The Supply Corps: Cracking The Code on Military Internships

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Editor’s Note: For quite some time, many have called for improved internship opportunities for unrestricted line officers. From Esteban Castellanos’ DEF 2013 externships idea to CDR Michele Day’s pitch for Sailor internships at last week’s Waterfront Athena Five, folks within various communities in the Navy have been beating the drum for internship opportunities to strengthen their contributions to the service. As it stands now, the opportunities are rare and at senior levels, like the SECDEF Corporate Fellows Program – which is only open to Commanders and Captains and is usually post-command. The Navy Supply Corps, on the other hand, offers “Training With Industry” opportunities at more junior levels, and this post is the story of one experience with that program. It would appear that the other communities have a lot to learn!

By LCDR Shannon Walker, SC, USN

Would you like to enhance your supply chain skills and learn from an industry leader?   If so, your next set of orders could take you to Atlanta, GA, as a Training With Industry (TWI) Supply Chain Executive fellow.  My introduction to The Home Depot (THD) and the home improvement industry has been nothing short of great.  My selection for this wonderful opportunity was a direct result of following the career guidance Supply Corps Officers receive from the Office of Personnel via the road shows and advice from countless mentors.  Sustained superior performance is required to get you on the short list of eligibles for a TWI tour, and is mandatory to get the most from a year working as a member of THD’s supply chain; this ensures a valuable relationship between the Supply Corps and The Home Depot, a win-win situation for both organizations.

My career followed the typical path of a mid-grade Supply Corps officer and prepared me for success at THD.  Tours at the U.S. Fleet Logistics Center, Yokosuka, Japan and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in Fort Belvoir, VA gave me the supply chain background necessary to be a valuable contributor and member of The Home Depot supply chain team.  As a member of Commander Pacific Fleet (N4) and a prior Flag Aide, I was groomed to understand the strategic picture.  Earning my master’s degree in business administration at the College of William & Mary ensured I had the formal tools necessary to contribute immediately.  In terms of education, experience, and skill set, Supply Corps officers stand toe-to-toe with our counterparts at THD, and in many cases, our career track is more diverse thanks to our experiences and broader perspectives.

Corporate Challenges & Key Take-Aways:

My duties as the Deputy National Account Manager and working with the comparative supply chain operations at DLA enabled a seamless transition to the THD Store Support Center.   The Supply Corps and THD have many of the same challenges including increasing stock turns, budgeting, and personnel management, although, I would submit THD has the benefit of autonomy in selecting their team.  A couple of big distinctions include the daily management of profit/loss statements and the drive to keep a step ahead of competitors.  Shareholder accountability and fiscal viability are top priorities.  They have to continually improve and innovate to maintain and grow their market share in their industry.  For example, their transition into the e-commerce sector with the opening of a new direct fulfillment center in Locust Grove, GA with two more on the way supports their interconnected retail strategy and adds versatility to their supply chain strategy.

Companies like The Home Depot have Core Values too --- and a lot more to offer!

Companies like The Home Depot have Core Values too — and a lot more to offer!

Culture Analysis:

Similar to the Navy, THD’s core values are the fabric of the company’s culture and are central to their success. THD has developed its culture based on 8 values:

  • Taking care of our people
  • Giving Back
  • Doing the right thing
  • Excellent customer service
  • Creating shareholder value
  • Building strong relationships
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Respect for all

In fact, THD’s values are a competitive advantage in the marketplace.  Associate pride and its “orange-blooded” entrepreneurial spirit are distinctive hallmarks of the culture proudly symbolized by the  orange apron.  The THD value wheel is prominently displayed on every apron.  There are significant parallels in both THD culture and the culture being embedded by RADM Yuen including a “work environment characterized by communication, command climate, and collaboration”.

Business Operations: 

Operationally, THD is divided into the 3 divisions: West, North, and South.  They also have operations in Mexico, Canada, and China.  The supply chain supports each with divisional teams including: inventory planning and replenishment; transportation; distribution; direct fulfillment; finance; and supply chain development.  With the exception of direct fulfillment (eCommerce), the Supply Corps performs each of these various functions globally.  The Home Depot operations are further broken down into store operations and support – very similar to the Navy’s concept of line/unrestricted line and staff corps.

The battle rhythm is fierce and the pace is built around key events like the spring season and “Black Friday”.  The housing market and its recovery is a key driver and leading indicator of the home improvement industry and thus, THD’s success.

In support of my executive fellowship, The Home Depot provided me with access to meetings and reports, allowed me to travel to various locations in order to learn operations, and had me work with matrix teams in support of numerous projects.  A refreshing aspect of being assigned to THD is that they expect you to bring your experience and expertise to the table and contribute.  This tour will allow you to go as far as you want in terms of participation and involvement, providing left and right limits, and allowing you to problem solve.

I spent my first six months in transportation working on various projects including alignment of regional fleets and as the transportation lead for the realignment of distribution centers.  The regional fleet initiative was designed to reduce transportation costs by taking advantage of backhaul opportunities and improving equipment utilization by implementing continuous loops. I represented the transportation division as the point person for store moves in the North and South Divisions.  This included being the focal point of coordination for the transportation work plan ensuring we remained on task and schedule.  The work plan contained in excess of 200 tasks.

The last six months were spent in distribution assigned to the Southern Distribution Team.  My individual focus was on process improvements within the distribution centers (DCs) that helped drive increased operational efficiencies and productivity.  I participated as a member of a matrix team chartered to lean out processes and promulgate changes to other DCs in the network.  This was a great utilization of my lean six sigma green belt skills.

Unique Opportunities: 

My tour at THD provided several unique opportunities including weekly face-to-face executive level meetings, quarterly office calls with several senior executives, travel opportunities with senior executives including corporate travel via THDs private fleet, earning reports announcements, and Spring in the Store and Fall in the Field (unique programs that allow corporate associates the opportunity to work in a store 1 day a week during Spring and or Fall). I also attended two major supply chain conferences including Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.  Senior Supply Corps leadership attended both conferences including RADM (Ret) Bianchi as the guest speaker for RILA in San Diego, CA.  Involvement with THD foundation was another benefit of my TWI Tour.

The Home Depot Foundation is the philanthropic arm of The Home Depot.  The Home Depot Foundation makes an impact in thousands of communities nationwide through cash grants, product donations and thousands of hours of volunteerism by Home Depot associates.  For every dollar or product donated and every hour volunteered, the goal is to support nonprofits that focus on repairing, remodeling and maintaining affordable housing for deserving families and individuals.  The Home Depot Foundation is dedicated to ensuring every veteran has a safe place to call home.  To achieve our mission, the Foundation has committed to investing $80 million over five years to nonprofits who specifically address veterans’ housing needs.  In addition, through Team Depot, our associate-led volunteer force, our associates will be volunteering their time and expert skills to repair and remodel veterans’ homes and facilities.

Imagine what the Navy could learn through symbiotic partnerships with any number of organizations!

Imagine what the Navy could learn through symbiotic partnerships with any number of organizations!

Personal Perspective:  What truly made this tour great is the unfettered access to the executive level leaders in the supply chain and throughout the entire organization including finance, merchandising, store operations, field level executives, the planning process, reports, etc.  The exposure to senior executives is unmatched unless you have had the opportunity to have been an admiral’s aide or worked on a Flag level staff.  I participated in daily and weekly meetings at the executive vice president, vice president, and senior director level to include business reviews, steering committee, and productivity reviews.  I was also privileged to be a part of executive outings including supply chain reviews and other educational opportunities.  To be in the conference room, car, or plane and participate in discussions and witness the thought process that goes into the decisions making process made my tour at THD invaluable.

During my year on board The Home Depot I came to realize there is a lot more to The Home Depot than the brick and mortar stores and the 10% discount.  Just as Supply Corps officers are in the background supporting the warfighter, behind all the commercials and advertisements there are lots of supply chain professionals.  They support much more, including, merchants, compliance, Home Depot University, The Home Depot Foundation, the many associate resource groups including the Military Appreciation Group, and many others.

I left The Home Depot a better, more well rounded officer and logistician who positively contributed to improvements in transportation and distribution operations during my time on board.  Naval Supply Systems Command Weapons Systems Support Philadelphia gained an officer with a less myopic approach to problem solving and more open to the change as the operating environment changes.  I attribute much of this success to the training and experience gained in my previous tours and the willingness of The Home Depot team to allow me use my skills as a member of the supply chain executive team.  I “earned my apron” and you can also.

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