Executive Interviews

Experiences shared
by leading experts

Pratik Yadav - Digital Transformation and Analytics Lead at Mondelez

  • November 17, 2021

Pratik Yadav is the Digital Transformation and Analytics Lead for all programmes at Mondelez.

Pratik is one of the rare leaders in the industry today, having a solid background within Operations, as well as hands-on knowledge of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA), blockchain etc., driving global digital transformations.

He has been through a diverse experience with third-party logistics (3PLs), consulting, entrepreneurship through to ABB, where he was the Vice President of Supply Chain Ops and Digitalisation, leading Operations and several high-profile projects in the area.

Pratik is considered as an expert in bringing together Operations, Technology and Advanced Analytics to build sustainable operating models for global value chains. He is a regular speaker at global industry and academic events, with the aim to share a practitioner view with fellow professionals and simplify the digital transformation journey.

The views expressed are personal and do not represent Mondelez's views.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey from India to Europe?

Yes, it’s been a rather unexpected journey, not something I planned on purpose. I come from a semi-urban part of India with a relatively humble background. While studying my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, I never thought that I would end up in Europe.

During studies, I took full-time roles, such as managing Logistics operations, teaching Physics and Mathematics to high school students. My main objective back then was to get enough funds for my education. However, in hindsight, I can see that these jobs also helped me in building skills like stakeholder management, analysing problems from first principal basis and how to prioritize to execute faster. Later, I co-founded two companies, one of which was a success, while the other was a failure, which again was a great learning experience. I also was in consulting for a couple of years, which helped me tremendously in building a structured mindset towards problem-solving and seeing things from a client’s perspective.

In 2008-09, I got an opportunity in Brussels to work for DHL Global Strategic team. The initial plan was to move for a year, but in the end, I stayed longer than a year, and moved around in functions and countries to support the top 100 global customers of DHL. Over the last 16-plus years, I have lived and worked in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, the UK, United States and India.

It’s been a fantastic journey and not knowing everything has helped me to keep the mind open. My perspective about everything – work, culture, life, people, success, failure – has evolved and I see things with a much broader perspective now compared to 15 to 20 years ago. I was fortunate to work in very different cultural environments, with companies in diverse industries, taking on cross-functional roles, and with people who have largely been supportive, intellectually stimulating and inspirational. Again, I want to highlight that it was not a brilliant plan that came through, but instead what helped me was an openness towards new challenges and eagerness to continuously learn and evolve.

The majority of my jobs have been at the intersection of Operations, Technology and Data Analytics, and I think being a Computer Engineer helped me a lot to connect the dots between IT and Business. When I was studying Computer Science during graduation, I never thought it would help me in this way, as I didn’t know that such a role existed. A background in Technology, fused with hands-on operational understanding, helped me to create operating models that were not just tech-relevant, but sustainably meaningful for the business. It also helps that I got the opportunity to study a master’s degree at MIT in the US, which supported in further strengthening my Tech-Ops profile.

What is it that you like about Switzerland, to stay here for so long?

When I moved here in 2014, I was not coming here with a plan to stay forever. The idea was to enjoy the beautiful country, work with a great company like ABB and see where it goes. But things have changed, obviously, and Switzerland has become a second home. I think the Swiss governance model is one of the best - if not the best - and works well for this small alpine nation. Things that stand out clearly in Switzerland for me are: public sector works as it should. Whether its transportation, water or heating - everything works as per your need. I have been positively surprised with the way government offices interact and deliver services in almost seamless ways. Of course, improvements are always possible, but after living in so many different countries, I can say that Switzerland is one of the best places to live.

The second thing in Switzerland is that there are parts like Zurich, where almost 25-30% of the population is non-Swiss, and people keep coming in and going out. This large population of expats gives a good mix of working with different cultures.

The third great thing about Switzerland is that you’re so close to nature. You are basically sitting in nature’s lap, while have access to all modern amenities. I mean, in 30 minutes, you can be at a lake, a forest, a snow-covered mountain or hiking in the wilderness.

Obviously, it does help that the Swiss economy and the presence of companies makes the overall set-up just fantastic. You have a lot of multi-nationals here with their headquarters (global or regional) offering good strategic, as well as operational, positions for senior stakeholders. The education system here is brilliant in producing good talent in Technology, Natural Sciences and Management. I think, holistically, Switzerland is, in my opinion, one of the best places to live and work globally, which is also confirmed by various rankings for best places to live.

With Switzerland being home to so many multi-nationals and businesses that have complex supply chains, COVID-19 has entirely reshaped them. Why is it more imperative than ever for companies to really embrace a digital supply chain?

In my opinion, the need for a digital supply chain was already critical, even before COVID. This extraordinary black swan event simply exposed the glaring gaps in our Supply Chain operating models and expedited the shift towards digital.

From a consumer point of view, we want our interaction with businesses to be seamless, perfect, efficient and fast. Think about Amazon. You as a shopper at Amazon are used to ordering products anytime, using all type of interfaces, such as mobile, desktop, smartwatch, smart speakers, etc., delivered to most locations within two to three days, with reasonable cost, having full visibility and supported by absolutely brilliant customer service.

So, if you look at it from a demand point of view or how the consumer is looking at it - I want to have more flexibility on how I order the product, I want my product to be in a simple, small order, so I don’t need to order 50 pieces of something and I can just order 1 of something. I want everything in the process to be 100% accurate, and I don't want to check and correct my order five times. I want the entire execution to be fast, efficient, sustainable and ethical.

I honestly don’t see any other way for a decent size organization to manage all this complexity and volatility without using digital technologies and analytics. We live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world today and it's likely to continue the same way, with even higher intensity. With supply chains spreading across the borders, the operational complexity is already significant, and our teams are struggling to keep up with all the external and internal changes. Without the use of effective digital solutions, I am not sure how you can manage all of this. Yes, there may be parts you can manage without technology or with limited use of tech/analytics, but given our multi-national supply chains, given the customer/consumer needs, given the regulatory requirements, it almost goes without saying that everyone needs to expedite the digital capabilities within your end-to-end value chain in a way that you have not done before. It’s not just having an ERP [enterprise resource planning] in place, but really an intelligent operational backbone that can augment the cognitive decision-making ability of our teams for E2E [end-to-end] value chain.

Companies must consider integrating analytics into understanding:

a) what decisions are to be made

b) how you make those decisions, and

c) how you implement those decisions.

As a leader, you need to ask yourself - do I need to have somebody to look at the data five times or can I use technology, say RPA, to automate my decision-making once the overall principles are defined? Another question that leaders will have to encounter is: Do I need to be perfectly wrong or approximately right? We often spend time on getting very accurate, whereas the world around us works in ranges and probabilities. This is a key part of digital mindset and will require significant change management.

If the companies don’t invest now in capabilities such as AI, ML, RPA, process analytics, cloud computing and blockchain, many of them will struggle to stay relevant in ten to 15 years from now.

The most successful companies in this space have recognized that you cannot achieve these goals by having a traditional set-up of IT and Business. A paradigm shift is required to see Technology and Business as an integrated concept, because I don’t think there is a large company today that is not a tech company. We probably don’t recognize it, but already today almost every company in a way is a tech company that happens to sell non-tech products.

What advice would you give to other Supply Chain leaders who are looking to ensure that their digital teams are effectively used in the supply chain?

The key things to focus on are: mindset, talent and your approach to change management. I have five simple suggestions to cover these:

First: I would encourage leaders to get themselves familiar with these topics and at least build a basic minimum capability to understand what these different digital techniques or pillars can deliver you. I have seen terms like AI and ML being used very loosely, without real understanding how these technologies work or what is possible. Yes, these technologies are transformational in nature, provided you have understood the used case well. Do not fall for the trap of spending a lot of money without understanding if the solution you are buying is really using ML/AI. There was research in Europe around 2019, which indicated that almost 40% of start-ups claiming to use AI/ML were not at all using AI/ML.

Second: Explore growth or digital mindset, which means accepting that we need to test and learn, and not everything will work the way it was expected. Not all these technologies will deliver results from day one, but can become instrumental in setting up the foundation for the future.

Third: Assess where your organization is today before embarking on digital transformation of your supply chain. It is very important to realise what your organization’s strength and weaknesses are. For example, if it’s an organization where generally decisions are taken top-down by IT, you may want to establish a close partnership with them. Alternatively, if it is an organization where consensus is key and many stakeholders need to be aligned, then make sure to bring them on board. There is no single simple answer to bring this change and understanding of the starting point will help you in the journey

Fourth: Try to solve problems where you have enough data and your current KPIs [key performance indicators] are not performing well. For example, if your demand forecast accuracy is 50%, and you have good historic data on sales and promotions, then ML may be able to give you better results faster. In other words, look for low-hanging fruits. Another good example is the HTS [Harmonized Tariff Schedule] classification system in global trade, which is very relevant for global companies importing and exporting material.

Fifth: Embrace the two-way door decision theory (courtesy of Amazon/Jeff Bezos). He categorically divides most decisions into two buckets. Bucket one decisions are those that can be reversed easily. We as leaders need to make sure that the organization does not spend eternity to make these bucket one decisions and there is an action for bias instead. For bucket two decisions, which are considered irreversible, leaders need to spend enough time to understand the risks/challenges and fit in the overall business strategy.

What does it mean to you and what impact would you say diversity of thought has on Supply Chain teams?

I personally think diversity is a fundamental building block for success, not just in Supply Chain teams, but anywhere in general. It almost goes without saying that you need to have different points of view in an organisation to make sure that you don’t fall into the daily routine, and you need to have people who can challenge from different perspectives, either from their background, their history, their culture, their country or their professional/personal experience.

Diversity is just the first step towards an end goal of belonging. We do not want to simply have people from diverse backgrounds and mindset in our teams, but we want to make sure they feel a sense of belonging in the teams, and are comfortable in expressing themselves and sharing their opinions. 

As a leader, we need to make sure that they’re comfortable to contribute their ideas and their thoughts at every time in every level of discussion, and they have equal opportunities to raise their concern, their voice, without feeling threatened or without feeling left out.

So, for me, diversity and belonging are not even debatable topics. I know that we as a society are not where we want to be, but as leaders, we need to make sure continuous tangible progress is made in these areas.

Digitalisation is a driving force behind Supply Chain in a lot of different businesses, and it is really gathering more and more momentum, so talent in this area is really short. What can businesses do to engage this to retain them?

Recently, I was having a conversation about the same thing with another senior Supply Chain executive from a leading FMCG company, and we shared challenges in hiring talent within the space of Digital and Analytics.

The why we have attracted talent in a traditional sense is likely going to face issues and will require a rethink. For example, if you are a manufacturing company and you want to hire brilliant talent in the field of ML, you need to recognize that you are not competing against another manufacturing company, but against Facebook, Google, Amazon and start-ups. How should you position your organization from a compensation and culture point of view in these cases?

As leaders, I see a need to answer at least four key questions to manage the talent pipeline:

  1. What is your digital strategy and, correspondingly, what type of talent you will need? For example, if our digital strategy is to primarily rely on external vendors and trust them to develop technology, then what type of Digital and Analytics talent do you need?
  2. Which companies are competing for similar talent and what makes your organization different against those competitors? For example, do you offer stock options or work from home to attract talent?
  3. How do you differentiate between operational and transformational talent? Transformational talent will make your organization future ready, whereas operational talent will ensure that your current day-to-day is run effectively. What do you need to attract and differentiate them?
  4. Once the talent is brought in, how to make sure you don’t lose it?

Making this transformation into an organization that is attractive to digitally native talent will be difficult for most and will require strong support from the top management. Organizations will have to also ensure that in-house talent is not ignored and cultivated with a solid developmental plan.

It is also important to understand that digital talent does not mean that they are an expert only in AI and ML. Ideal leadership talent in this space will be the ones who have led Business Operations, have a solid background in Technology and have hands-on experience in driving large-scale transformations. I see the rise of Tech-Ops leaders as eminent, which can seamlessly transfer between Operations and Technology. After all, when algorithms make key decisions, you will need leaders who understand not just day-to-day Business Operations, but also these technologies.

I would also look at how we bring maybe partners like yourself, building up strategic tie-ups with universities, maybe even having a tie-up with one of the companies in the industry who is not your competitor, to look from a very different perspective. If you want to retain talent in this hypercompetitive world, you will have to give them flexibility, you will have to give them an opportunity to grow and challenge themselves, and you would also have to give them a way to feel like they belong in the team.

To really enable this transition, the organizations will have to rethink about the compensation structure, leave policies, working from anywhere guidelines, hierarchies, etc.

What are the skills that you think make a leader stand out in Digital Supply Chain?

I would categorize the skills into four buckets:

Operational skills: Solid hands-on operational understanding of supply chains. If you are lucky, you will be exposed to all parts of Supply Chain, including: Manufacturing, Procurement, Planning, Logistics, etc., but if you’re not, at least you should be exposed to two or three areas, to understand the E2E value chain.

Technological skills: We need to start understanding technology more, as a leader. In fact, go to the extent, why not make a small forecasting algorithm, yourself? See how it works instead of other people telling you how it is - there is enough free material available on the internet. If you have the time and the willingness, then I would urge you as a leader to get some technical skills. You don’t need to be a professional, but you need to understand how AI techniques like ML work in general.

Mindset and soft skills: The third part is the whole digital mindset, which is about growth, taking risk and learning with failure. The more we explore the digital space, the more we will recognise that we don’t have an answer to all the problems. If you’re working in a traditional Manufacturing environment, you know if you replace a machine with another machine, you are going to get 20% better output, because it’s standard, you can see the change. With technologies like AI, it is not a simple replacement. AI aims to replace decisions that are complicated in nature, and take input from many different processes and stakeholders. It is not easy, as the processes are connected across functions and geographies, and hence more complex. So, as a leader, it’s important for you to have the ability to give your team a test and learn licence. I don’t mean go and spend $5 million and fail, but more like, can I take a small part of the puzzle, test it and find a solution?

Communication skills: This, along with the mindset, is perhaps the most important skills for successfully leading and managing transformations. The question for leaders is not only what to communicate, but also how to communicate, when to communicate, whom to communicate and where to communicate. I urge everyone to invest time and effort to build this skill, as it’s one of the main levers in driving a transformation.

I encourage everyone to explore and ask. I am amazed with platforms like LinkedIn, as they are such a powerful tool. Any one of us can just go on and ask any question, and within minutes, you will have responses from across the globe on LinkedIn. It’s important to be comfortable with not knowing, but it’s not okay to not ask.

I have not talked about strategic mindset, collaboration, team player, communication skills, as these are minimum necessary skills.

You mentioned a couple of times about mistakes or failures. What role did failure play in your career?

A significant role, I would say. There are a lot of skills that can be taught in a school - technical skills, perhaps a bit of soft skills. But there are other skills that you learn while doing things in life. How to engage in a conversation, how to negotiate, how to balance emotional quotient, how to assess a tough situation… Yes, there are trainings available, but most of the learning comes when you are in real-life situations. I have failed several times in my life and, behind every success, there are a few key learnings that came from these failures. For example, I failed when I got my first leadership role many years ago, because I took a very textbook approach to leadership. Another time I failed was when I did my first transformation many years ago. I messed up, as I thought people would follow the plan as designed and did not re-emphasize on the key messages. 

It is important to recognise that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. I see that, in my career, if I look at it overall, it’s been positive. I’m happy with the experience I’ve got. I would not have been here if I didn’t try different things and learned from them. These were all important learnings and I hope I don’t make the same mistakes again.

Outside of work, what do you think your main passion is?

I would say three areas:

  1. Sustainability through my actions and my work. I try contributing by minimizing my materialistic consumption (I may not always succeed though) and grow forests where I possibly can. I am keen to continue working on Technology and analytical solutions to ensure that every day, with small steps, our entire supply chains move towards being 100% sustainable.
  2. I am very passionate about education. I try to support education through financial means, as well as personal time commitment. I try to spend a few hours every month as a mentor, and share my experiences, learnings and failures with young students and professionals.
  3. The third passion for me is the love to learn and explore. Not just about things at work, but in general. You will find me on the weekend reading or watching series on new topics, such as astrophysics or blockchain. If someone tells me that they built a new model using ML and it's able to improve production planning by 5% more than the traditional system, I would like to know how it worked and what more is possible. These habits of continuous learning and curiosity have benefitted me over the years.

Thank you to Pratik for speaking to Sienna Grey, our Recruitment Consultant for Procurement & Supply Chain and Operations in Switzerland.

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.