IWD: Interview with Manhattan Associates

Paid partnership with Manhattan Associates

In celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD), I spoke to two of Manhattan Associates’ female leaders – Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer, and Heather Mahan, Vice President, Professional Services. From balancing careers with motherhood to overcoming imposter syndrome, we candidly explore some of the challenges that women in business face and share inspirational ideas for change among future female leaders.

Can you name a female role model and how she has influenced your career?

HM: My very first professional experience was at a Fortune 300 chemical manufacturing company. My manager led the quality department and was one of a few female directors in the company. To this day more than 25 years later, I think about and strive to emulate her leadership style, her presence among her peers and her senior management team, her pragmatism, and her confidence.

In a company of engineers and chemists, mostly men, she with her journalism degree brought up female leaders and built balanced-gender and high-performing teams. I didn’t realize at the time what an influence she would have on me but looking back now I am beyond grateful that she was my first boss.

What is the most important piece of advice you have ever been given?

ASR: To move up, you have to be willing to move laterally or even down occasionally for the right opportunities. Keep your eyes on the prize but pace yourself. There are many ways to the top.

“IWD means celebrating and recognizing the significant contributions that women have made to our societies at large. It is an invitation and call-of-action to women of all ages to dream big, speak up and take actions.” – Ann Sung Ruckstuhl

What are the biggest challenges that women in business face today?

ASR: I see two big challenges for women in business today. First, a self-defeating attitude which causes women to constantly second-guess ourselves before reaching for the stars. We tend to over-prepare, under-appreciate our abilities, and end up “not putting our names in the hat” for that next opportunity or promotion. Second, a general lack of C-level sponsors who are willing to coach and give women a shot at the top c-level jobs.

HM: Being a mom and a woman in business is a juggling act. Women still often carry the majority of kid duty, from getting groceries and planning meals, to laundry, to homework help, to shuttling to practice and rehearsal, to making and taking doctor and dentist appointments. The shift in duties at home has not happened as quickly as the shift in our hours at the office, and women in business are challenged to be everything to everyone.

Can you share a time you encountered a challenge as a woman in business and how you overcame it?

ASR: The biggest challenge I encountered in business came as I embarked on motherhood. There were so many moments of discouragement that made me want to step off the fast track. Having to return to work in less than 6 weeks after childbirth, figuring out how to continue to nurse while traveling for business, worrying about quality childcare; there were so many obstacles to overcome. My saving grace was having a supportive husband, a network of friends and trusted paid help who provided the necessary “infrastructure” to make work and life possible.

HM: One of the most common challenges I’ve faced and continue to face is having to work a little harder than male counterparts to establish credibility. I remember being barely 25 when I was sent to Sao Paulo to support a troubled project start up. It took a solid three days until any of the leaders at the site would even acknowledge me, much less listen. However, by the end of the week I had a queue of supervisors asking me for help solving their problems. They begged me to stay an extra week, and when I did eventually fly home, they sent me home with hugs and gifts. 

“We need to seek out talented women and mentor them early and often.” – Heather Mahan

What is your proudest professional moment to date?

HM: Two years ago, Manhattan launched Manhattan Active Warehouse Management, our new warehouse management system, versionless and born in the cloud. I led the team that implemented that new solution successfully for our first customer, through COVID, labour shortages, and the supply chain disruption that was 2020. That implementation more than any other in which I’ve participated brought together colleagues from nearly all parts of our organization. Together we delivered value beyond expectation for our customer and in the process ignited the market for our innovative new technology.

How can we encourage more women into leadership positions?

ASR: The desire to lead must come from within. For those who are not interested in leadership positions, it is ok. For those who are interested, we can encourage them to take next steps by doing a couple of things. First, make yourself available for coaching, mentoring, skip-level 1:1s and informational interviews. Second, be your authentic self and share your experiences, routes to leadership, and useful life hacks freely. Actions speak louder than words. Women learn from each other naturally; interactions and benefits go both ways indeed.

HM: As one of a handful of senior female leaders at our company, I try to be highly visible and available for any conversation about career progression, how to balance work and family, and provide input on hard problems, off the record or on. I am transparent about how hard it is sometimes: stressful for me, hard on my husband, and unfair to my three girls when I am traveling or working long hours. But I encourage women that they can find their way and their leadership makes a difference. We also need to provide flexibility in assignments, travel requirements, and office schedules.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would you tell her?

ASR: Don’t be so anxious about wanting more – more intellectual stimulation, more travel, more experiences, more friends, more kids, more love, more money, more physical fitness. Pace yourself. You’ll get all that you need, just not all at the same time. So rejoice with what you have, just keep an eye out for that next aspiration.

How can the supply chain industry encourage more women to make it their long-term careers?

ASR: First, inspire women to be a part of the solution by highlighting the multi-faceted challenges facing the supply chain industry – from warehousing, transportation, automation, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, omnichannel retail, environmental sustainability, social responsibilities, ethical business practices to change management – all exciting areas for career growth as well as opportunities to help build a better society.

Second, support women to stay in the industry by providing family-friendly policies including childcare, elderly care, training, proactive career planning and flexible work arrangements.

If you could wave a wand & change one thing for the next generation of female leaders, what would it be?

HM: I would make it possible for moms to have the option to go back to work and keep climbing without concern for their child’s well-being or a financial burden.

ASR: When it comes to that next promotion or career change, be “gender blind” and stop second-guessing yourself. You can do it.

#IWD #Manhinfluencer


Consumer Uncategorized

Coronavirus – What Retailers Do Now Will Define Them in the Future

As 21st-century consumers, we’ve gotten used to having the world at our fingertips. Then seemingly overnight, all the stuff we take for granted is in question – access to healthcare; groceries on shelves; the ability to travel, go to school, socialise with friends.

The fear of getting ill, our loved ones getting ill or the uncertainty of it all has led to unprecedented levels of panic buying.

Essentials like hand soap and toilet paper disappeared from shelves and retailers began rationing goods like pasta and tinned vegetables. This weekend, I spent 15 minutes staring at my laptop screen as I waited in a virtual queue to order groceries, only to find the next available slot wasn’t for another week.

This might sound trivial. I am, however, self-isolating because of a cough so I’m even more reliant on online deliveries than normal. I suspect I’m not alone.

Retailers have been remarkable in their response, forgoing any hint of usual competitive behaviour to serve their communities. Staff are on the front line, doing their best to keep shelves stocked and alleviate concerns about potential food shortages. But uncertainty breeds irrational behaviour.

Retailers have therefore had to make some very difficult decisions. Aldi, for example, is limiting shoppers to four items of everything it sells. Ocado, meanwhile, has effectively closed its doors to new customers. Unable to cope with the surge in demand for online groceries, Ocado is exclusively serving existing shoppers – a risky but commendable move.

What retailers do today will define them in the future, whether that’s converting perfume factories to make hand sanitiser like LVMH or turning car parks into coronavirus testing sites like Walmart.

In the UK, Lush was the first high street retailer to take action against the virus, encouraging shoppers to come in and wash their hands without any pressure to make a purchase.

In recent days, there have been numerous examples of retailers putting people before profit. Frozen food retailer Cook is offering customers a free frozen meal to take to an ill or elderly neighbour. Some supermarkets such as Carrefour in France and Iceland in Northern Ireland have begun opening earlier exclusively for the over-70s. To protect its staff and the community, Patagonia was one of the first retailers to shut not only its shops but its ecommerce operations too. Meanwhile, Morrisons will begin paying its small suppliers immediately to help them with cash flow during the outbreak.

Tip of the iceberg

These are unprecedented times. In the coming weeks, as self-isolation becomes more prevalent in a bid to slow the spread of the disease, what might this mean for retail?

First, as we’ve seen in recessions or in fact any period of prolonged uncertainty, consumer behaviour changes instantaneously. We drop right down to the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, covering our physiological and safety needs.

Major banks have promised relief to consumers by increasing credit limits, waiving fees on missed payments and offering payment holidays on loans and mortgages. Get ready for discretionary consumption to largely shut down. But even without financial constraints, it’s hard to imagine shoppers wanting to splash out on a new jacket or skirt when they might, quite literally, have nowhere to go.

The coronavirus outbreak has had an immediate effect on travel retailers such as WHSmith, which issued a coronavirus-related profit warning; the retailer is bracing for sales at UK airport shops to drop by over a third in March and April. Cineworld, meanwhile, has said the outbreak could ultimately result in the world’s second-largest cinema chain going out of business. This is, unfortunately, just the tip of the iceberg.

However, as consumers prepare to cocoon, perhaps there will be some silver linings. Retailers should be prepared for consumers to swap physical shops for digital storefronts, cinemas for Netflix, restaurants for takeaways and, perhaps for some, the gym for a Peloton-esque experience at home. April is officially National Home Improvement Month – with millions of people stuck indoors there’ll be plenty of opportunities to get those DIY projects done.

Perhaps the supermarkets could offer pre-packed grocery bundles to consumers affected by coronavirus. We’re already seeing new consumer groups trial grocery delivery for the first time. How will online retailers cater to new demographics? Will we see a longer-term shift to frozen food? Electricals retailer said freezer sales jumped 200% in the first week of March, while Iceland has also seen an uplift in sales as shoppers stock up in case of self-isolation.

Social distancing will require the world to temporarily slow down, but perhaps that in itself is not such a bad thing. In China, CO2 emissions have been around 25% lower than normal over the past month. This could prove to be a meaningful time for reflection, to live a simpler life – enjoying cooking, reading, spending time with immediate family. Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort believes coronavirus will result in a “quarantine of consumption”, allowing humanity to reset its values. Then again, it might just result in a lot of divorces.

Uncertainty may lie ahead, but retailers play a vital role in helping local communities through this crisis.

A version of this article originally appeared on Retail Week.

E-commerce Retail trends Store of the future Uncategorized

The future of retail? Blended. [VIDEO]

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It was a pleasure to work with Dropbox on this future of retail campaign. There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there, but I believe the future is bright for those retailers willing to reconfigure for the digital age. In the future, retail will be more blended in that we’ll see an acceleration of the convergence of physical and digital worlds, but also in the sense that retail space will be less about retail. We’ll see a greater blurring of the lines between retail, hospitality and leisure.