“Do It” — ISM/ThomasNet “30 Under 30” Megawatt Winner Dan Kaskinen on Supply Chain Careers

Earlier this month, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and Thomasnet.com announced the winners of their third annual 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars Recognition Program. This year’s Megawatt Winner title went to Dan Kaskinen for his work in standardizing processes and realizing $3 million in savings at Sonic Automotive, where he worked as a strategic sourcing manager until February. (Kaskinen has since moved into another strategic sourcing role at Premier Inc.)

Kaskinen participated in a Q&A with Spend Matters recently to talk about the appeal of working in supply chain (hint: the key word is exposure), career zigzags, disruptive tech and more. A voracious reader, Kaskinen also shared with us the one book that has had the biggest effect on his career.

Spend Matters: How did you decide to go into the supply chain field?

Dan Kaskinen: One of my majors in college was a specialized supply chain program focused on automotive parts distribution. My first career stop was a management trainee program where I was exposed to just about every function of the business, and I kept realizing I was most interested in the supply chain related aspects of the company.

SM: What do you enjoy most about working in supply chain?

DK: The exposure. Interacting with different business units leads to being involved in a marketing project, then a facilities project, then an IT project, and so on. With that exposure comes involvement with the associated projects each are working on, along with the opportunity to learn the language and interact with the different supplier bases each group utilizes. I most enjoy figuring out how to connect the dots, whether that's trying to make sure each individual project supports a common goal or identifying the hidden thread and trying to unite efforts across silos.

More than anything, supply chain really lets me take a step back and [ask myself], if this were my company, how would I do this? Does this project make sense to take on? How do I make this a better strategic outcome for the company as a whole rather than just filling a short-term need?

SM: There’s a talent gap in the field of supply chain, and one of the goals of the “30 Under 30” competition is to encourage more young people to pursue supply chain careers. Do you have any advice for recent grads or college students who are interested in this field?

DK: Do it. Instead of just doing marketing or just doing accounting, the potential is there to interact in a meaningful way with every major business unit. You really do get the experience of "a day in the life" with these different departments as you have to integrate yourself as a part of that project team and interact with the respective suppliers in that field. Getting that valuable exposure across the company helps you figure out where your passion really lies and makes you valuable to the company as you have a much broader view than most others.

SM: Millennials have a reputation for job-hopping, but you can also find plenty of young people who have stayed at the same company for years. What is your take on this?

DK: I've always heard opportunity presents itself when you're ready, but I've come to think that really means opportunity presents itself once you've figured out how to identify it. For me personally, I want to know a little about a lot of different areas, and this has led to me having a bit of a zigzag career path. I'd say it really comes down to what the timing supports and if you have a path to your goal at your current employer. Whether the goal is a move up or wanting to get involved with something new, there's a lot to be said for both moving within a company and joining a new one.

SM: And in that vein, can you tell me a bit about your decision to move to Premier Inc.?

DK: I joined the automotive industry at a time when Chrysler was already bankrupt and General Motors was getting ready to file. After continuing in the automotive space throughout the rest of my 20s, I was getting ready for a fresh challenge to take on. The conversation with Premier presented itself as an opportunity to join a new team looking to take on new initiatives. This intrigued me as it meant a healthy learning curve, the chance to help develop the strategy of the team, and the runway to keep growing professionally. On top of that, healthcare would be a new industry for me, and it's one that carries a really interesting uncertainty around it moving forward.

SM: Technology never fails to be brought up in discussions on millennials’ strengths in the workplace. Which technologies do you think can prove disruptive for supply chain?

DK: There are three categories that really excite me — artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Internet of Things, and self-operating vehicles. This next leap in computing is going to have a huge impact once we figure out how to implement machines that have the ability to essentially program and operate themselves into our everyday workflow, and I'm excited about having access to another way of thinking entirely that can help fill in the holes in knowledge we'll always have. These computer brains — combined with the connectivity and data generated from everything being connected to the internet — will generate some extremely interesting insights and abilities that I don't know if anyone grasps right now.

When you [consider] self-operating vehicles, such as self-driving passenger vehicles, semi and delivery trucks, different drone/fixed wing delivery units and now delivery robots that operate on sidewalks… it really makes me wonder what the world will look like in the next few years. The only thing I know is I can't wait to see it, and hopefully I'll have a hand in making it happen!

SM: Reading is a big hobby of yours, and last year you read 28 books. If you could suggest one book for fellow young supply chain professionals, what would it be?

DK: My first reaction here is to pass on a piece of advice. Read anything you're interested in. If you don't enjoy what you sit down to read, you won't finish it and you'll just waste time and effort.

With that said, one book that has left a big impact on me is “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration,” by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. This is the story of how Pixar was built. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom contained in these pages intertwined with behind-the-scenes stories.

While it doesn't come off as a supply chain book at first glance, there hasn't been a book that has affected my career more. The steps involved with making a movie are really quite similar to how we source something new: identify an opportunity or idea, research, put a rough framework in place of how we think it could look, get stakeholder feedback to further mold the idea, iterate while continuing communication with the stakeholders, and finish with something we'd be happy with consuming ourselves. The lessons written down here have really opened my eyes on how I approach communication internally and where I think supply chain should fit within a company.

SM: What are your future career plans? What can we expect from you in 20 years?

DK: I always struggle when people ask me where I want to be in X years. I think I struggle answering because what I'd like to be doing and interacting with probably doesn't exist yet. Essentially every job I've hired into has been either a brand new role or a new take on an existing role, and I can't think of a single time I didn't end up deviating pretty drastically from what I was hired to do. I can't shake the feeling I'll be leading a company, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out it's one I've started.

 This interview has been edited and condensed.

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