Rachel Hinkes comes to JDA from Blue Yonder, acquired by JDA this past summer. As the vice president of product management for the past two years, she shares how a career pivot years ago was the best decision she ever made. She discusses the importance of following your intuition, how embracing cultural differences can be the key to teamwork, and if you trust yourself and your experiences, you won’t regret any decision you make.

Wisconsin summer with good friends at a Milwaukee Brewer’s baseball game

SCN: Where did you go to school, and what degrees do you have?

I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I earned my Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in industrial and systems engineering.

SCN: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I am a proud Midwestern girl born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Wisconsin Badgers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Green Bay Packers! Currently I live in St. Paul, Minnesota, however, I have been fortunate to live in a variety of places around the world, including Chicago, San Francisco, Australia, Italy, Spain and most recently, Germany.

SCN: What was your first job (ever)?

My very first job was teaching swim lessons in the summer. Being an avid swimmer myself and loving the camaraderie and friendships I developed with my teammates and swim team coaches, I wanted to be a coach myself. This allowed me to provide a similar environment I had experienced as a kid for year-round youth swimmers throughout my high school and college years. It was rewarding teaching them how to excel at a very demanding sport while having fun at the same time.

SCN: How did you get into data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence? I imagine that is not a job one dreams of as a kid!

When I was in my first professional role as a systems integration analyst on the consulting side of the business, I was assigned to work on a project with a start-up company where I was exposed to data science and their accompanying AI/ML software applications. I’ve always naturally been drawn to identifying opportunities for process improvement and because I was so intrigued by the AI/ML solutions I had been introduced to through this project, it felt like a natural move.

SCN: How long have you been with Blue Yonder and what has that experience been like, working for a German company and from the US?

Two and a half years ago when I first started with Blue Yonder, I moved to Germany for eight months so that I could immerse myself in the business and the German culture. This was a critical decision because it provided not only a hands-on learning experience, but also the ability to establish strong working relationships with the team and the chance to embrace a new culture. This gave me knowledge I would not have gained had I only worked from the US side of things. This experience gave all of us on the team an appreciation for our cultural differences and how that plays into our approach to day-to-day operations. We have leveraged these differences to successfully drive the business forward across continents. I have certainly grown from this experience and am grateful for the time I spent onsite. With these established relationships and ongoing, regularly scheduled work time in Germany, coming back to and working from the US has been a smooth transition.

SCN: What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?

The best risk I’ve taken was following my intuition for changing career paths early on in my career. After three successful years working at Accenture, I was so interested in the AI/ML software applications I saw on the systems implementation project I was working on, I decided to move to the start-up company whose project I had been engaged with.

The decision to make this change was filled with uncertainty. The move would take me from a large, established company with a clear career path to a small 100-person startup which gave little guarantee for the future. Looking back, I am so glad I made the move. My journey since then has been an incredible experience full of growth and great people. It was certainly a pivotal decision for me.

SCN: How has your life experience made you the leader (or who you are) you are today?

Three things come to mind. First, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had great mentors in each of the jobs I have held. They have been excellent role models and have invested time in my career development. They have also given me the confidence and encouragement to push myself beyond my comfort zone, which has helped me grow tremendously.

Second, outside of work, studying abroad in Australia had a strong influence on who I’ve become. It was the first time I was truly away from my family for an extended period of time. I was forced to figure out a lot on my own, which gave me the chance to learn to trust myself and my ability to manage new, unknown situations. This experience took a lot of the anxiety out of pushing boundaries and traveling to new places.

Third, I was primarily a year-round swimmer for 10 years, which taught me that commitment, dedication, and hard work pay off in the long-run. It also taught me the importance of teamwork, even in an individual contributor role (or sport). I’ve taken these learnings with me into the business world.

SCN: What is your proudest achievement?

From a personal perspective, the years I worked with youth swimming is my proudest achievement. Coaching swimming was the first long-term opportunity I had in dedicating time to others’ growth. It was a truly rewarding experience.

From a professional perspective, I’d say bringing new AI/ML technologies into business-critical operations and delivering results. I’ve worked in both the energy and supply chain industries and the solutions we’ve delivered are resulting in global impact at every level of society. Driving these industry advancements has been challenging and gratifying.

SCN: What is the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you?

When we were younger, my mom used to tell my brother and me you can learn something from everyone you meet. From some, you will learn what you want to be like and from others you’ll learn the opposite. Both are valuable lessons. I’ve taken this advice with me throughout the years, which has helped me reflect on and learn from good and difficult situations alike.

SCN: Do you have any regrets?

No. Over time I have learned to trust myself and my experiences. A good friend once told me that the universe works with us, not against us. I believe in that. We are all trying to be the best versions of ourselves, so I try not to beat myself up for past decisions or consider anything a regret, rather I deem everything as an opportunity to learn and grow.

SCN: What female leaders do you admire and why?

I have three.

Emma Watson. I’m impressed by the balance she maintains in the midst of fame, her drive for education, and how she has used her popularity to advance society and advocate for women.

Michelle Obama. I’m inspired by how she embraced her role as first lady and used the platform to drive initiatives and give back, especially around kids’ health and girls’ education.

J.K. Rowling. She had such a tough start, but didn’t give up and I’m so thankful for that.  I am a big fan of the Harry Potter series. I especially enjoy how artfully she was able to fold significant life lessons and advice into the magical storyline. She taught us all without us knowing it.

SCN: What are three key words you would use to describe yourself?

Driven, Reflective, Outgoing