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Women supply chain leaders have been fueling momentum, making purposeful moves to reimagine a smarter, stronger supply chain. And at Let’s Talk Supply Chain, we know women achieve more when we empower each other. Every month, we’re proud to feature the female trailblazers making deliberate moves and driving progress to reshape the industry forever.

Our Women in Supply Chain series highlights the female thought leaders who you want to know about now. We explore the adversity they’ve faced, their achievements, and what moves landed them where they are now, leading organizations across the supply chain. They share what they want you to know about crushing glass ceilings across the supply chain.

Keep reading for smart career advice and deep insights into breaking into the chain.

This month we’re proud to highlight Melissa Puchalla, the director of supply chain compliance for Fastenal. Melissa has almost two decades of experience in procurement and supply chain and was hailed on the 2016 Top 100 Conflict Mineral Influence Leaders—a distinguished list recognizing leaders for supply chain excellence.

How did your supply chain journey start?

I started in accounting at Fastenal 16 years ago—inspired by the founders and their support of local communities. I learned quickly that if you were up for the challenge and ready to do more, there were growth opportunities.  Learning about Fastenal’s operational footprint sparked my move to supply chain as a procurement specialist—changing my role from a just-a-job position to a career. It clicked.

The procurement specialist role was challenging, but when the gears started turning, I realized how much I could impact operations. I explained that going onsite and picking, receiving, and dealing with disruptions at the distribution center supported improving service levels. Getting out from behind the computer screen and excel spreadsheets was a breakthrough. As a team, we aligned our work, goals, and purpose. Even now, I still bring my team to the sales and operations floor so they remember why we do what we do.

That first role in supply chain started me on the path to where I am in my career now. From then on, I took on roles laser-focused on bringing more support to underdeveloped areas with a potential negative risk or service to the operations. We’ve grown our team from the ground up—creating and paying forward opportunities for growth throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia—and soon—Brazil. As we grow we promote supply chain diversity, empower sustainable, planet-friendly approaches, and power a transparent, compliant global supply chain with social responsibility initiatives. All this progress happens while we develop team members and solutions to continue our Growth Through Customer Service mission.

How do you face challenges head-on?

For my team, our greatest challenge is keeping up with sales and operations. Fastenal’s growth model relies on decentralized decision making; leveraging local and global supply chains. To ensure supply chain compliance, we have to keep pace with those arms of the business. That weakness can also be a strength—keeping our business agile and aligned.

The COVID-19 pandemic we’re experiencing has been a challenge for everyone. We’ve done everything in our power to remove roadblocks, strengthen compliance protocols without unnecessary delays, and gain the ability to weather labeling regulation changes impacting every export into Mexico since October. From COVID-19 PPE to everyday supply chain demands, we are committed to serving every customer. And, as markets shift, changing tariffs impact business, supply chain strains evolve, and more disruption occurs, we have to change too.

Tell us about a standout career moment.

The highlight of my career is watching teams evolve through the collaboration and development we empower. I’ve grown with Fastenal. I didn’t travel growing up, I’m thankful for every experience. And I’m grateful for the ability to extend these opportunities to our team members—that’s beyond rewarding.

I realize they can thrive from the energy of these trips—applying the same business practices in other countries and excelling for months to come. These experiences abroad show team members how their work impacts every customer—internal and external.

How did you find your voice in a male-dominated industry?

I stood out early on because I have always used my voice. I was raised by a strong, motivated woman. Now, I realize how much that helped me get to where I am in my career today. Early on at Fastenal, I understood the environment was driven by ideas, not tenure or titles. We were encouraged to share ideas—that’s where the fun started. I wanted to learn why my excess inventory aggravated a hub manager. I learned quite quickly when I had to go receive it in and help sell the surplus.

That’s when I knew I had to focus on becoming a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I’ve spent over a decade creating solutions that have improved IT systems, supported international teams, and paved the way for many roles that never existed before. I continue challenging others around me to use their voices so we don’t miss out on the next innovative idea to improve service levels.

What advice do you have for women in supply chain?

Dig deeper, collaborate, and rise up. I’ve felt the challenges of a male-dominated space, and it took years of growth and development to find my balance. I have three daughters who remind me daily of my why. They’re watching me lead, act as a team, stay committed, and strive for success in the supply chain every day.

Also, don’t underestimate the power in connection. Connect with others and embrace a mentor who challenges you to be your best self. I am blessed with mentors, male and female, who have helped me on my path to where I am today. And I’ve learned the most from the ones who pushed me the hardest.

I’d like to thank Donnalee Papenfuss, Fastenal vice president of contract development and support, and my power colleague and supply chain director, Wendy Suchla for the drive and impact they’ve both had.

How have you seen supply chain evolve, and what still needs to change?

The importance of quality data and the need for immediate solutions are the most significant changes. The “I-want-it-yesterday” mentality is real. The on-demand economy has made all companies step up their eCommerce and operations game to meet consumer demands and fulfill same-day orders.

Fastenal’s footprint enables us to remain close to customers. That’s why we’re thriving with the opportunity to continue becoming more than just a supplier, but a supply chain solution for organizations. Regulations and supply chain demands are always changing; bringing supply chain transparency to the forefront. So, for compliance teams, we view mandates as openings to rise to the occasion and highlight areas where we strive for excellence.

So, what’s next?

It’s time to capitalize on the importance of supply chain risk mitigation and transparency as we continue to grow.  I look forward to being a larger part of our growth model and ensuring the same for our valued customers. These goals will develop opportunities for others in the years to come.

Meet Our Sponsor

This Women in Supply Chain feature was made possible by our sponsor, Fastenal. As a company focused on empowering supply chain partnerships, Fastenal is proud to sponsor Women in Supply Chain. With more than 100,000 point-of-use vending machines around the world, Fastenal is dedicated to helping organizations lower their total cost of ownership. Learn more here.

About The Author:

Naomi GarniceNaomi Garnice is the Director of Marketing for MicroAge where she leads the marketing team and creative strategy. Naomi has been a content marketer for 14 years and is passionate about creating engaging content that matters. Throughout her career in marketing for technology, healthcare and supply chain organizations, Naomi has advocated to highlight female thought leaders in male-dominated industries.

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