Women in Operations 2016 | Nancy Spector

Nancy-SpectorNancy Spector
Plae, Inc.

Education: BA from Brown University in Urban Studies, and also one in American Civilization. MBA from University of Berkeley, Haas School of Business.

I don’t think either specifically helped me in operations, to be honest. but both helped me become a linear, “all around” thinker, and in many aspects of my development as a person (and business person). But the undergrad was very solidly a liberal arts degree, and the graduate degree really didn’t help much (maybe the one crappy accounting class but I learned more about accounting from my dad!)

My job: My current job is leading operations at a startup in consumer apparel. Operationally, we aim to satisfy our customers by delivering the right product on time. I’m also focused on trying to create a learning environment where people can contribute and grow. The day to day consists of normal execution to get orders out the door, the occasional firefight, process improvements and brainstorming to improve decision making or efficiency, prioritization for the team…mixed in with coaching, practical joking and as much deeper thinking about the future (mitigating risk as we build to scale) as the above permits.

Which best describes your career path? I started out in operations in a NYC fashion company, and on the advice of my father, moved into marketing and strategy where, he told me, the smart people gathered! I never felt truly “at home” in this type of work, but shortly after I arrived at Timbuk2 a need arose for someone to take on the day to day in our San Francisco-based factory/warehouse. 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.

Which of the following resources have helped you in learning to become a logistics/operations professional? Mentors (both outside & on the job); On the Job/Experiential; Self-study. I’ve gained most of my experience from trying and doing, and asking a lot of questions. Along the way, several mentors gave me excellent guidance on topics big and small.

My first job in retail operations was: The Echo Design Group.  As my first job out of college, my tasks were varied but one part I’ve never forgotten was that every day I had to sew item number tickets on scarf samples that came from the factory in Japan, so that the design team could review them. My parents had bought me a briefcase for graduation and I didn’t have the heart to tell them what I really needed was a thimble and a good needle and thread more than that briefcase.

I’ve been in this field for: 12 years

I’ve been in this role for: 8 months

Roughly, what percent of your company’s operations team are women? 80%

What is the most interesting part of your job and why? This is probably true of many jobs in small companies: the most interesting part to me is getting to explore how things work, then trying various improvements and seeing what delivers results. Having the freedom to test, see the impact quickly and then refine–knowing that the demands of the business are constantly changing.

What is the most challenging part of your job and why? Getting used to the pace of change and having to balance the urgent day-to-day needs of a startup with the requirement to be thinking ahead and planning for rapid scale. Doing this while remaining curious and not settling in to “what worked last time”. It’s certainly challenging but it’s invigorating too. The part I like least is the feeling that at this point, I should have mastered more skills and that others may expect me to be fully formed as a leader…so when I make mistakes, especially with people, I feel those failures deeply.

When looking to hire logistics/operations managers, what techniques produce the best results? Networking; Promoting from within your current team; Working with schools and universities; Writing a good job description and posting a job; Reviewing resumes carefully and screening candidates myself.

What are you most proud of accomplishing in logistics/operations?

  • Mentoring folks who are interested
  • Developing a keen and practical playbook for what operational and reporting processes matter most at various stages of a startup
  • Maintaining a continued focus on improving my approach and skills

I’d give this answer to anyone, male or female, as I don’t think of the industry as more appropriate for one gender vs the other. Pros: It can be a great combination of strategy and tactics as well as data and intuition. Often you get to be involved in things you can see and touch, so that can be fun or horrifying, depending on what you like. A con is, perhaps, it’s easy to get pigeon-holed, so if breadth of experiences interests you, stay focused on expanding your skills within and outside of operations.

Are you currently mentoring other women interested in logistics? Yes

See which Women in Operations were profiled in the September 2016 issue of Multichannel Merchant:


Pooja Agarwal


Laura Barrett


Kristin Bauer


Angela Goldstein


Catherine Harrison


Lynn Jeffrey


Christine Miller


Kimberly Silva


Nancy Spector


Angie Stocklin

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