorder cancellations, what really moves the needle is our team of dedicated fulfillment analysts who build relationships with our drop shippers,” Harrison says. “Depending on the drop shipper, this relationship can be with the warehouse manager, a customer service representative, and sometimes the owner of the company.”
While Harrison’s team has to have some tough conversations with under-performers, the goal is to talk with and understand the operations of each drop shipper to find the best drop ship model eBags offers for getting optimal performance.
“If we have a positive relationship with the drop shipper, they are more likely going to work with eBags to find ways to continuously improve, and more likely to help us out with an order exception,” Harrison says.
The most challenging part of Stocklin’s job at One Click, currently is managing growth.
“Everything from processes to software to headcount is impacted when your marketing team is consistently beating plan,” Stocklin says. “It is my job to ensure my teams have what they need to succeed and that our team members don’t get burnt out during this growth phase.”
Where It Gets Interesting
Goldstein has the opportunity to work with almost every lane at Bonobos on a regular basis, whether it’s related to day-to-day operations or larger scale initiatives.
“I like to dig in and understand what others are working on and how our team can help make the business better or help an individual lane achieve their goals,” Goldstein says.
Similarly, Plae’s Spector says the most interesting part of her job is getting to explore how things work, then trying various improvements and seeing what delivers results.
“I like having the freedom to test, see the impact quickly and then refine, and then knowing that the demands of the business are constantly changing,” Spector says.
Lynn Jeffrey, Senior Director of Operations at Vermont Teddy Bear Company, says she enjoys the combination of right brain, left brain work that comes with the job. A typical day for Jeffrey involves analyzing data, and reviewing productivity rates, trouble shooting processes including machinery, and motivating employees.
And Fairytale Brownies’ Silva really enjoy large contract negotiations.
“I get giddy when I know I can save the company a lot of money, without sacrificing quality or standards,” Silva says. “Many of our items are commodities, so it’s watching the market and determining what to buy and when, but also taking into consideration our space constraints and how the production schedule is flowing.”
Matter of Pride
Christine Miller, Director of Operations at American Eagle Outfitters, is most proud that she and her team were on time and on budget with the startup of its Hazelton, PA omnichannel distribution center, and had a successful first holiday season.
“When we expanded our operations to the east coast in 2014 to get closer to the majority of our DTC customers and high-volume retail stores, it made sense to commingle our inventory and make it available for all channels,” Miller says. “That has given us great rewards as we’re no longer playing a guessing game in terms of locating inventory and in what configuration. With it all commingled it becomes a much more fluid process.”
In 2014, the first year was open and just servicing DTC customers, American Eagle Outfitters processed 900,000 units in six days, as much as was processed in the prior three-months combined.
“Last year, we processed 1.5 million units in nine days,” Miller says. “The accuracy is very good, which has a lot has to do with our people, not necessarily the system. Generally, we’re able to keep up with daily demand or backlog.”
Goldstein’s most proud of taking Bonobos from fulfilling only ecommerce orders to over 50 wholesale accounts, and now samples to its more than 20 Guideshops while keeping costs at a place where they can scale the business has been a great feat.
“We’ve managed to keep the operation centralized and streamlined, which has allowed us to optimize processes, costs and stay nimble so we can quickly react to changes in what our customers want or what the business needs,” Goldstein says.
Goldstein says she is very deliberate in the approach to vendor relationships and truly views them as partnerships as Bonobos’s success is very much a result of what they can achieve together.
“I think this is one reason we’ve been able to maintain such long term relationships with our vendors,” Goldstein says. “There is a focus on establishing and cultivating a collaborative partnership that benefits both of our organizations.”
Jeffrey is still most proud of what she and her team accomplished in 1993 when she was with Vermont Country Store. Jeffrey executed moving a warehouse of product with over 10,000 SKUs to a larger facility with state of the art equipment and systems, implemented an ongoing slot management program to drive pick productivity regardless of season, and created a semi automated replenishment program to improve availability of inventory in pick locations.
“We went from our small warehouse in Manchester to a distribution center in North Clarendon,” Jeffrey said. “I used to joke that the most advanced equipment we had in Manchester was an electric pallet jack and in North Clarendon we learned to use a wire guided swing reach machine.”
The move occurred in three days – a Friday through Sunday – in April, and Vermont Country Store began shipping customer orders Monday morning.
“Since the new facility involved new pick locations, we had to associate the new locations to the existing product in Manchester, and accomplished it through color coding,” Jeffrey said. “Believe it or not it was a lot of fun!”
Senior Editor Mike O’Brien and Associate Editor Daniela Forte contributed to this article.