From managing a global business to innovating world-class purchasing strategies to investing in a diverse workforce, Laura Ying is leading us into the future. We sat down with the Vice President – Purchasing for our Kitchen & Bath Group to learn more about her career journey and what it’s like to work in procurement and supply chain at Kohler.
What are your responsibilities as head of the purchasing function for a global business?
Laura: Put very simply, I’m looking to maximize efficiency and the quality of our materials, keep costs down and achieve on-time delivery and reliable customer service. To make this happen, I’m constantly driving for better collaboration and communication among global teams to deliver better results for the company. We’re responsible for more than a billion dollars in direct material spend, including raw materials, components and finished goods, so building relationships with suppliers and creating cross-region category strategies is very important to the success of our team.
What drew you to work at Kohler?
Laura: I wanted to be part of a company with high-quality products and a long-term focus on its future. I think we’re able to achieve both through smart planning, reinvesting in the business and the dedication of our associates around the world.
What part of your job are you most passionate about?
Laura: Being able to lead a global team through a time of growth and transition and break down barriers across regions to achieve common goals is a very exciting endeavour. I work with so many diverse, talented individuals. Being able to learn from them and gain multiple perspectives to grow as a person is a real privilege of the job that I cherish. I’m also very passionate about recruiting, developing and growing the best talent in the purchasing family to provide for continued success and growth.
What challenges do you face in your role?
Laura: Working with such an expansive supply chain and the unpredictable nature of the business. Keeping up with tariffs, commodity and exchange rate fluctuations, natural disasters and now COVID-19 keeps it interesting and fresh every day. Being a global company means even political events around the world could affect our business or our supply base on a daily basis. We need to remain flexible and have the ability to trouble shoot for issues well beyond our control.
What achievement are you most proud of?
Laura: Being the first female head of purchasing/supply chain here at Kohler is definitely one of the achievements I’m most proud of. In a largely male-dominated area of business, it’s exciting to be able to pave the way for our young women and bring more diversity to this group. Mentoring and setting this example is extremely rewarding, and I’m always excited to help foster the up-and-coming ladies on their paths to success.
What’s something new you’d like to learn?
Laura: I’ve learned a lot about operations, including the manufacturing processes and the supply base. I would like to learn more about the customer base that Kohler is serving. I feel this avenue is critical to understand in order to help us continue to grow and flourish in the market. I’d also like to learn more about marketing, which goes hand-in-hand with understanding the needs of our customers. Kohler’s marketing team is so gifted, and I’d love to have the opportunity to learn from their talent.
Just for fun, when you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Laura: I wanted to be an astronaut; I loved space, the planets and the great unknown!
What popular career advice do you disagree with?
Laura: The notion of “if you work hard, you will succeed.” There is so much more to succeeding than just working hard; you need to be proactive with your goals and strategies and not be afraid to fight for yourself. Assuming you will be recognized and promoted purely based on others noticing your work is so often not the case. You need to be brave enough and willing enough to advocate for yourself, take chances, and not avoid opportunities that may result in failure. Every step, right or wrong, can further your growth if you are willing to learn from it.
Who is your favorite leader and why?
Laura: Margaret Thatcher. As a strong female leader, she triumphantly broke into the world of male-dominated political leaders. She was an outspoken advocate for change and her influence and impact is still being felt to this day. Her legacy continues to be a guiding force for future leaders.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Laura: I can see how purchasing could really become the competitive advantage for Kohler in the global marketplace in five years. My goal is to continue driving us to be a truly global, effective, world-class purchasing organization. To make Kohler a leader in the industry and really set the bar for other organizations. Kohler’s success is our success, and I’m excited to continue to help us get there!