Identifying Value with Leah Halvorson, 30 Under 30 Supply Chain Star and Director of Procurement at Minneapolis Public Schools

ThomasNet and the Institute for Supply Management collaborated to launch the "30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars" Recognition Program, an initiative that acknowledges procurement professionals under 30 years old for their strategic thinking and expertise.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with one of its winners, Leah Halvorson, who heads the Minneapolis Public School district's procurement department as its director of procurement and supply chain development.

Carrying an air of ambition, she continuously emphasized the importance of bringing value to the students through her team's purchases and using creative methods to determine ROI. In addition, she also feels responsible for learning about her environment and how the decisions her team makes impact the organization as a whole.

It's your first day as Director of Procurement & Supply Chain Development at MPS – what's that first item on your agenda?

"I take an approach that's similar to what the first 100 days are for a president of the United States, which is that, within a hundred days, it's going to take some time to observe, learn where you're at and acclimate to your surroundings, and then make changes after that process is complete. I'm not the kind of leader who just comes in and bulldozes, making changes right that second without being informed." 

In fiscal 2014, you saved the school system $2 million. What approach did you use that allowed you to identify and reallocate those savings? 

"Up until three years ago, our procurement department did not serve a support role, and that was one of the things that I changed when I took over. My team and I turned it from a transactional department of just turning requisitions and purchase orders and adding in vendors to truly supporting business units and schools so that they could support their students.

"For example, one thing I did was work with our high users, both by spend or by volume, for printed materials – whether those were report cards, brochures, marketing materials, etc. When we were looking to save money in fiscal 2014, we did that by opening our document center. On any given job, on average, that document center saves us about 60 to 80 percent.

"Getting approval for this item involved developing trust among users, saying 'Look, we have XYZ area that's using it, here's how much we can save them on this job and this is what they used with that money instead.' Now, we can do something more impactful such as hiring a teacher or freeing up more time for teachers to spend with their students."

How do you think procurement can be leveraged to support the ideas behind education? In other words, how do you think your strategic approach to purchasing management positively impacts students? 

"If an individual from any department within the organization says 'Give me the information I need to source a learning management system,' my job is to ask:

  • 'How do we determine what that return on investment is going to be?'
  • 'How will it impact student performance here at Minneapolis Public Schools?'
  • 'Is it going to impact my stakeholders (the administrators, staff and teachers) so they have more time to dedicate resources to students?'

"In some cases, [the answers] are pretty black or white. In other cases, especially within education … it tends to be difficult to really define, to say 'This software is why a student graduated high school' when three years ago he or she was a struggling student.

"We initially look at why we want to source something, why an item is in place and then monitor and assess that item on a quarterly and annual basis to see if the needle is moving – whether it's through the soft side or the hard dollar impact."

Do you think the "30 Under 30" program is important? Why? 

"I'm really happy that ThomasNet and IMS are celebrating individuals in the profession who are my age, so it can show other individuals who are coming up into the world that there are others in procurement who exist. I think procurement is really interesting – there's a lot of variety and the chance to make an impact on an organization.

"I want to use this award to be an evangelist and tell people in my generation that they should consider coming into this world … It's not just sitting in front of a computer and crunching numbers all day. I would say procurement involves a lot of investigative work. I like being able to see the high-level picture of where the organization is going, how it's getting there and figuring out how procurement strategies can impact the organization's bottom line."

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