Supply Management Architect

With her blueprints guiding sourcing and procurement transformations at multiple companies, cross-industry innovator Sue Spence, MBA, is honored with the 2020 J. Shipman Gold Medal Award.

By Dan Zeiger

In her sixth year as a continuous-improvement manager in jet engine assembly and repair, Sue Spence, MBA, believed she had checked her job skill-set and satisfaction boxes. Before she could settle into a lengthy career, however, a mentor suggested to her that what feels like a groove can easily become a rut.

Spence’s unique combination of experience in sourcing and procurement, where she spent the first eight years of her career, and extensive lean manufacturing knowledge made her ideal for a commodities manager position. That was the assessment of Kent Brittan, the mentor and then-vice president of supply management of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) — which just happened to have such a position open.

Her respect for Brittan provided the nudge to return to supply management. Spence’s own ambition led her to make the leap, and 17 years later, it’s helped propel her to the pinnacle of her profession.

“Kent said I needed to come back to supply management because UTC had suppliers that had waste and supply issues and won’t be able to keep up with the newly-lean factory,” Spence says. “At that point, I loved teaching continuous improvement. I loved seeing the transformation and would have been happy staying in a support role. I realized after talking to Kent that I didn’t want to be the support guy.

“I want to be the guy. I want to be the guy responsible for running the operation. And that led me back in.”

After returning to her career roots, Spence directed supply chain operations at multiple aircraft and aerospace companies. In October 2013, she was hired to build a centralized sourcing and procurement operation from scratch at delivery-services giant FedEx — the centerpiece of a resume that has made her the 2020 recipient of supply management’s highest honor, the J. Shipman Gold Medal Award.

“It’s an incredible honor to receive the recognition, not just for me, but for our team,” Spence says. “If not for them and the hard work they’ve done on the transformation (at FedEx), this wouldn’t have been possible. I know some of the past winners, and they are people whom we in the profession look up to as trailblazers. They helped shaped the sourcing and procurement environment into what it is today.”

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