Sourcing a New Career Path in Sustainable Supply Chains | Net Impact

Sourcing a New Career Path in Sustainable Supply Chains

Simon Perry, Global Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing Manager, Johnson & Johnson

Simon Perry knew he was making a big investment of time and money when he enrolled in the MBA program at Cranfield School of Management in the UK. He was looking to change both industries and functional areas in his next career move, so he began his job search almost as soon as he started his program. But it wasn’t as easy to break from his past as he’d thought it would be. “When I was interviewing,” says Simon, “a lot of people wanted to push me into [similar roles], so I had to be clear about why I was a good fit for a new role in consumer products.” So he kept applying.

When he got a call from Johnson & Johnson for a role he hadn’t considered previously, he took the interview, figuring it would be a great opportunity to brush up on his interviewing skills before getting too far into the recruiting process. What he heard surprised him - and excited him. The job title was Sourcing Manager, Toiletries for Europe, the Middle East & Africa. And as it turned out, the position was a great fit with what he was looking for in his next role: “I wanted to work for a multinational company like J&J because of the pure scale and breadth of the company.”

One opportunity leads to another

Though the role wasn’t directly connected to sustainability or CSR – the topics that had gotten him most fired up in business school – the company’s management style, corporate values, and citizenship efforts felt aligned with his principles. And as an added bonus, he would be relocated to Switzerland, an experience he knew he wouldn’t get elsewhere. After weighing other offers, Simon decided to take the job from his “practice” interview and signed with Johnson & Johnson.

“I always had a passion for sustainability,” says Simon, “but the right opportunity never presented itself. I always wanted to take this passion to work.” Two years into the job, when he started to consider his next career move, Simon realized he couldn’t ignore his desire to work in sustainability any longer. Almost on cue, Johnson & Johnson made a pledge to use only 100% sustainably-sourced palm oil by 2015. The company was looking for someone in their Switzerland office to develop and implement a top-notch strategy to reach this goal.

Simon was no expert on palm oil, but through his work in strategic sourcing over the last two years, he’d learned how to engage suppliers, mastered negotiation with various stakeholders, and understood how to effectively communicate with different teams internally. “It was really one of those light bulb moments,” he says about the moment he realized how perfectly suited his skills were, as if he’d been groomed for such a role.. He applied for the role, and landed the job.

Leading markets into sustainability

Simon entered his new role as Global Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing Manager with a clear understanding — and, admittedly, a healthy apprehension— of what a huge task he was taking on. “There are so many facets to the role,” he says. Palm oil is a growth commodity, and producing it responsibly is critical to keeping it that way. He has to “evangelize,” to engage his fellow employees so they buy into his strategy.

“Multinational corporations have the power to really change things,” Simon explains. “It’s about being in a position to lead markets.”

Despite the inevitable challenges, Simon finds gratification in the fact that his work instills pride in his fellow employees, so they “tell their friends and family what we’re doing.” He gets to collaborate with nonprofits and global NGOs like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to implement a global sourcing strategy, increase the number of sustainable palm oil suppliers, and influence a complex supply chain.

Simon may seem like a pretty lucky guy, but he knows his “luck” was no accident. It was the result of smart decisions, preparation, and the willingness to be flexible in the face of opportunity.

SImon's advice

Simon found his way to a role that’s changing business from the inside out--and he’s picked up some great tips along the way.

  • Your MBA is worth it: “You get the most back from your MBA in the first twelve months,” says Simon. That’s because you’re exposed to a huge variety of people and ideas, many of whom can guide you or directly help you post-graduation.
  • Take a chance on the unexpected: Simon walked into his first interview with Johnson & Johnson doubtful he’d take the job if it were offered. By the time it was over, he was surprised to discover that the role might actually be just what he was looking for – and even more pleasantly surprised two years later that it led to a direct role in sustainable sourcing.
  • Don’t settle: The job search is daunting, and you might think you should settle for any offer that comes along. Simon disagrees: “You put a lot of money and time into [your education]; don’t settle for anything that’s less that you deserve, don’t settle for ordinary. You deserve to get a great job that you love to do.”