CHRISTCHURCH, February 8, 2021 – When she completed her management degree from the University of Canterbury, New Zealander Katie Kinraid imagined herself as a glamorous marketer. Instead, she landed on the rough terrain of supply chain which was an industry under transformation. Yet, she embraced the industry and Blackbay for more than a decade.
Katie moved all across the world, living in cities like Melbourne and London, while holding different positions of responsibility for the company, which was later acquired by her current employer BluJay Solutions. In this chat with Payal Gwalani of AsiaBizToday, Katie Kinraid, General Manager, APAC talks about all the transformation and disruption she has seen within the industry and the glass ceilings she has seen breaking.
High Flying Executive
Remembering her early impression of the supply chain industry, she says she felt it was an industry undergoing transformative changes. “This was not just restricted to the use of technology, but also the growing role of women in the industry,” she recalls.
This gave her the chance to rise through the ranks in the company, becoming first a regional manager and then the global manager for marketing. Her final designation at Blackhat was Global Head of Strategy and Product. Currently, she is the general manager for Asia Pacific region at BluJay.
“After swiftly moving around the world in different marketing roles, my passion for the industry took over. I began to focus on the use of technology and strategy to help logistics companies tackle growing consumer demand for the “need it now” culture,” she explains about her move to the strategy division.
Diversity at Workplace
Despite her personal achievements, Katie believes that the corporate world has still quite a way to go in ensuring balanced representation in executive leadership. She points out the results of a recent survey conducted by the workplace gender equality agency of the Australian government to stress that organisations with balanced female representation in executive roles have pay gaps that are half the size of equivalent firms with little to no female representation.
In fact, she also believes there are many more benefits to having more women in key decision-making positions. “It improves the performance, boosts productivity and profitability of a company,” she says. The good thing is more and more businesses are now recognising these advantages, and working towards improving the situation.
Her career has exposed Katie to colleagues, workplaces and customers across the globe, or as she puts it, a range of vibrant and unique cultures, viewpoints and perspectives. “Such experiences can help us understand each other’s similarities and differences. This, in turn, allows us to build a truly diverse company and customer cultures, which has a myriad of business benefits from employee and customer satisfaction to improved business performance,” she says.
“A successful leader not only knows how to clearly and positively communicate with staff, they also foster a workplace culture that values clear and open communication up the chain of command,” Katie says when asked about qualities of a good leader. She insists that communication, effort and integrity are core two-way principles that leaders should follow. “This not only builds respect, it also ensures vital information isn’t missed due to staff feeling as if they cannot speak up,” she added.
Another important aspect of leadership, she says, is leading by example. She believes that leaders must demonstrate the highest standards of effort and integrity at all times. “An executive is only as strong as the employees behind them. So, it is the role of business leaders to set the standards of success for their team,” she explains.
Impact of the Pandemic
In spite of being in the same business for more than a decade, the work of Katie and her colleagues at BluJay underwent a sea change during the pandemic induced lockdowns across the world. Things were especially difficult for the logistics and supply chain industry. Talking about this, she says, “The pandemic created a perfect storm. Closed borders, quarantine restrictions and social distancing requirements for staff combined with an explosion in delivery demand from online retail sales made for a tough period of shipping delays and warehouse backlogs across the globe.”
Essentially, demand for deliveries skyrocketed yet the capacity of delivery firms shrunk. Not knowing the end of this growth in volume of work was another problem. “Supply chain and logistics firms have proven their ability to overcome disruption via a range of technology led solutions. This is testament to the resilience of delivery providers as a whole, as well as the hours of hard work behind the scenes to identify solutions to delays,” she says.
Katie believes that most businesses have adapted to the new normal pretty quickly with the help of remote collaboration tools. She feels happy that in the middle of all the ensuing chaos, the supply chain machinery including delivery drivers and warehouse workers are now considered an essential service in most countries.
For businesses, the pandemic has proven that supply chain management technology is critical in times of disruption, she believes. All the challenges faced during the lockdowns helped businesses get better visibility into complex supply chain networks. This allowed the firms to identify pain points, and therefore, solutions, she adds.
“Looking forward, the next steps in overcoming the challenge of future disruption is a rethink of supply chain models in order to minimise the risks posed by global events,” she opines. As an example of how the industry may change in the future, she points out how some companies have moved away from a global ‘just in time’ delivery model towards a localised approach that incorporates timing buffers in case of unforeseen disruption.
Katie is a proponent of the idea that optimal use of machines and human interaction is what makes any process more efficient and for better experience for the end user. “In case of time and labour-intensive manual operations, automation can help speed up the task. However, those parts of businesses that call for human interaction can not be run without humans,” she said.
Giving examples to support her argument, she points out the obvious benefit of using automation for tasks like warehouse management and distribution, it speeds up package management and allows staff to focus on more critical customer facing tasks. However, in processes like customer service, account management and delivery (where contactless delivery is not mandated) it is important to maintain the human touch as these points of interaction are the heart and soul of customer service, she says.
“Unless we see increased consumer demand for complete automation across all customer touchpoints, I don’t see the human element completely disappearing any time soon,” says Katie.
Young must follow their Passion
“Work hard, be bold, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Most importantly, follow your passions,” is the message Katie has for any ambitious young person. As a field of work will be a part of a person’s life for very long, she advises to choose a path that will ensure one is fulfilled and rewarded with the choice.
That’s not to say work will always be easy and fun; You can’t have good times without the tough ones, she believes. “However, when it is all said and done, you should chase a career that allows you to be proud of your achievements,” she concludes.