Larry Phelan: Driving and Leading Transformation and Innovation

Larry Phelan

The last couple of years have challenged the way how supply chains operate. Networks have been disrupted, with growth and profitability being at stake. Today’s supply chain leaders must be agile, willing to embrace change, and show an ability to reimagine the existing networks to adapt to the supply challenges of tomorrow. Larry Phelan, Chief Supply Chain Services Officer at EY Global Services Limited, is one such leader who has risen to the challenges of the current economic and geopolitical environment by adopting a truly global mindset. Starting out as a Procurement Officer, Larry rose to be the leader of supply chain services at EY, even winning the 15th position of the Top 100 Supply Chain Leaders in 2021! He was granted this award for his remarkable work as an innovator of more resilient, sustainable, and diverse supply chains. He also brought about transformational change at EY by prioritizing culture, strengthening the connective tissue of their supplier ecosystem, and elevating procurement as a strategic opportunity to drive both financial and social value.

Larry is an authentic, inclusive, and inspirational business leader whose keen support for diverse and inclusive teams and suppliers was noted with the WBENC platinum level award for providing support to women-owned businesses. The instigator of innovation has been nominated for World Procurement Leader Award in 2016, 2017, and most recently in March 2022. When Larry is not busy trying to lead and change the supply chain services of the world – he can be found traveling, going to the theatre, enjoying golfing with family, or supporting the local not-for-profit programs.

CIO Look caught up with Larry Phelan on his journey to becoming a business leader at EY, bringing change to the supply chain industry, and his future plans.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at EY. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

My journey as a business leader followed a similar path as others, proactively accumulating experiences and building a network of leaders who saw promise in me, allowing me to develop. From 1985 to 1990, I worked for three different financial services companies and began to build my foundational process, finance/technology, and leadership skills. From 1990-1995, I worked as a financial systems consultant for Price Waterhouse (PW).

From 1995 to 1998, I served as the Deputy CIO of PW and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) as a Senior Partner; they saw something in me, a bit of a diamond in the rough, untapped potential, and extended the role to me. From 1998-1999, I took my process, consulting, and technology experiences and transferred to the PwC Transaction Advisory Services business. I joined EY in 1999 as the EY Americas Operation and Technology Due Diligence Leader, supporting Private Equity and Corporate investors, and was in that role until 2008.

In 2008, I was asked to focus on building better linkages between Finance and Technology as well as lead a small team managing procurement contracts. In 2009, I was asked to assess and consolidate all EY teams spending across the globe in all categories. Now, after a dozen years of focusing on category, sub-category goods and services, how supplier relationships can advance top-line revenue growth, and direct/indirect spend management, I am proud to say EY teams have an integrated Supply Chain Service that is broad, from contract sourcing to supplier management to payment, organization. My challenges required self-awareness and self-reflection. I had to embrace a global mindset, learn to balance my usual hard-charging approach with empathy and patience, master the ability to instigate and drive change, work around the blockers, convince the naysayers and find ways to ‘get the job done’ when recipients have no interest in change.

Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.

As a global leader in Assurance, Consulting, Strategy and Transactions, and Tax services, EY teams are using the finance products, experience, and systems we’ve developed to build a better working world. That starts with a culture that believes in providing the training, opportunities, and creative freedom to make things better. Whenever you join EY, however long you stay, the exceptional EY experience of innovation lasts a lifetime. And with a commitment to developing the most passionate people, we’ll make our ambition to be the best employer a reality.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted supply chain niche through your expertise in the market.

EY focus on ‘no change, no future’ has helped enable us to transform and continually reinvent the Supply Chain for EY teams. The components of Supply Chain Services at EY are diverse and complex. Knowing how to leverage technology and innovate is paramount. We are constantly looking at how suppliers can advance our agenda and bring improvements based on their experiences working with other organizations.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

First and foremost, since the industry and the Supply Chain Services (SCS) function is recognized for delivering savings, the SCS function at EY is laser focused on providing quantitative value (QV) in terms of savings and cost avoidance and the value return EY teams have come to expect from the SCS function (cost of SCS compared to QV delivered).

However, more relevant in today’s volatile economic and geopolitical environment, a second SCS focus is on going beyond its core responsibilities and delivering non-monetary benefits, which we refer to as Brand Value or BV, such as supporting top-line revenue growth, improving EY people experiences, business process improvement, supplier innovation, risk mitigation, and increasingly diverse and sustainable supplier engagement to name just a few.

Third, transformation and innovation are the SCS DNA and influence what the team does themselves and what they do working with our suppliers. The bottom line, the work culture is one of learning fast from failure and looking to innovate. It’s all about the long game, which means the decisions taken are not only for today but for tomorrow. And, if I may add, one very important part of the SCS culture, is to be mindful of your well-being and have fun!

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

SCS demands that our suppliers bring technology advances to EY so we can devise functional solutions. Internally, we leverage core ERP, AI, and specialty software solutions to bring an enhanced level of experience to EY business stakeholders.

What change would you like to bring to the supply chain industry if given a chance?

More focus on delivering Brand Value. While QV is a staple and expectation in organizations, delivery beyond QV is what will differentiate the good from the great supply chain services. As previously described, BV is about improving solutions to give more employee benefits and more to EY client servers to better provide service to their clients.

What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the supply chain sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change? 

Sustainability, diversity, supplier ecosystem redundancy, and collaboration with business stakeholders are already top priorities and will continue to be so. If you’re not focused on them already, then you need to be.

Nationalistic tendencies, limited globalist philosophies, employees setting the bar for where they work, and the pace of technology change requires constant review and changes quarterly. The issues we are facing are not all related to the demand but instead, external factors that influence how the supply chain will look in the future.

How is your company preparing for that change?

Supply Chain Services and EY Supply Chain Consulting Service work together to assess solutions that will be meaningful for EY teams and companies in the future.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for EY?

As I look to the future, I see myself as a significant influencer, driving and leading the transformation and innovation of the SCS function at EY and the SCS industry. EY teams requires a leading-class Supply Chain Services function supporting business issues and transformation. The SCS industry needs to be focused on what it can do for the business beyond financial benefits.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the supply chain sector?

In terms of being on the supply side, I would advise budding entrepreneurs to make sure they have a viable solution for the company they are seeking to do business with. In other words, know your audience and bring an experience that matches the needs of the respective company that is easy to use with an ability to integrate into the broader ecosystem of the organization. In terms of being part of a supply chain team, I would advise a focus on sustainability and diversity and adapting EY SCS mantra of ‘No change, no future.

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