Born and bred in Serbia, Marija Milenkovic, ZLOG Alumni 2006, is always on the go! With extensive international experience, is now well established in Norway where she has recently assume the role of Business Innovation Manager at National Oilwell Varco. As a curious fact, previous to moving to the Europe’s northernmost country, she was the Director of the MIT Zaragoza Master of Engineering in Logistics and Supply Chain Management (ZLOG) at ZLC for 5 years.
Over the past 15 years you have lived in multiple locations; Serbia, Bulgaria, Japan, Spain, Belgium and now Norway.
Looking back on these international experiences, how has this impacted on the quality and expertise you display in your work?
Living abroad takes you out of your comfort zone. You get to experience different cultures, learn new languages and meet interesting people. For me personally there are two skills that are closely interlinked between my work life and international experience: ability to function well in diverse teams and ability to lead change. Diversity is not always easy. On the contrary, it is very often challenging. I have learned to embrace it and enjoy it as part of my daily life both, at work and at home. As for change, living in different countries requires adaptation, and this has helped me to not only accept new ways of working, but also lead change and implement improvements in the work setting.
A whole decade ago – back in 2006 – you embarked on a new chapter in your life, enrolling as a ZLOG student. How did this experience impact on your future ambitions?
I truly enjoyed my time at ZLOG. I learned immensely from my professors and my classmates. Remembering this period of my life always brings a smile to my face. I met some of the smartest people I know during ZLOG. We all helped each other develop and grow, both personally and professionally. I made friends for life. I don’t mean to sound cheesy but my experience at ZLOG has had a great impact on the person that I am today.
Once you completed ZLOG you secured an exciting opportunity with Cummins in Belgium. Can you outline what aspects of the ZLOG course proved particularly useful and why?
I got a chance to interview with Cummins through the recruiting process organized during our stay at MIT. After a few interview rounds and visit to the Cummins distribution center in Belgium I got a job offer and joined Cummins as a Process Improvement Leader a few months after ZLOG graduation. I led cross-functional improvement projects. This role was testing my skills both on an analytical level as well as a project management level. There were days when I pulled up my ZLOG homework and used some of the optimization models in Excel Solver. More often, there were days when I reached out to my classmates who had more experience and asked for advice. Their support was invaluable and certainly a great contribution to the projects I was managing at the time.
After 2 years working for Cummins, you return to Zaragoza to accept the challenge of Director of ZLOG, a post you held for 5 years. You pioneered the Zaragoza Academic Partnership (ZAP) program, among other innovations. Where do you get your inspiration?
A friend once told me: “Keep your ears and eyes open and you will learn a lot.” My inspiration came from ZLOG students and my colleagues at ZLC. The ZAP Program was instigated and developed because I heard time and again: “We want to research and solve real-life supply chain problems.” The ZLOG team put their hands and heads together and we reached out to our networks. The ZAP Program was launched in the fall of 2008 with 5 corporate partners: Caterpillar Logistics, Cummins, Epson, General Motors and Schlumberger. This program has grown over the years and by now 27 different companies have sponsored ZLOG thesis projects.
Finally, you have made many moves, both career wise and geographically – for your most recent one you went from academia in southern Europe to oil and gas in northern Europe, how do you feel today?
I believe I have dropped anchor in Norway, at least for a while. My current job offers a very interesting array of challenges – I have had the opportunity to apply everything I have learned from previous positions as well as Zaragoza, touching on more traditional procurement and tendering as well as process improvement and global supply chain strategy. As for my family life here it is very good – the municipal services and support for children is amazing and the proximity to nature where we live provides ample opportunity for exploration. The work-life balance is also very comfortable which is something I truly appreciate. However, don’t get me wrong, I do miss Spain – people, food, sun, and I can’t wait to come and visit again!