There’s no question that demand for supply chain management executives is exploding. And just as companies hit by crisis seek to diversify their suppliers, so too must they widen the net for chief supply chain officers (CSCOs).
Bonnie Fetch, Cummins Inc.’s new vice president of global supply chain and manufacturing, is stepping into a role still dominated by men. Fetch, who joined the company in 2018, was picked in January to head up supply chain operations at Cummins — which designs, manufactures, distributes and services a broad portfolio of power solutions including diesel, natural gas, battery electric and fuel cell electric products.
Fetch, who describes her career path as “eclectic,” says she hopes to inspire other women to join or climb the supply chain ladder. Here’s what she has to say about industry disruption, working on her terms, and pivoting from restaurateur to supply chain executive.
Fetch’s father and grandfather both worked for Caterpillar Inc., through periods of instability in U.S. manufacturing, and she saw them often out of work, laid off or on strike. When she came to choose 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 number of years,” she explains. “But that business is very hard on families. You work early mornings and late evenings, on a chaotic schedule.” Fetch decided to venture out on her own and started up Take Me Away — a small, privately held travel agency. That’s where she got her first lesson in industry disruption, because the internet came along. “The whole mission structure changed and led to exiting the business.”
After leaving the travel sector, and while pregnant with her third child, Fetch decided she wanted to work until she had the baby and then take time to stay home with her children for a while. She signed up with a placement agency for a temporary assignment and was placed at Caterpillar Logistics as an inventory clerk.
“I thought it was the last place I wanted to work. But it was a job in inventory control for the logistics division, and it was quite interesting.” She worked three months and went on maternity leave again, but after six months decided she “wasn’t a very good stay-at-home mom.” So as a mother, and a woman in the mid-90s in industrial manufacturing, she achieved the unusual feat of negotiating a flexible work schedule that fitted around her children’s needs. “It was unheard of at the time,” she says.
Fetch worked in receiving office operations in the warehouse, then had the opportunity to become a warehouse supervisor.
“That was where I had my first inkling that I didn’t know what 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 come in, and getting that organized.”
Seeing her potential, Caterpillar moved her into a human resources management role.
“I was willing to try something new, but I wasn’t sure why they asked. It was probably because I was good at [leading] people,” she speculates, “but also because my boss saw an opportunity for me to grow in the company.” She did, and as a consequence was being offered roles at company HQ, two and half hours from home. That wasn’t going to work due to her dual career/family situation, so she decided to leave and go back into the restaurant business, first in HR, but then as an executive running multiple Boston Market retail outlets.
Perhaps realizing what they’d lost, Caterpillar invited Fetch back to start a shared services division that centralized all HR functions, where she became a senior HR director supporting a vice president in one of Caterpillar’s major lines of business. It was in this role she discovered that supply chain was her true path.
“I spent a lot of time in manufacturing locations, alternating shifts at various locations, and really got to understand manufacturing. I just loved being in a factory where things are made.”
She talked to her boss about getting back into running a business.
“He had me talk to a bunch of his peers in leadership roles 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 a role running a transmission business in Europe.” It was a $400m operation with three locations outside North America — a big promotion. “That is where I really learned the importance of the supply chain, of building supply chain capabilities, including procurement, planning, logistics and manufacturing — the whole end-to-end flow. You can’t neglect any of those components.”
Eventually, Fetch ended up running Caterpillar’s after-market parts distribution business, the most senior supply chain role she’d yet held. Somewhere along the road, she met Tony Satterthwaite, vice chairman of Cummins, and they spoke for nearly a year about what Cummins was trying to do in terms of transforming its supply chain from a collection of different functions into a collective whole, as well as integrating the newly acquired distribution channel into the supply chain. Eventually, Satterthwaite persuaded Fetch to join Cummins to make the transformation happen. In September 2020, she was promoted to vice president, and then came her current role as leader of supply chain and manufacturing.
“It’s been a long, eclectic, winding road,” she says. “I feel like I’m back where I started, in supply chain. What I like about it is that it’s so complex, and I like complex things. The supply chain provides a terrific opportunity and no shortage of challenges. It’s been a really rewarding opportunity to help people solve complex problems and travel the world. I intend to finish out my career here.”
Fetch is keenly aware of the challenges of women in business in general, and especially in traditionally male industries such as manufacturing. In 2017, she published a book, “(Un)Skirting the Issues: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned Man in Today's Workplace,” with co-author Jessica Poliner, a corporate lawyer who has held leadership positions with growing responsibility in law, sales, marketing, distribution, operations, mining and governmental affairs.
“We need more women in senior supply chain management roles,” Fetch says. “We’re still under-represented. It still feels like we’re not attracting women, because we’re looking for people who have been in key roles in manufacturing, instead of looking for people who would value the opportunity to transfer their skills.”
Yes, being a woman is unusual in this role, but what’s important to her is that she was not classically trained in supply chain and manufacturing and has grown to love it.
“I have a non-traditional background and I happen to be a woman in what is still a very male-dominated industry,” she says. “I would love to motivate someone by showing that a person with my eclectic career can rise to heading up supply chain operations for a $24 billion company. I want them to feel encouraged.”
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