INTERVIEWS - TOP 100 WOMEN

ALMA ARZATE

Global Director, Supply Planning

APOTEX INC.

Q. How did you decide to pursue a career in supply chain?
I am originally from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Juárez is the sister city of El Paso, Texas, United States. Together with the surrounding areas, these 2 cities form the second largest binational metropolitan area on the Mexico–U.S. border, with a combined population of over 2.7 million people. There is a thriving maquiladora industry, and a lot of large, multinational companies have operations in my hometown, so this is where I started my career. 

To be honest, I never thought of Supply Chain as a career choice. It was never highlighted as a possible pathway while I was attending the Instituto Tecnológico de Ciudad Juarez (I.T.C.J.), where I completed my B.B.A, or the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (U.A.C.J.), where I completed my M.B.A.. Then, a vacancy came up in the same company I was working for. They were looking for a Buyer, Indirect Procurement, and after some encouragement from my Manager, I decided to apply. At that time, I only had Finance experience, but the hiring manager took a chance on me. I really enjoyed the fast pace, how every day brought me different challenges to overcome, and how I was able to make tangible contributions to the success of the business. I was hooked!
Q. What is your greatest career accomplishment?
I currently work as Global Director, Supply Planning for Apotex Inc., the largest Canadian owned pharmaceutical company, and the largest producer of generic medicines in the country. Founded in 1974, Apotex has steadily grown to employ over 8,000 people around the world, focused on research, development, manufacturing and distribution. I lead a team of 3 managers and 20 supply chain professionals, encompassing Global Supply Planning, Inventory Management, Global Supply Chain Analytics, Supply Chain Master Data and supply chain systems development and implementation for the Apotex supply network.
I have been a people leader for more than 15 years, and have effectively recruited, managed the performance of, and retained talent for many organizations. I coach and support my team’s development and professional growth through leadership opportunities, training and “on the job” assignments. I see every single person in my team as having the potential to be a leader, regardless of title, time in the organization, or if they have direct reports or not. I would summarize one of my greatest career accomplishments as follows: over the last few years, I have been directly involved in facilitating developmental moves or promotions for more than 25 of my direct reports and extended team members. I have made a positive impact on their performance, self-confidence and career advancement. When I go to work every day, nothing gives me more pleasure that seeing these many leaders I helped develop doing amazing things and delivering outstanding results for Apotex.
Q. What contribution have you made to the supply chain industry/ your organization that is most meaningful to you?
Every day, I try to leverage over two decades of best practices, lessons learned and success stories across global supply chain and operations in the Automotive, Electronics, Medical Devices, CPG and Pharmaceutical industries. I try to crush barriers for woman wherever I go and try to inspire female supply chain professionals to reach forward and accomplish their dreams.
In March 2019, I was selected by Supply Chain Canada as part of their first-ever “Top 100 Most Influential Women in Canadian Supply Chain”. It was truly an unexpected honor, for which I am extremely grateful. It opened doors for me to join and embrace Supply Chain Canada. I have helped them execute successful education events that brought together over 150 supply chain professionals for development and networking. I was a Panelist at their “Future Leaders: Talent in Supply Chain” and the "Take the Lead: Women in Supply Chain" events last year. In September 2019, I was appointed to serve a 2-year term as part of the Supply Chain Canada, Ontario Institute's Member Engagement Committee. And most recently, Christian Buhagiar, President and CEO, asked me to act as the Chair for the National Selection Committee for their new initiative to recognize “Canadian Immigrants Impacting Supply Chain” in 2020. 

Through all these initiatives, I am hoping to highlight supply chain as an exciting career choice for all the talented professionals out there. Please join us, we need you!
Q. Your thoughts on how the industry has changed for women from the time you started your supply chain journey?
Sadly, I didn’t have too many female leaders to look up to when I began in the industry. The role models I had at the time were my managers and other senior leaders, and most -if not all- were male. When I was promoted to a people leader role for the first time back in 2004, I was one of only four female managers in a group of 104 operations and supply chain managers. Since then, we have definitively made progress, but representation of women in the total supply chain workforce remains unchanged at 39% year over year. 

More so, when looking to advance their careers, I have seen how women often hold back if they don’t check every possible qualification box. Other sources support this claim—for example, a 2014 blog post by Tara Sophia Mohr in the Harvard Business Review says that men apply for a job when they meet 60 per cent of the qualifications, while women apply only to openings if they meet 100 per cent. The statistic, from an internal Hewlett Packard report, has also been cited in books such as Lean In, by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg. But from my vantage point, not having all the answers can be a strength. I am sure we have all been put in positions before where we didn’t have experience, and we made up for our lack of experience with passion, creativity, perseverance and collaboration. As women, we just need to keep reminding ourselves we are more than capable to rise to any challenge. We also need to keep pressing for women advancement and continue to attract female leaders into supply chain careers.
Q. What do you think companies can do to make supply chain careers more attractive to women?
A few things come to mind. One of them would be to continue to offer time flexibility. As a mother of 3 children (Jesus, 21; Victoria, 15, and Gabriella, 12), I can empathize with my team members when an emergency arises at home, or when one of them needs to leave early to take care of the family. I don’t care so much about the time they put in, as much as I care about the results they accomplish. We have been conditioned to chose one or the other, but we can absolutely have both, a successful career and a happy and fulfilling family life. The other aspect that came to mind would be to facilitate opportunities for professional growth. In this, sometimes we need to be resourceful, and create these opportunities where they did not exist before. My team and I make sure we give each one of our team members the opportunities, resources and time required to lead initiatives that take them above and beyond the comfort zone of their day to day role.
Q. If you could do one thing to leave your mark on the industry, what would it be?
For many years, I have been focusing whatever time I can spare to lift others. Despite my sometimes hectic professional and personal life, I am passionate about actively supporting multiple supply chain, education, women and immigrant-related initiatives. I was a keynote speaker for the Schulich School of Business, and a panelist for George Brown College last year. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the co-op program at Apotex Inc., where so far, more than 15 students from Ryerson University, Brock University, and the University of Toronto have greatly benefited by acquiring relevant supply chain experience. On immigrant-related initiatives, I have been a keynote speaker for many organizations, supporting Canadian newcomers to ease their integration into the Canadian work environment. In short, I want my mark on the industry to be: helping other people succeed. This is an extremely rewarding way for me to give back to the profession, as I am helping pave the way for the future leaders that will eventually raise to prominent positions within our companies.
Q. How would you use this recognition to influence others and how would it impact your career?
Besides being an honor, it would also serve as an acknowledgement of the challenging journey that brought me where I am today. More importantly though, being the recipient of a Global Women Supply Chain Leaders Award could help me give hope to other internationally trained supply professionals that have made Canada their new home; hope that if a fellow immigrant that came to Canada 13 years ago as a Project Manager can be recognized with such prestigious global award, that they also have what it takes to achieve their goals and dreams; hope that Canada is an inclusive country that embraces diversity and provides opportunities for the people that are willing to work hard for them; hope that all their sacrifices, leaving their culture, friends and family behind will pay off at the end. It is important for women to show others what is possible, and for women to be aware that what we bring to the table is what makes us unique and invaluable. You need to believe in yourself. If you don’t, it would be very hard for others to do so.

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