Today's feature taught me even more about Walmart Operations and Walmart's leadership opportunities. Kathryn Chapman is a Senior Manager in Merchandising Operations at Walmart. She earned her MBA (focusing in Strategy and Entrepreneurship) from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and has a pre-MBA background in management consulting. Kathryn also has prior experience in project management and market strategy, having worked for Google and Kraft Heinz and having earned her Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
Read on for a few of Kathryn's nuggets of wisdom regarding what it's like to be a leader at such a large organization and how work outside of work can enhance your leadership abilities twofold.
Into the Details
Serial Consultant / Lifelong Problem-Solver
How did your career in consulting prepare you to transition to a leadership role in industry?
Consulting, in my opinion (though this widely varies based on your industry and your path) does a good job at preparing you with soft skills (relationship-building skills, communication skills, and presentation skills) that really help you learn how to interact with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. You have to figure out how you craft your message and strategy based on the people that you're working with; consulting shows you how to take that to the next level.
Everyone that you interview with, for a job, a project, or otherwise, is going to ask you a question about how you deal with ambiguity and consulting is a lifetime of ambiguity. It's the kind of job where you'll often be asked to do things that you're under-qualified for, but that you figure out how to do as you go - you research, you Google, you ask those around you, but you figure it out.
So, those two things are key: being able to relate to people and to communicate well. Being able to take an ambiguous problem and to translate that problem into actionable outcomes will help you get there.
Do your extracurricular activities (inside or outside of work) help you to develop skills that you find yourself using often in the workplace?
Extracurricular activities can help you in two ways: first, they allow you to connect with people that you wouldn't otherwise cross paths with. When I lived in DC, I did a pro bono volunteer activity called Compass. Through this activity, I was able to work with people in different industries that would never be a part of my other social circles. Your extracurricular activities can help you find mentors, find mentees - they may even help you find your next job.
Second, extracurriculars allow you to find and work on things that you get to choose and that you're passionate about. My day-to-day roles may not always be distinctly exciting to me. But volunteering for things like Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) or a work affinity/employee resource group allow you to build skills and do activities in your field of interest. Volunteering can also really help you identify people to connect with for mentorship or other professional development opportunities. At Walmart, I volunteered to support the firm's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day programming activity - we have something every year. Although what we did to commemorate the day was an interesting act in and of itself (we re-enacted MLK's assassination at work as part of a larger programming initiative), afterward the Chief Diversity Officer came to us and said that they wanted to start a mentoring circle with those of us who participated. He is a top officer at the largest US company, someone who is in direct contact with the CEO. And because I volunteered for this skit, I now have face time with him and I even have his personal contact information.
If you had to explain what you do in one sentence, what would you say? How does being a leader constantly prepare you to advocate for and communicate the value of your profession, your personal brand, and your company?
My role is to make sure that the right items (of all of the inventory that Walmart sells) are on the right shelf at the right time so that they are available for customers to purchase without exceeding what we need (also known as optimizing sales inventory). It's important to be able to make the connection between what you personally value and what you do. One of the things that’s interesting and impactful for Walmart specifically , is that it's so large - we have close to 2 million employees worldwide.
Personally, I didn't grow up shopping at Walmart, however, a lot of people that look like me did and do. The demographic of Walmart reflects the demographic of the United States, so it's extremely important for me to advocate for my people when I'm at work. I work very closely with the inclusion team. They're responsible for sourcing from diverse suppliers and for ensuring that their products are actually being sold in the stores and that the customers that buy their products are buying them from people that look like them. It's super impressive to see companies like these that are building from the ground up doing that.
Despite it's power, advocating for Walmart can also be challenging. Almost everyone is familiar with Walmart, but living in the Walmart bubble (northwest Arkansas) is not the same as living elsewhere in the country in term's of Walmart's position. There is a branding issue where people think of the negative things associated with Walmart from a publicity perspective - low wages, squeezed supplier margins, lower healthcare offerings for employees, etc. - some of which are true and some of which are not. But what's most important to me is my own ability to educate people on what we offer. My ability to show examples of people like myself, living and working in the middle of nowhere for this company specifically, and the values and achievements that you, too, could develop from working here. Anything that you do at Walmart allows you to impact billions and billions of dollars; if you did the exact same work anywhere else, you would likely be impacting much less. That's a unique benefit.
So, when I'm working with Compass or trying to recruit black students specifically, these are some of the personal experiences that I can share and advocate for. If I am connecting with a supplier, I can educate them on how they can grow their business with Walmart by showing them real examples of other people who have done great work here.
To recap that, advocating as a leader and professional for me is all about educating people and showing them that there are areas for growth. The "What's In It For Me?" You have to be able to communicate that to people. If you can make the connection to what they value, then you can communicate the value for the brand. And most importantly, I tell people the truth! I am transparent about both the good and the bad.
"Advocating as a leader and professional for me is all about educating people and showing them that there are areas for growth."
If you had to list one go-to garb item in your work wardrobe, what would it be?
A pair of flats. I think you should always have a pair of flats available. You never know where you'll have to walk or run. Someone may say "we need you to go to a different building" or "we need you to do a store walk" at a moment's notice, so I always keep a pair of flats at my desk to prepare me in case I have to run off at any second.
Want to learn more about Kathryn's work experiences? Check out her LinkedIn page!