Washington, DC

Angie Klett: Shattering the Glass Ceiling and Leading the Way (USPAACC Feature)

When Angie Klett, Senior Vice President IT CFO and Chief Procurement Officer at Nationwide, recently visited Howard University – a federally chartered historically black university in Washington, DC – to speak to college students about careers in supply chain, she set up a video call with her sister, a primary school teacher, and her class of 3rd graders, 400 miles away in Columbus, Ohio.

During the video call, the young students in Columbus watched and listened as Angie talked to alumni and current students of the University in the nation’s capital. That call made an impact on the kids, according to Angie. “They saw people who looked like them pursuing a college education,” Angie said. “A little can go a long way in influencing how kids set their goals and fulfill their dreams.”

Angie pointed to this powerful example where the inner-city school kids in Columbus got the chance to see another world of possibilities, far from the somber reality where many of them grow up relying on their school for nourishment, amidst an environment marked by ubiquitous violence and drugs.

As one of the few women who has reached and successfully made a career in a male-dominated field, Angie views her current position at Nationwide as having a sphere of influence wide enough to be able to reach out to the disenfranchised, engage them and impress upon them to take up STEM-related careers.

“We need to get out and into the schools earlier – and more often,” she said. “As part of the Diversity and Inclusion Council I led at Nationwide, we started doing case studies in local middle schools to help kids understand the basics of finance early in life. We need to continue to break down historical biases and demonstrate through internships and other means that STEM is for everyone.”

Important Life Lessons

Angie grew up in Lima, a farming and manufacturing town in northwest Ohio. The younger of two children, Angie and her elder sister were taught early on by their parents – both successful small business owners – invaluable life lessons.

One nugget of wisdom the sisters learned from their parents was to be a person of your word. “Always do what you say you will do, when you say you’re going to do it,” Angie said. “They also instilled in us a strong sense of family and team.”

Placing trust in people, having empathy and a strong work ethic, and being a caring and nurturing person are just some of the values that Angie learned from her parents. “These are the traits that have made me who I am today,” she said. “I also have a tremendous drive to succeed, and believe in empowering folks to find their own way, and holding them accountable for delivery.”

Angie enjoys learning about the people she leads and helping them develop to unlock their greatest potential. “I absolutely love being part of and building teams. I embrace and encourage diversity and inclusion. I was raised by my parents not see race, religion, gender or socioeconomic status. At my core, I believe in treating folks the way I want to be treated – and to be genuine, honest, and never sacrifice your integrity.”

Today, despite her hectic and grueling work schedule, Angie maintains the work-family balance that other C-Suite executives may find elusive. To achieve such balance, she has her priorities clearly defined.
“For me, it is my family: husband and son – in that order – and then my career,” she said. “I have tried to hold the hours of 6 pm – 9 pm sacred. I will work before and after, but I only get 3 hours of ‘awake’ time with my family and I protect that time fiercely.”

“Let’s be honest,” she cautions. “Sometimes I fail miserably, things get out of whack. I think it’s equally important to give yourself grace. None of us are perfect, we should not allow ourselves to feel guilty, especially the moms.” She admits that if and when mistakes are made, one simply needs to “take a deep breath and get things back in check with your priorities.”

Not Fitting the Mold

“I don’t see myself as a traditional CFO,” Angie quipped when describing her role at Nationwide.

Indeed, Angie’s role goes well beyond building budgets and reporting the firm’s performance. She partners with Nationwide’s other top-level executives and departments on benchmarking, business case development, capital allocation and evaluating potential solutions from a financial perspective.

Angie is well aware that with the advent of new technology, the scope of responsibilities of the CFO in today’s corporations has become more complex. It has morphed from the traditional financial methods into one that is arguably reliant on technology – a development largely credited for the creation the fintech movement.

“To be an effective CFO, I must learn the business of technology, provide decision support analysis to my business partners in IT,” she said. “In order to do this well, I need to understand the building blocks of their work and trends in the industry.”

As one of the CFOs at Nationwide and the CPO for the Enterprise, Angie acknowledges that the optimum scenario must involve a close working relationship among Procurement, the Business areas, and Finance. Teamwork, according to her, is critical.
“These three areas need to be in lockstep in order to optimize the buying process, negotiate the best price for the value, and ensure the business needs are met,” she said. “Procurement needs to evaluate market conditions, potential solutions, create healthy competition in negotiations, ensure that diverse suppliers are represented, mitigate risk and complete contracting.”

“The business departments need to articulate their strategy, their scope and assist in the negotiation strategy,” she added, emphasizing that these are functions on top of having to identify new and upcoming suppliers.
Finance, as part of the triumvirate, brings a unique value to the table, according to Angie. They evaluate the financials (break even, unit cost, consumption, etc.) in terms of the deal. Finance also needs to balance cost-cutting initiatives with determining how much to invest and in which areas to strongly position the company for the future.

“Business today is definitely a team sport,” said Angie. “In our industry, we have to protect our members, deliver on our promises, and compete in an ever-changing environment. The synergy across the organization is pivotal to our success.”

Angie believes that amidst the ever-changing and fast-developing market, the companies who will thrive and win will be the ones who will leverage technology, automation, and unleash the potential of a company’s greatest assets – a talented workforce and innovative suppliers.

As CPO, Angie puts on “risk lens” and looks to partner with the firm’s CIOs to identify solutions that increase value, improve processes, and reduce costs. “I drive transformative change in this dual function and alignment in many ways; I see my role as a connector,” she said. “Engaging outside partners, inherently presents risk that I actively manage with the IT community.” One transformative initiative she pointed out was when she partnered with Guru Vasudeva, Nationwide’s CIO Program and Application Services, to evaluate, consolidate and establish a new governance structure of buying IT services.

In the past, the firm allowed hundreds of IT managers to make contracting decisions on their own. “We were not leveraging our buying power, promoting diverse suppliers or capitalizing the experience of our supplier base,” she said. So Angie and Guru established a governing body and process to consolidate the buying of IT services.

The outcome far exceeded the financial benefits: they reduced the hiring time to fewer than 30 days, implemented new contracting approaches, and leveraged the expertise of their suppliers. More noteworthy was that the initiative consolidated suppliers, saved $30M, and the IT team is now able to focus on delivery.

USPAACC and the Pan Asian American Community

As Chair of CelebrASIAN Procurement + Business Conference 2019, Angie shares key messages to the small and diverse businesses – whose growth is the main focus of the country’s largest B2B event convened by Pan Asian Americans.

To become valued players in the supply chain, Angie highly recommends that prospective vendors must know their space, their value proposition, and how they could differentiate themselves from the competition. Angie emphasized: “We are looking for problem-solvers and people who are willing to share their expertise and experience to make us better.”

As Chair of the CPO Council of the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation (USPAACC), Angie offers a caveat on innovation as a key differentiator: “Even though I’m CFO, I would never trade cost-cutting for a truly valuable and disruptive solution. I want to invest in growth and with partners who will help move our company forward into the future.”

When asked about her views on the outlook on the Pan Asian American market, talents, and potentials, Angie exclaimed: “Wow, the future for this community is BRIGHT!!!”

She pointed out how USPAACC National President & CEO Susan Au Allen has consistently advanced business growth through innovation and equal opportunity. “Susan has never been shy about pointing out that Asian Americans are the fastest growing community on a percentage basis, represent the best educated group, are technology-savvy, gravitate towards STEM, and have the greatest level of disposable income.”

“Nationwide is interested in doing business with the Pan Asian American community on many fronts,” she added, noting that this group plays a significant role in this space. “We continue to  look for innovative problem-solvers to do business with and this community is known to deliver. Diverse businesses, especially Asian American-owned businesses, bring incredible innovation, cost reduction and calculated risks that impact the bottom line.”

Cultivating business relationships is key for everyone involved to win, according to Angie. “Deliver on your promises, and be genuine in helping us reach our goals. Authentic supply chain relationships, like all human relationships, takes time to establish. Trust is built over time.”

“As you can see,” Angie said, “we have come full circle from where I started. I guess my parents’ advice applies in all aspects – personal and professional. Be a person of your word and treat people the way you want to be treated – with genuine honesty and integrity.”

As for diverse businesses who want to engage Nationwide as valued partners in their supply chain, Angie urges them to “research their customer’s industry, be in tune with cutting-edge innovations, attend USPAACC events for its first-to-market programs, get to know supplier diversity professionals, get certified and maintain their certifications.”

Most important, Angie counsels, diverse businesses should always be on their toes, prepared and ready, because “you never know when your supply chain opportunity will come knocking.”

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