As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia.
In this story, Suzanna Smith, Global Sourcing Director at Tom Tailor, shares what it means to be a leader in today's fast-paced apparel industry and how one fateful decision landed her a role in Indonesia with a company she never heard of before. It turned out to be one of her best career decisions yet.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm an American who grew up in the Midwest in Michigan. I lived in my home town of Grand Rapids until I graduated from high school. I then went to the University of Michigan for my undergraduate degree in Business and continued my education at the University of Chicago, where I earned my MBA.
I have always had a passion for travel. During my early career, I lived and worked throughout the US in Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California. I do have to say, however, that my biggest and most influential move was when I came to Asia in 2009. Since then, I've loved every minute of my 12 years working in Hong Kong and Jakarta.
Currently, I am the Global Sourcing Director at Tom Tailor. With this role, I am responsible for apparel sourcing from our headquarters in Hong Kong, as well as our offices in Bangladesh, Turkey, Pakistan, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.
Q: You began your career in finance. How did you become interested in the supply chain/procurement space? How did your finance background help your current role?
After getting my MBA, I wanted to get into the apparel business because I love fashion and retail. So I accepted a role at Gap as a Sourcing Manager in Miami. They already had a Head of Finance, and in hindsight, this was probably the best redirection of my career I could have hoped for. I became the right hand to the General Manager of Gap.
This was a great training ground for me, but after 13 years, I decided I wanted more industry experience. Next came a position at Quiksilver as Head of Sourcing Strategy and Finance. This eventually led to my next opportunity at Adidas as their Head of Apparel Costing. At that point, all my experiences came together. I moved on to become Head of Sourcing for Matahari, and now Tom Tailor.
Q: What have you had to sacrifice for your career?
The only sacrifice I can think of is that I've had to move a lot. You leave friends and family and have to start over. On the other hand, it has also been my biggest enjoyment, and it has given me so many opportunities. Now I have friends all over the world, and the industry has also become my family.
Q: What are some lessons or stories that are unique to you being a female leader?
In my view, women tend to not ask for things that are important to them; women also question whether they deserve a promotion. Women generally don't complain about pay inadequacy. And although women seem to work very hard and drive for results, it's assumed that this will gain them the recognition and compensation they deserve. It doesn't always work out that way, especially if they don't ask for it.
It's my personal goal to help young women through these issues, as I've had to go through them myself. For instance, when I was promoted to Senior Director at Gap, I didn't expect this or understand how I got there. I've learned now as a Leader what it means to be assertive, to ask questions, ask for support and insist on clarity on how to get ahead.
Is this a question for women leaders or all leaders? I feel it is both. In my view, companies don't put enough focus on communicating what the expectations are and set a clear path for each person, man or woman, in terms of how we can all be successful.
Q: What are the best and worst decisions you've ever made?
Hands down, my best decision was to ask for an international assignment. It has given me so much perspective from working with global teams and personal enjoyment in my career. This decision also opened the door for my future roles.
As for my worst decision, I would say not setting down roots in HK when I had the chance years ago. It's so expensive now!
Q: What leadership traits do you admire the most?
This is easy for me. I want to work with people and companies who are honest and down-to-earth. Also, I need to be supported and given the respect and trust to make decisions.
Q: What's the best advice you have ever received?
Let me preface this by saying, with my background in finance, finance people can be pretty black and white, with no grey areas. However, what I've experienced as a leader is that you need to be able to accept it's not always black and white. You have to feel comfortable in the grey zone and adapt to each person.
The best advice I was given was not to be so black and white, accept that not everyone is like you. You need to invest in leadership training, listen to your peers and team members. Know that you don't have to have all the answers, but you do need to be receptive to others ideas and feelings.
Q: Would you have done anything differently in terms of your career or personal life if you knew what you know now?
I would have moved to warmer weather sooner. But seriously, I wouldn't change a thing. Every time I've moved or taken on more responsibility, it's been a learning experience and a wonderful outcome. The other major learning I've had is to take risks. Failing can sometimes be the best way to learn. If you don't take risks, you don't fail, but you don't grow if you don't fail.
When I left Adidas, I moved to Indonesia to join a company I had never heard of until a recruiter contacted me. I knew it was a risk, but I did it to be the Head of Sourcing, a position that I had never had before. My friends told me not to move my furniture there and to keep them in storage in Hong Kong. However, I took the risk and ended up loving Indonesia so much!
Q: What advice would you give to women who aspire to lead businesses, especially in the supply chain and procurement fields?
I would encourage women to speak up. Know that your point of view matters, and when you are not sure or need guidance, reach out to other women in similar positions who can share their experiences. Also, use your network. Women are really good at that.
Q: What are your passions, and how do you unplug from work?
I love travelling, which has been really impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I also love exercising, specifically yoga and running, which has gotten me through the stress of COVID-19. Cooking is also a passion of mine, and I love making Asian dishes here in Asia and Western food when I go home. I spend a lot of time with friends and family, although most of which are happening virtually now. I've also taken sommelier classes because I enjoy wine, both for its taste and its history.
Q: If you could have one superpower, what would you like it to be?
Can I have two? I would like to read minds and have a crystal ball to see what the future will bring.
This interview was conducted by Eliza Ho, Partner with Page Executive and Head of Supply Chain, Operations & Procurement Practice, with a primary focus on the search and selection of business leaders, functional heads and C-Suites within the Supply Chain space. She brings 14 years of executive search experience supporting clients on leadership level hires within APAC.
Being a specialist recruiter in the world of Supply Chain & Logistics which is still traditionally seen as a male-dominated sector, Eliza has witnessed the growth in female leaders in the region. Working on various senior assignments in the region has given her the opportunity to meet a number of highly accomplished female leaders in the industry. Many of them have risen the ranks within their organisations due to their capabilities, tenacity, strong work ethic and support from family, friends and co-workers.
For the next 6 months, Eliza will connect with some of these successful female leaders in Asia to talk about their personal and professional challenges in achieving success in the Supply Chain & Procurement sector.
Partner with Eliza Ho to strengthen your senior leadership team.