Supply Chain Executive of the Year: Patrick Etokudo

Patrick Etokudo
Photograph John Gaucher

Patrick Etokudo is not only building a supply chain inside Enbridge, he’s also building the supply chain management profession in Alberta. That might seem like a bold statement, but it’s a profession that in many ways is still in its infancy, and Etokudo is helping it learn to walk.

“You can’t work in supply chain management unless you are qualified by education, skills and experience.”

Many in it, such as Etokudo himself, were not trained in supply chains—he’s a mechanical engineering graduate who says he “never dreamt of supply chain management as a profession. It was a forced transition, but now I have a master’s degree in SCM and I wouldn’t be doing anything different.” During this time of cost cutting and efficiency drives, it’s surprising how many companies let such a key role fall into the cracks between different departments without any representation at the executive level. Direct operational savings tend to stand out, such as cutting back on warehousing time. But deeper cost cutting can be achieved in multibillion-dollar projects by bringing supply chain managers in at the ground level when design and feasibility studies are carried out. “It was an eye opener to me how much money SCM can save,” says Etokudo.

He cut his teeth at Royal Dutch Shell before joining Suncor prior to its merger with Petro-Canada. The merger was very challenging as these were two companies of similar size and often buying from the same suppliers but paying different prices, he says. “We had to work this out with multiple suppliers in a short period of time. They were very different cultures. Petro-Canada, a former Crown corporation, was measured in judgement, sometimes over-planning and over-analyzing—aim, aim, aim then shoot. Suncor, on the other hand, was shoot, shoot, shoot then realizing it needed to aim too,” Etokudo says.

He took his experience with him to Enbridge in 2012, where he worked on governance and compliance. “We had five business unit supply chain management groups with no relationships between them,” he says. “Each was governed differently, performing supply chain activities separately.” There was a lack of integration, so Etokudo centralized supply chain management across some units, and set up a council of SCM leaders across the organization to coordinate and collaborate.

Initially, supply chain management was considered part of an administrative career path. So, one of Etokudo’s earliest tasks was creating a professional career ladder for supply chain managers. Enbridge put resources into developing supply chain professionals, identifying gaps that the company could bridge through job shadowing, mentoring and third party-provided skills training.

What Etokudo found when he joined Enbridge was that even in the major projects group there were at least four project groups, each with its own processes and systems. He centralized practices, processes and standards through what Enbridge calls the supply chain protocol. “Now we have one policy for the company,” he says. “You can’t work in supply chain management unless you are qualified by education, skills and experience.”

To Etokudo, developing and strengthening relation-ships with strategic suppliers through the implementation of supplier relationship management is the key to sustaining any value created.

“You might create value through agreements, but you need to maintain those relationships,” he says. “We developed tier one relationships with top suppliers and built governance around it. Before, we didn’t have good relationships with suppliers—we were late payers, for example—and were dysfunctional to the point that when suppliers got an RFP from us they would ask, ‘Which Enbridge are we dealing with today?’ We had allowed conflict to fester. So we met with our top suppliers.”

Enbridge started an annual vendor forum to gain their trust, and asked two questions: What can we do to be your customer of choice? What do you need to do to be our supplier of choice? A testimony to the success of these forums was when a supplier introduced exactly the same forum with its own suppliers, and said it was an excellent way to create alignment.

After what he has seen in the industry, Etokudo has become a strong advocate for the supply chain profession and has presented at conferences across the county and written opinion articles; playing his part in transforming supply chain management from a largely transactional function into a strategic organization by building category management capability.

“I was surprised at how much talent we were stealing from each other as we were all fishing in a relatively small pond,” Etokudo says. “I even saw one guy leave a company and then get almost immediately rehired for more pay by his previous firm. So I started working jointly with other companies via the association to expand the pool and develop talent and feed these young people into future leadership positions.”

Getting Personal With Patrick Etokudo

Senior director, supply chain management at Enbridge

What is the most important quality that a senior executive can have? 
Clarity of vision and leadership.

What is the least important quality that a senior executive can have?
Not living a life of integrity, not walking the talk. And micro managing—if you can’t mentor and coach you’re probably on the wrong road.

What is your greatest fear?
A drop in productivity if we’ve gone through one too many changes in a short period of time.

Which living person do you admire most? 
For her clarity of vision, tenacity and the willingness to face adversity in the pursuit of her values, I will say it will be the teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai. No surprise she is the youngest Nobel Prize recipient.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’m not sure, if I changed something I probably wouldn’t be Patrick any more.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Other than my family, it’s having worked across boundaries, including geographies like Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North America and the Far East.

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