Ann Allen, ZLOG Alumni 2009 and Manager Strategy & Operations at Deloitte Consulting. See Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/allenann/
A whole decade ago – back in 2008 – you embarked on an exciting journey, enrolling as a ZLOG student. How did this experience impact your future ambitions?
Answer: ZLOG gave me a springboard into the world of supply chain. More specifically, the experience exposed me to the intersection of supply chain and health and humanitarian relief, which shaped my decision to join Doctors without Borders (MSF) after graduation, and continues to shape what I do today. It also demystified certain topics like Corporate Finance that I had always shied away from!
Joining the team of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) automatically implied a move to multiple location: Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Kenya, India, Haiti, The Netherlands and Philippines. How well did you adapt – any highs/lows to report?
Answer: Most of my assignments were between 1 and 3 months to provide support to the in-country supply chain team. Depending on the nationalities of the expats in the field bringing some wine, jamon or stroopwafels definitely gets things off on the right foot. Regardless, as you are typically living with your colleagues, you get to know each other relatively quickly and this helps you adapt.
There were certainly highs and lows, even within the same day. Feelings of helplessness in contexts where the need was enormous; High turnover and chronic HR gaps which meant that processes had to be set up again and again; Days when tasks that should have taken an hour took a day. But there were also many small victories that we learned to celebrate; a cargo arriving before rainy season in a remote project, a successful vaccination campaign. Even completing a physical stock count could be cause for celebration.
Just before starting at Deloitte I was asked to go as Supply Coordinator MSF Belgium to the emergency response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. I arrived about 3 weeks after the hurricane, but the project was still operating at an emergency response speed as there were still populations on hard to reach islands with no shelter. I will never forget the resilience of the people I met there. During the distribution of tents people were asking when and where they could return the tents. When distributing building supplies to one remote island they told us they had enough, and to take the remaining to the next island. I’d never seen anything like it.
Flicking through your resume, anyone would be surprised to see that, after some years working for the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF), you decided to flip your career into the consulting industry, specifically Deloitte. What have you gained from this career path?
Answer: Yes, in many ways the switch from MSF to Deloitte was an enormous shift. Although I lacked some basic consulting skills (i.e. building beautiful PowerPoint slides), thankfully I had developed some other transferable skills. MSF taught me to think on my feet and be (more) comfortable with ambiguity and change. It also gave me hands on experience managing a supply chain in difficult contexts, and perhaps most importantly it taught me how to work with people of all different cultures and backgrounds.
From my time doing research at INSEAD, I became convinced that there was much the humanitarian sector could learn from the private sector, and vice versa. My motivation to join Deloitte was also to gain insight into other sectors –and this experience has taught me a lot in a relatively short amount of time.
For a few years now, you have a settled way of life in The Netherlands working as Manager within Strategy & Operations at the leading consulting and auditing firm Deloitte. What to date has been your biggest challenge? Is there a project that you feel especially proud of?
Answer: Starting as an experienced hire in a consulting firm didn’t come without its challenges as previously mentioned. Initially project managers were reluctant to staff me and I spent nearly 6 months “on the bench” until I was given the chance to prove myself. Since then, however, the challenge has been learning to balance client work and all the other opportunities that a firm like Deloitte offers…and to say ‘no’ from time to time. Outside of client work I have the opportunity to coach a number of junior colleagues which I enjoy immensely. I am also working on building our global United Nations account which means I am regularly speaking to Deloitte colleagues in every corner of the world. And when there is any time left there is a wealth of exciting new technologies (i.e. Block Chain, AI) and innovations within supply chain to learn about.
In terms of client work, our team has had the opportunity to work on a number of supply chain projects within the humanitarian sector. It was especially exciting to be able to work with MSF to define their global supply chain strategy and help them take the first steps towards their vision.
Finally, any pearls of wisdom or advice in general for current and future ZLOG students, to take advantage of during the course, and attitudes or actions following graduation?
Answer: Take advantage of being in an international group in a wonderful city in Spain, and have lots of fun! Take advantage of the different strengths you bring and help eachother out. Lastly, during or after the program don’t hesitate to reach out to alumni who work in the area you are interested. Anyone passing through Amsterdam should definitely say hello!