When Gema Verdin from Ajinomoto Foods North America was told that not everyone likes a smart woman, she saw it not as something to overcome but something to reach past. Gema jumped on career-growing opportunities every chance she could so she could learn and improve her skills. Today, she is the Vice President of Supply Chain Management and Customer Service at Ajinomoto Foods, a $1 billion company that manufacturers frozen food in the Asian, Mexican, Italian, and appetizer food categories. She is responsible for customer service, demand planning, production, planning and logistics. She spoke to Susan Beal, Chief Customer Officer at Blue Yonder, recently during a “Fearless Females of Supply Chain” Blue Yonder Live session.

Q: Tell us how you got to where you are today.

Gema:  I actually started out in finance and then started to take on various roles in supply chain from inventory control, demand planning, production, planning, business integration systems, and e-commerce. I’ve had a wonderful career in supply chain. I think colleges need to do a better job of marketing supply chain careers. Supply chain has been a great career for me as a mother and as a wife to be able to balance both my life and my work at the different stages of it. Supply chain has both a planning and an execution side. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do many jobs in the field, which has helped me grow my arsenal, my toolbox, to get to where I am today. Many times, I took jobs or positions that no one wanted, but I knew that I needed to do them so I could learn. Afterall, the best way to learn the job is to do the job.

Q: What are you seeing from your perspective with regards to women in supply chain?

Gema: From what I see, there are not a lot of women in the technology and supply chain space. These fields tend to be dominated by men. But it’s also up to us as women to break the stigma. I think it’s more that there’s a belief that these are very hard or complex fields and there’s a lot of math and science. However, these roles are really about making good decisions and having good judgment – and learning best practices. We also need to do more marketing of these careers to women. For me, it’s similar to those old commercials you used to see for the Marines, if you want to see the world and learn new things, join supply chain!

Another thing is that sometimes, as women, we think we want to have these glamorous roles or careers but what we don’t realize is that the world is constantly evolving and supply chain is critical. But not as critical as being a doctor, nurse, police, or firefighter, where someone might die. But it is still critical! You are helping to move stuff from Point A to Point B. And as long as people are buying things, you have a job. If you think about it, this career goes back to the Romans. The success of the Roman Empire depended on how well they moved supplies and fed their soldiers. There’s always something exciting happening in supply chain. The job is always changing, always evolving. And that’s what makes it interesting for someone that wants a very exciting career.

Q: Looking back over your career, is there anything you would have done differently?

Gema: When I think back, I probably would have been more assertive. Being young, I was very shy. I also grew up in an age and in an environment where the advice I would get is if you’re getting into a role that’s very dominated by men, men don’t like smart women. Be quiet. Stay in the background. Had I been fast forwarded to today’s age, I would have been more assertive.

Q: Is there any other advice that you want to make sure that we impart to those watching today?

Gema: My advice is to always seek opportunities. Don’t be afraid to seek out these opportunities, and don’t be afraid to be tenacious in learning something new as well. It’s going to help you grow your toolbox and do a better job. Like I mentioned, I was very fortunate in the different stages of my career to take on different roles. That’s only going to enrich you! As I said earlier, there’s the planning and execution part of supply chain so don’t be afraid to move within these areas. It’s going to make you a better person, especially when it comes to making great decisions and being able to manage. Another piece of advice is to surround yourself and work with smart people.

Q: What’s next for you?

Gema: Right now, I am focusing on implementing a distribution resource planning (DRP) project with Blue Yonder in support from EY. Our goal is to go-live in January 2023. We’re really excited that it’s going to help our company tremendously and it will help digitize our supply chain. After that, we’re hoping to go into transportation management (TMS) and eventually evolve into integrated business planning (IBP).

Q: Thank you for being a great customer! I want to thank you again for joining us today and sharing your insights. Any last thoughts before we wrap?

Gema: Seize the day! And again, I am very happy we’ve partnered up with Blue Yonder, really looking forward to a successful go-live in January.

Watch Gema’s “Fearless Females of Supply Chain” Blue Yonder Live session here.