Rose Kelly-Falls: Women in Procurement

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Rose Kelly-Falls knew she wanted a career where she would be deeply involved in business, something that empowered her to make important decisions. She also knew she wanted to work in some capacity with manufacturing. As a young professional, she didn’t know exactly that perfect job would be. Her experience working in operations at clothing companies in New York City after college would serve as her point of entry into procurement — a field she quickly realized she would pursue throughout her career.

Kelly-Falls, now senior vice president of supplier risk management at Rapid Ratings, got her first taste of procurement working at the clothing company Perry Ellis. There, she sourced apparel manufacturers in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. She later worked for Anne Klein clothing company and then the Associated Merchandising Corporation, where she served as an operations manager, overseeing various parts of procurement such as logistics, sourcing, supplier relationships and contracts.

“That was kind of my first real, true experience of seeing procurement and supply chain in full force,” Kelly-Falls said, even though what she was doing wasn’t called “procurement” yet.

The work was exciting and she liked having to make big decisions as well as interact with different parts of the organization. She enjoyed the work so much she decided to actually leave her current job in New York City to pursue a master’s degree in operations management and supply chain from Purdue University.

After getting her master’s, Kelly-Falls again found a job in procurement and knew without a doubt that was the profession for her. It was a category manager role at Ford, where she started working in powertrain programs on the procurement side, later taking on increasingly more responsibility and managing more than a billion dollars in spend.

“I loved it,” she said. “It was exhilarating to me. I was very passionate about that, and knew at that point what essentially my career path would be.”

She was also in manufacturing, just as she knew she wanted to be years before. Her interest in industrial manufacturing, as well as her drive to be deeply involved in business decisions, stems from her father. Kelly-Falls said she grew up watching her dad run his construction company, saw him make important decision that were driving his business strategy and growth.

“I was always interested in that,” she said. “I learned from him. I learned the positive and the negative. But there was just the passion of having lived it day in a and day out.”

Take Advantage of New Opportunities

Kelly-Falls has worked in a number of industries over her career, from the clothing industry in New York City to industrial manufacturing at Ford to aerospace as head of commodity purchasing for Rolls Royce. She also worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Indianapolis teaching a supply chain course in the university’s MBA program. Perhaps the largest shift she has made thus far, though, is turning to the technology industry. Rapid Ratings, where Kelly-Falls has worked since 2011, provides supply chain risk management technology solutions. She joined the company to apply valuable insight she gathered as years working as a procurement practitioner. It was “a leap of faith,” Kelly-Falls admits, turning to working at a technology company. It has given her a different perspective on business and challenged her in new ways to gain new skills.

“I do not regret doing it at all because I have learned so much about the aspects of a business that I never would have had an opportunity to experience,” she said.

Kelly-Falls said she recommends others take advantage of opportunities that may “diverge” a bit from their careers. Whatever you learn during that opportunity will be valuable and serve you well in whatever future career path may be, she added. Taking various opportunities in her own career have played a huge role in her success, too.

“I think I have been successful because I have been given a lot of opportunities and I haven’t been pigeonholed in any one industry or any one product line,” Kelly-Falls said. “So I have a lot to offer due to the diverse career path I have had.”

‘Build Your Personal Brand’

Kelly-Falls also noted how every move she has made in her career has helped develop what she calls her “brand.” While she recommends taking new opportunities throughout a career, she also advices young professionals to be aware of the choices they make early on in their careers and think about how those choices may impact them as they progress in the future. The types of jobs you work, and the companies you work at, help build this personal and professional brand, which future employers can take note of.

“As I have gotten more progressive in my career, I realize my brand is who I am,” she said. “And that is something that is really important to take with me and make sure I am always doing the right thing.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

As for advice Kelly-Falls has specifically for women? She said females working in procurement should recognize their voice deserves to be heard. This lesson is one she learned herself working in the male-dominated industrial manufacturing space at Ford and Rolls Royce. It wasn’t uncommon for her to be the only woman at a table — it still isn’t. Yet she knows she still has something to offer to the conversation and to the business.

“Be passionate, be assertive and don’t be afraid to have a seat at the table,” she said. “Because the experience and the knowledge we can bring as women can be very valuable, regardless of where you are at.”

However, she also advised to be thoughtful with your words and once again think about your personal brand.

“Listen and be willing to have an opinion that is respected. Be thoughtful about your words, be passionate about what you believe, recognizing that, again, part of your brand is what you say and how you are going to be perceived.”

Procurement is ‘Fun’

While Kelly-Falls currently works on the technology side, she admits she sometimes misses being “in the trenches of day-to-day procurement.” Procurement is a diverse profession and the job is always interesting. 

“It’s fun, to be honest. You never know what is going to happen on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “It could be a supplier crisis, it could be something that comes up within the organization that you have to solve.”

Procurement professionals are problem solvers. They are negotiators and they are savvy when it comes to business, she added. To be in procurement, you need to have some knowledge of finance, some knowledge of legal and understand the product development process.

"They have to sort of be generalists to be able to step in wherever they need to,” Kelly-Falls said. “And that is what is fun to me.”

First Voice

  1. Barb Ardell:

    Congratulations on an impressive career, Rose. You’ve offered some great advice!

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