30 Under 30 Supply Chain Star Steven Clowney Shares His Top Advice for Young Professionals

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of Q&As with select winners from this year’s Thomas/ISM 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars Recognition Program.

Now a global commodity manager at AGCO Corporation, Steven Clowney has worked at a plethora of big-name companies, from Coca-Cola and Kellogg to Best Buy and Target, and made a name for himself as well. At Best Buy, Clowney identified $1 million in parcel shipping costs avoidance, and his leadership of strategic sourcing activities at National DCP resulted in $4.5 million in annual cost savings.

Clowney, who is married to his wife of five years, Chavonna Savage-Clowney, balances his professional achievements with a fulfilling home life, which includes a “wonderful, energetic” two-year-old son, Xavier.

“My family has sacrificed a tremendous amount for me to pursue my ambitions professionally,” Clowney says, “I am extremely motivated to make my wife and son proud.” Read on for his thoughts on what makes for successful category and supply management, as well as how ambitious young professionals can get involved in major projects and advance in their careers.

Spend Matters: How did you become interested in supply chain?

Steven Clowney: I developed a strong interest in supply chain during my time working at Coca-Cola right after undergrad as a sales leadership associate. I was in a two-year leadership development program and I was exposed to many parts of the business. It was very interesting learning about all of the complex operational processes involved in getting a bottle of Coca-Cola from raw ingredients to the end consumer.

Over time I realized that professionally I am most passionate about working in a role where I am allowed to contribute to an organization by improving a process, reducing cost and/or generating revenue. I truly believe roles in supply chain allow a professional to do all three.

Spend Matters: Your career has spanned multiple big-name companies and functions — from business development to logistics to category management. What have you found to be the most interesting?

Steven Clowney: The most interesting function has certainly been category management.

I have had the opportunity to work in both indirect and direct procurement during my time at National DCP (Dunkin’ Donuts’ supply chain co-op). Both sides of procurement certainly have their challenges, but what is most interesting is that they both require one to build strong relationships internally with key stakeholders along with strong external relationships with current and potential suppliers.

In both roles, one has to be very mindful of internal needs of the business and have a deep understanding of the capabilities of current and potential suppliers in order to add the most value.

Spend Matters: What about the most challenging?

Steven Clowney: I would also say that the role of category management [has also been] the most challenging. When I was promoted to manage liquid dairy and beverages at National DCP, I was tasked with developing sourcing strategies and implementing price-protecting strategies for fairly unstable commodities such as sugar and fresh milk.

There were many factors outside of human control that can impact prices, such as natural disasters like hurricanes or supply shortages due to increased market demand. One certainly has to have an understanding of the commodity markets when developing price-protecting sourcing strategies for fast moving commodities.

 Spend Matters: At National DCP, you were quickly put in charge of a major, $26.8-million technology procurement project. After just 18 months at the company — and the project’s completion — you were promoted to senior category manager. What advice do you have for fellow young supply chain professionals who are eager to take on big responsibilities and move up?

Steven Clowney: My best advice to young professionals is to always be present and do not let moments pass where you have the opportunity to speak up about areas of the business that can be improved and then go after it by exhausting every possible resource provided by the organization to add value to the business.

Spend Matters: The ability to add value is behind why supply management is your preferred function. What are your tenets for successful supply management?

Steven Clowney: My tenets for successful supply management are to first be customer-obsessed, followed by adopting lean/agile philosophies, then embracing new and innovative technology that can help with operational excellence. 

Spend Matters: Speaking of new technologies, what do you think will prove truly disruptive?

Steven Clowney: I believe artificial intelligence will be the most disruptive to supply chain and supply management. The automation that AI will provide to the function will certainly improve the speed of all operational processes.

Spend Matters: What are your ambitions for the future? Where would you like to be in, say, 20 years?

Steven Clowney: In the future I would like to continue working in a supply chain management function where I am responsible for supply chain innovation. In 20 years, I would like to be in an executive level position in a supply chain function where I can develop strategies that contribute to innovative operational processes at a global organization.

Want more 30 Under 30 Q&As? Check out previously published interviews with Charlotte de Brabandt, Rhiana Gallen, Tanner Ryan, Jordan Haller, Leah Williams and Neta Berger.

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