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Larry Phelan | Partner and Chief Supply Chain Services Officer | EY Global Services Limited

Larry Phelan: Transforming the World’s Supply Chain with the EY Organization

Connecting People to Cutting-Edge Services and Suppliers!

Procurement organizations often focus solely on the quantitative value of their efforts — lower prices, higher discounts, and greater cost savings. However, in the pursuit of those numbers, they often overlook the other, less tangible forms of value that can be found in the procurement process.

While reducing expenses is undeniably important, it’s important to remember that value comes in many different forms. In fact, some of the most valuable contributions that procurement can make may not be easily measurable in monetary value.

For example, value can come in the form of client, people, social and financial. By carefully selecting suppliers and managing relationships, procurement can help to ensure that the organization is not vulnerable to supply chain disruptions or quality issues. This can have a significant impact on the organization’s ability to deliver products and services to customers as well as its reputation. Further, with a focus on environmental, social, and governance requirements, suppliers are challenged to deliver in different ways.

This is why Larry Phelan, Partner and Chief Supply Chain Services Officer at EY Global Services Limited, emphasizes that “Value comes in many different forms.” He considers the qualitative brand aspects of value, such as customer and supplier relationships, how technology can be used to improve efficiency, and how supplier diversity can lead to increased innovation.

Consequently, Larry believes that by taking a holistic view of value, organizations can create more value for the whole. To ensure this, he has implemented a number of strategies: creating a culture of transparency to hear and respect all ideas and opinions, investing in training and development to ensure team members are up-to-date; and practicing agile decision-making and striving to be data-driven.

In addition, these efforts are all geared toward creating value. As an experienced transaction advisor, professional services consultant, and Chief Supply Chain Officer, he is connecting EY people to leading services and suppliers and inspiring his team to drive operational excellence, thereby aiming to positively impact the world’s supply chain and differentiate the EY organization in the market.

Larry is a proud champion of diversity and inclusion in teams and suppliers and has received numerous awards in recognition of his commitment to this cause, most notably the prestigious WBENC Platinum Award for his unwavering support of diverse and women-owned businesses. His dedication to providing opportunities for all has been lauded by many, and he continues to strive for a more equitable workplace.

As we delve into his career, let us take a closer look at every step of his remarkable journey. From the highs and lows to the lessons he has learned, get to know the story of this inspiring leader thoroughly!

From Client Service to Global Head of Supply Chain Services

Larry began his career at EY in client service, but through a series of fortunate events, he now finds himself as the Chief Supply Chain Services (SCS) Officer for EY Global Services Limited. Though his success in SCS was unexpected, the key components of it – deeply analyzing details, trusting in data, and being authentic and transparent with his team – have always been his core values.

An unreturned phone call became the catalyst that allowed Larry to transition into internal services and ultimately find his niche at the EY organization. Consequently, he is now able to fully utilize his values for the benefit of the EY teams.

While working in client service, Larry had a client who needed an answer to a specific question. He reached out to the person in internal services whom he thought could help; however, unfortunately, he did not receive a return call, likely owing to the prevalent belief at the time that internal services were not responsible for making money for the organization as client service was responsible for generating revenue, and instead either just saving or avoiding spend on purchases.

However, as he reflected, he was certain that internal services at EY could accomplish much more if only the team members had a better understanding of the full scope of EY services. By adopting the leading practices, mindset, and innovative solutions of a client-server, it could be a “win-win” situation for the EY organization. In July 2009, his boss asked him to dedicate three months to help the internal services team examine spending and other prospects; his boss was certain that his expertise in analytics and experience as a client-server could contribute to making some valuable improvement recommendations.

Despite never returning to a client service role, Larry has maintained a close connection with EY consulting, strategy, and transactions capabilities; understanding their breadth of knowledge and experience would be vital in driving change. After over a decade, Larry is still bringing about transformation as the Chief Supply Chain Services Officer at EY Global Services Limited, always leaning on EY Consulting, Strategy & Transactions thought leadership. Initially, Larry merely sought to support the organization as best as possible; however, this led to the creation of a new career. Employed in the Supply Chain Services (SCS) operations, Larry identified an opportunity to develop the function further, leveraging it to deliver value beyond cost savings for the EY organization.

How Larry applied lifetime lessons and inspired a team to achieve greatness

He had a vision of success and was determined to unlock the potential of internal services and SCS by assembling a strong management team and incorporating brand value concepts. He applied his lifetime learnings during the process and proved that achieving success was not an overnight feat. Furthermore, he was passionate about SCS and internal services and realized that it required inspiring and leading the entire team rather than working alone. Consequently, he was able to succeed.

When team members are united and have mutual trust, amazing things can be achieved. To strengthen his communication skills, Larry implements the technique of “Lunch with Larry” wherever he is in the world. During these meetings, he listens to his team and encourages them to innovate by working out ideas on a whiteboard. By doing this, Larry creates an environment where ideas and visions can be exchanged, ultimately leading to great achievements that align with the EY overall purpose.

Building a better working world

The EY purpose is to build a better working world through insights and quality services that help create trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies across the globe. They strive to develop outstanding leaders who work together to fulfill their promises to all stakeholders, enabling them to play a critical role in creating a better working world for their people, clients, and communities.

In a world that’s changing faster than ever, their purpose acts as their “North Star,” guiding more than 300,000 people in their work every day. From fighting data piracy to helping governments in cash-flow crises, unlocking new medical treatments with data analytics, and pursuing high-quality audits to build trust in financial markets and business – they are committed to helping entrepreneurs, companies, and entire countries solve their most pressing challenges. With their purpose as their guiding light, they strive to make the world a better place.

Maintaining communication and cohesion

The EY organization has 25 regions across the globe, ranging from developed to emerging markets, and employs more than 600 people in their Supply Chain Services (SCS) function, coming from diverse cultures and speaking multiple languages. Despite the logistical challenges of maintaining communication and cohesion among those so spread out across the world, Larry firmly stands by the value of keeping everyone in the SCS team informed and up to date.

Using engagement techniques such as communication and appreciation, Larry is able to keep his team motivated and informed even during the pandemic of 2020. Having established these practices beforehand allowed him to continue team building remotely while still being able to monitor the physical and mental health of his team. Consequently, he was able to move forward with minimal issues related to operating remotely.

At EY and specifically within SCS, building strong teams is a key part of their culture, allowing team members to learn who their leaders are and trust them, creating a sense of belief in their goals as a unit. This team-building process requires a mindset of lifelong learning and a willingness to share the knowledge gained, despite some people feeling threatened by this idea of transparency.

Unlock team success by sharing what you learn

Sharing what you have learned in the past and are still learning today with your team members is the best way to make the most of your knowledge and experience. Doing so fosters trust and success among the members of the team, which improves overall performance. This level of trust and success is not achieved overnight and needs time and effort to build. Therefore, it is important to be open and honest with your colleagues and to invest time in the relationship.

It may seem daunting to think about investing years into this type of process. However, what you will discover is that following this method to achieve professional growth is extremely encouraging. The journey is the rewarding part, and success is simply the inevitable result.

Making your function indispensable

As a function head in a large organization, it is essential to ensure that your team’s work stands out in terms of quality and impact. Doing so will help you to gain the attention and appreciation of senior executives while also helping to make your function indispensable. However, it can be challenging to achieve this in an environment where all functions are competing for recognition and resources. By investing time and effort in developing a clear strategy and ensuring that your team’s work is of the highest quality, you will be well-placed to make your function indispensable and propel the business forward.

Through their dedication and hard work, Larry and the EY Supply Chain Services (SCS) team have achieved remarkable success. It has been a long journey; however, their efforts have been well-rewarded – board-level executives have come to recognize the importance of SCS in better understanding the company’s future and enabling its growth. Consequently, EY Consulting and Strategy and Transactions’ client services have been instrumental in this success.

Conversations that changed the game

Convincing those at the board level about the importance of one’s job requires constant communication in order to raise awareness of what one does. This was especially the case for the role of SCS at the EY organization in 2009, which was then known as Procurement and was seen as relatively insignificant by executives. Fortunately, this has improved over the years; nevertheless, it is still important to continue communicating one’s value to the board level.

For years, businesses have been content with the traditional “buying printers” and “buying paper” approach to save money, however inefficiently and with little thought to the procurement process. However, this has changed, and businesses are now increasingly aware of the importance of taking a more strategic approach to procurement, with a Service Chain System (SCS) function being implemented instead. This team had to demonstrate why this new approach was better than the “procurement” model that had been in place for decades and, in so doing, raise awareness of the potential of SCS for improved procurement. Thus, by adopting a more strategic approach, businesses can save money and ensure a more efficient procurement process.

EY teams needed to demonstrate the value of the proposed changes to their business. To do this, they employed data analytics to back up their proposals and held conversation after conversation to drive home the points they were making. Although it may sound daunting, this strategy proved successful, and the SCS function at the EY organization is testimony to this.

From rejection to results

Getting approval for any major changes can be a daunting task, especially if executives are resistant to change. For SCS at the EY organization, there is a need to be relentless in their efforts by using data analytics to uncover trends that could benefit the business and then present their data-backed proposals to the board level. While enthusiasm was necessary, the ideas had to be accompanied by reliable data to be successful, and they had to be prepared to face criticism and rejections without taking them too personally.

Despite resistance from some board members, Larry has been relentless in his pursuit of success, providing data and facts to back up his work and demonstrating its positive impact on the company’s overall performance. Even when officials are not interested in the SCS, Larry still makes sure to keep them informed of their progress, allowing them to appreciate how their efforts are contributing to the organization. This approach has worked so well over the past decade that Larry now sits on a global service group consisting of 125 EY top leaders, giving him further ideas to integrate into their plans. As such, his relentless attitude has been invaluable in helping the SCS function achieve its goals.

How the EY organization changed mindsets and revolutionized the supply chain in 2009

Changing people’s mindsets is one of the most challenging aspects of bringing about business change; however, it is essential. This was exemplified at the EY organization in 2009 when SCS needed to shift strategically, and executives had to be convinced at the board level using data and facts that the change was necessary and not just to save money. Moreover, it was important to emphasize that SCS change should also involve solidifying the supply chain so that if one supplier has geopolitical issues, there are other options ready to go.

In order to achieve success, they had to start by digging into the data from 2009 and understanding how much they were spending with suppliers and the length of the contracts in place. Although the data was available, it wasn’t organized in a way that could be easily used. By bringing multiple dimensions to the data, they were able to begin making accurate predictions about the organization’s growth, thus enabling them to be successful. Consequently, organizing the data was a crucial step in their success.

The SCS team of the EY organization achieved an incredible feat when they created a comprehensive supply chain strategy that unified and strengthened the organization as a whole. This was evidenced by their success in real estate management for the 800 offices worldwide, by using data to identify the most suitable properties at reasonable prices and saving the organization a great sum of money while simultaneously promoting their brand. Their accomplishments were far-reaching and immensely beneficial. Initially, executives felt the facilities management piece was too much for the team, but with the progress made over a couple of years and the close relationship between the two, they were ready to take on the challenge. This is part of an ongoing process of reinvention and a testament to the team’s success.

Undoubtedly, the SCS team has a long legacy of driving change, and their hard work is clearly paying off; other functions now trust them and rely on their data analytics to make informed decisions. Taking advantage of this, they have demonstrated their value to the board level, providing regular reports and tracking the direction of the EY organization. This creates a cycle of improvement, where their efforts are continually rewarded, thus leading to ongoing success.

Furthermore, they strive to continuously reinvent how they do things from an SCS level, looking for ways to improve the process and expand what they’re doing.

With this in mind, executives at the board level are never allowed to feel like they’ve “fixed” the SCS process and can go back to ignoring it, as SCS team members strive to bring a new story to them with improvements as often as possible.

Accelerating growth and retaining clients

The EY organization requires that all functions, even those that do not directly generate revenue, be of invaluable support to the functions that DO make money. In particular, the SCS team needs to focus on improving speed to market so that the EY organization can serve its clients without delay. If a delay arises due to the lack of a piece of software needed to properly serve the clients, this could lead to a loss of the client’s business. Therefore, SCS need to ensure that all functions are provided as quickly as possible in order to maximize the chances of retaining the clients’ business.

The SCS team’s main objective is to assess the present state of the business and foresee its potential growth areas. Additionally, they must ascertain whether their infrastructure can manage such growth. Crucially, they must also consider the EY team’s requirements for software so that they can acquire it in time; otherwise, the business could potentially be set back by several months. This is the primary value of their role, and the importance of their job cannot be overstated.

How the EY SCS team is transforming the business landscape

Within SCS, they make use of multiple data points to collect data and measure the speed to market for projects. Furthermore, they can use this data to assess their performance – both in terms of meeting deadlines and delivering better results in the future. Consequently, they are able to create brand value by endeavoring to improve speed to market, mitigate risk and optimize their technique, thus resulting in a better brand value for the business. Using data analytics as your building blocks, you can translate any aspect of the business to gain insight into its current position and begin to predict the next steps the business should take. Leverage the expertise of EY Consulting, Strategy & Transactions to guide your predictions and track which ones come to fruition. Doing so not only strengthens your accuracy in predicting future steps but also provides valuable insight into the business.

The SCS at the EY organization has changed significantly over the years; however, there are organizations whose SCS functions have remained largely the same for a decade or more. When speaking with executives in similar positions, they understand the general ideas behind the process; however, desire to fast-forward to the level that the SCS team at the EY organization is currently operating at. It’s important to remember, though, that reaching the end state doesn’t just happen overnight; it requires hard work and dedication to develop the best methods and processes. Consequently, it cannot be achieved by simply snapping one’s fingers.

At the board level, it is important for them to witness the process in action and to observe how credibility is developed over time to gain their trust in the process. This will lead to the desired outcome. The methods used by the SCS can be implemented in other functions within the EY organization and will help to make the function an essential part of the organization. It is necessary to make sure that other functions are aware of the function and trust the techniques used so that the board can recognize its strategic value, even if it appears to be a transactional function at first glance.