Sandra MacQuillan: A Supply Chain Champion
It is with sadness, but also great respect and love that I write this testament to a friend and inspiration for so many of us in the world of supply chain. Sandra MacQuillan brought a truly rare blend of toughness, candor, and approachability to the huge job of leading supply chain organizations at Mars, Kimberly Clark, and most recently, Mondelez International. She was a true supply chain champion.
It is with sadness, but also great respect and love that I write this testament to a friend and inspiration for so many of us in the world of supply chain. Sandra MacQuillan passed away this week after a courageous battle with cancer, and yet there is no doubt that her power, positivity, and generous spirit will ring loudly for years to come.
Making People Better
Sandra brought a truly rare blend of toughness, candor, and approachability to the huge job of leading supply chain organizations at Mars, Kimberly Clark, and most recently, Mondelez International. She was lightning quick with a smile and flourish of encouragement, but never shy about calling out a miss or taking a contrarian stance. I sought her advice many times in the dozen years we worked together precisely because I knew she’d spot the mistakes without losing sight of the bigger mission. She was a great and trusted advisor.
I first met Sandra at a Mars strategy session in a windowless room somewhere behind the scenes at the gigantic M&M store in London. She was one of about 15 senior leaders gathered for a global planning meeting. I was there to lead a discussion on tech trends in supply chain. Sandra (of course) was the first to challenge my pitch with a typically incisive critique of a careless assumption I had made about factory automation. I worried that I had lost her confidence, but as the meeting ended, she walked up and complimented me on the session, declaring warmly that she looked forward to more!
This was to become a pattern – tough love, with equal emphasis on both “tough” and “love”.
Leading by Leading
Sandra was a phenomenal leader who exemplified the merits of leading by doing. She was a dyed-in-the-wool operations person, trained as a mechanical engineer. Having cut her teeth in manufacturing and supply chain through 18 years at Mars, you couldn’t lose Sandra in the details. She could do your job, so you’d better be on your toes.
More impressive though is how Sandra scaled herself into someone who could lead by leading. Assuming big roles as CSCO first for Kimberly Clark and then Mondelez, Sandra was brilliant as an executive. Her grounding as a doer gave her an especially acute sense of the need, and the means, to bring everyone along as she drove change at the highest levels of business.
She visibly cared about operators on the front lines, team leaders, and her own direct reports which built trust and confidence. I experienced this in Atlanta with one of her key lieutenants at Kimberly Clark whom she pulled out of a factory role to drive some serious strategic thinking about technology as the company wrestled with a major transformation. This individual was special because he demonstrated the potential for everyone to be vital to the future. He also proved that the new CSCO cared as much about her team as she did about the shareholders.
People will follow such a leader.
Leaving a Legacy
My sharpest memory of Sandra goes back to a loud and buzzy event dinner in 2017. I was down about work, but busily hiding it with smiles and glib banter. Somehow, in the midst of the din, Sandra managed to give me five minutes’ worth of wisdom that put me back on track. It literally brought tears to my eyes at the time and remains a moment I think about whenever I waiver in my commitment to supply chain as mission.
Supply chain is vast, and as we have all seen over the past few years, essential to solving the big problems from climate change to economic resilience. Sandra understood this and lent her brain, heart, and soul to the cause, serving on the Zero100 Advisory Board among many other worthy organizations. The work of uniting people, process, and technology for the betterment of our world is exhilarating, but it requires attention to detail and an engineer’s mentality to build something that will last.
Sandra’s legacy is about making us all better, keeping us all on track, and realizing a future for supply chain that serves humanity for the long run.