Career Surfing with Kate Vitasek

Posted: 03/01/2019 - 22:21
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In this episode of the Sourcing Industry Landscape, Dawn Tiura interviews Kate Vitasek. Kate is an international authority on business relationships. On the podcast, she discusses what it means to have a “career,” which is defined not by your title but an accumulation of skills to help you meet your goals. When it comes to meeting those goals – whether it’s building strong business relationships, achieving a career milestone or learning a new skill – it's important to understand that success isn’t a straight path, but a series of sideways movements and sometimes even going backwards. 

Dawn Tiura: Folks, this is Dawn Tiura, President and CEO of Sourcing Industry Group, also known as SIG. I have the amazing Kate Vitasek here today. The reason I'm introducing her that way is every once in a while I find someone who doesn't know her name, and I feel like you must've been under a rock these last 10 years, because Kate is probably the most sought after speaker on the subject of sourcing. She is the most sought after person to learn her methodology and she's also the author of our sourcing methodology within the certified sourcing professional program. The amazing Kate Vitasek is also University of Tennessee as a professor. Kate, could you just share a little bit about the books you've written and who you are today, and then let's go backward and talk about career path.

Kate VitasekKate Vitasek, as you mentioned. Faculty at the University of Tennessee. I am a Tennessee Volunteer through and through. Dawn, you know every time I show up to a SIG meeting I'm wearing my orange.

Dawn Tiura: Yes, you are.

Kate VitasekI graduated from the University of Tennessee, so I go way back. I have a degree in marketing and supply chain from the university. I just absolutely love being a Volunteer, and I think maybe that's part of our spirit, why we like to share things. Because volunteers like to share and help out. Love to bring that to the professional industry. So, a little bit about my books. Gosh, my first book was in 2010. That's just amazing. And, as we talk about career advice, that was one of my goals, was to have a book. We'll talk about that later, but a lot of times people have goals and they don't do anything to help them. They aren't taking action towards their goal and you really have to take that action to get your goal. One book led to six books. Super cool. I like to think of myself as almost an artist. Writing books is like art. It's like you have a piece of clay and you're just molding it and molding it and molding it until something beautiful comes out. I just love to write. It's very therapeutic to me. I wasn't that way always. Used to be it was painful. I think kinda like speaking. A lot of times people think public speaking is painful and now I love to speak.

Dawn Tiura: That's really neat. I never realized that you didn't like writing the whole time because I would struggle with writing a book. I think it's one of those things I really want to do one day, but putting pen to paper is just really hard for me to do. I'm long-winded. You've mastered it, because your books, they're interesting. I just remember the latest one. It read like a novel, which was crazy because it was a business book. But, it was so compelling I didn't wanna put it down. That was the neatest part about the way you write, is that you draw the person into your books. So, I've always enjoyed reading everything you write.

Kate VitasekWell, thank you. That's actually one of the best compliments I get is people say wow, I actually liked your book. A business book can be good. I just think that's so cool because business books shouldn't be bad. They're full of knowledge. They should be exciting to read.

Dawn Tiura: Yeah, I agree. You've reached an incredible pinnacle of your career, where you are world renowned and sought after. But, let's go back and talk about, you obviously didn't grow up thinking you wanted to go into sourcing, did you?

Kate VitasekNo, absolutely not. I grew up in a very humble household in the outskirts of Dallas, Texas. Actually, Irving, Texas. They've rebranded, it's Las Colinas now. It's hip. But, when I grew up there it was not so hip. My goal, literally my goal, I wanted to be the Vice President of a company. I just wanted to work in business. I knew I wanted to work in business. I was sitting in math class, I remember this vividly, I was in eight grade and I was in algebra and I thought I never wanna use algebra again in my lifetime. What job could I have? I said I wanna be a business person that doesn't have to do math. And, I thought if I made $40,000 that would be a lot of money. That was my goal, and I had that goal, literally, almost until I went to college. I was in college and I was looking at starting salaries. Starting salaries weren't great back then. I think the best, best, best students made $33,000. That was if you had a killer job, you're coming out with an undergraduate, $33,000. So, I thought that goal may not be big enough. I better bump that one up. But, it wasn't until I got some data that supported that, but that goal, eighth grade til probably freshman in college.

Dawn Tiura: Wow. All I wanna be when I grow up is a VP and make $40,000. Compared to where you are today, boy you didn't take that straight path there, did you?

Kate VitasekThat's part of what my learnings are. Life is not a straight path. I use an analogy. Dawn you've heard me give my talk about vested, if you don't know where you're going, you're not gonna get there. I always talk about Mount Everest because you have to have that picture of where you're going. But, when you climb Mount Everest, it's not a straight path. It is so far from a straight path. Just google the path. You can get a map, the hiking path. You go up and sideways, and you actually come back down. Many people don't realize you have to climb Mount Everest more than once to get there because you go up and then you come down. It's actually called acclimatization. So, if you're no failing, you're not doing something right. I've learned that climbing is not one straight path and sometimes you go sideways. Many times you go sideways before you can go up. And, you sometimes go backwards.

Dawn Tiura: You do. As you ascend Mount Everest, you have to climatize yourself. You go up for a little while and you come down, and you go up and you come down. You go a little further and you come down. But, how do you equate that to your career then?

Kate VitasekI think of a career as really an accumulation of skills. Sometimes to get to the next level, you don't have the right skill. You may have some of the right skills, but you might've missed one. A great example of that was actually early in my career. My first job out of graduate school was working for, at the time, Anderson Consulting. It's now Accenture, but they had a really cool little boutique practice within their strategy group called The Logistic Strategy Practice. There was only 80 of us in the world. It was super cool. We did this amazing kind of strategy work. I still can't believe they hired us to do this. I'd show up and they'd go what are you kids doing here? But, that was the early '90s and that's the way it was. It was such a blast. I knew I still at that time wanted to be a VP. I never wanted to be a CEO. I just wasn't attracted to being a CEO, but I thought I wanna be a C suite, a VP, Senior VP. When you think about going up and not having a straight line, my analogy to business is your goal is really about the accumulation of your skills. Because, you can't get to the top of Mount Everest if you don't have all the right skills and equipment.

Kate VitasekI really learned that fairly early in my career. Right out of graduate school, I worked for Anderson Consulting. It was actually back then Anderson, but now it's Accenture. They're a logistic strategy practice. As a young consultant, we'd go in and we'd do all these cool, great things. This strategy work. But, I knew that if I actually wanted to be in business and didn't wanna just stay in consulting the whole time I needed to actually implement some of my strategies. No one on earth was gonna hire me to be a Vice President if I couldn't do what my advice was. So, I actually took a step back and went to work as a practitioner. I went to work for Microsoft and actually took a significant pay cut. But, I knew that was the only way I was going to be able to really acquire skills that I needed. Another time, I looked and to be a general manager, to have those big ticket senior jobs, you need to actually understand finance. I hated math. I'd never really run any type of operations from a finance perspective.

Kate VitasekSo again, you have to then take roles that you may not think are as sexy or as fun and force yourself into learning some of those skills. I guess there's some jobs where you just keep getting to be more and more and more of an expert in one little narrow thing, but I think the best people in the world, when you look at the people who I admire, they have lots of skills. They could do so many things. I think I wouldn't be a speaker or a writer or a professor if I didn't go through some of the skills that I had learnt, if I had just stayed and been a consultant. To me you have to backwards engineer that goal. So, you've got to have the goal. If you don't know where you're going, you're never gonna get there. But, sometimes you don't have the skills and so you always have to be thinking about the skills. My son's 13 and I love the energy of young kids. It's like, go try stuff. Just go try, and if you don't like it you don't have to do it. But if you never try, you're never gonna see if that's a skill that you want and try to understand how that's gonna fit into your career.

Dawn Tiura: That's amazing. Do you ever think you have to lose some things that you learned along the way, or shed them? Is there anything like that?

Kate VitasekYou know that math thing? Now that I have my job, I purposely have shedded all aspects of math. But, that's really not true. I say that. From an operational perspective, I'm no longer a vice president, general manager running an operation. So, I don't have that have P&L knowledge and practice those skills that I had to at once. But, I do. Like, with Vested, rule four is a pricing model with incentive. How do you actually develop pricing models for outsourcing deals? So, the math that I use today is just different types of math. So, I don't think you ever shed skills, but I was never a lover of piling over P&L data, so that's good. I'm glad I don't have that role anymore. I just love the role that I have now. People always ask me what's next? I get that question all the time. What's next? I was going, 20 more years. I said, we're changing the world one deal at a time. So, my Mount Everest isn't 57 companies who've done Vested deals. My next one is 157 companies. Then, it'll be 1,057 companies. I really am trying to double down to get Vested to spread. I think we've got the secret sauce for what we're doing and it's just climbing higher and higher on that mountain.

Dawn Tiura: We appreciate you doing that and having that as a goal because the more people that get turned on to the Vested methodology, the more strategic they're going to be seen because they're delivering such different results than they did from the tactical days. So, I hope you are doing this for the next 20 years and breaking through that ceiling and getting everybody to understand how to be strategic. We appreciate that being part of your goal.

Dawn Tiura: Kate, tell me a little bit about, you had mentioned something once about learning from Jim Carrey and I found that to be hilarious. Can you share that story?

Kate VitasekI think it's a true story. I've heard it told and I think I googled it, but you can't ever trust everything you see on Google, right? There's a famous story about Jim Carrey that he once wrote a check to himself for a million dollars. He pasted it on the wall and he said I'm gonna be this famous comedian movie star. When he achieved that, he then wrote himself a check. The check was really symbolic of his Mount Everest. I'm gonna be successful. This is what I'm gonna do. I think that visual is something that is really impactful. That's why I always like to go back to this Mount Everest. What's your Mount Everest? If you don't have a Mount Everest. We probably wouldn't have been able to put a man on the moon if we didn't physically say I'm putting a man on the moon and you can visualize it.

Dawn Tiura: That's true.

Kate VitasekBecause no one knew how to do that.

Dawn Tiura: Right. When I made that first commitment, you're right. They didn't know how to do it. They didn't know if it was possible, but they to do it.

Kate VitasekYeah. The Wright Brothers. Everybody laughed at them. "It's not possible. You can't do that." And, they had a very clear vision of where they wanted. Jim Carrey took this idea, and people laughed at him. They said you're not gonna do that. And, he was poor. He lived in his car.

Dawn Tiura: Wow.

Kate Vitasek: So, he wrote himself a check and he goes, I'm gonna cash this check one day. I think that's just very symbolic of the power of having that constant vision right in front of where you're going. If you like Jim Carrey, I'll stay on that topic with Jerry Seinfeld. How are these two comedians that are so successful, what are they doing? Jerry Seinfeld actually has a lot, there's a ton of apps that use a methodology that he created. It's got different names, but there's a chain. Every day, you should be doing something that gets you to your goal. If you're not practicing your climb to your Mount Everest, you're not gonna get there. He would write down a list and it'd say, "Did I tell a funny joke today? Did I try to get a job as a comedy club today?" It didn't matter what he did, he trying to develop skills. He said I'm gonna go get the skills I need to be an amazing comedian and he'd check a box. It created a chain. The goal is to see how many days you can keep the chain on, because as you develop a chain, that creates a habit.

Kate Vitasek: That's really a habit. Creating that chain of positive activities that gets you to where you wanna go. So many times Dawn, it's amazing, I call it the activity trap, we get stuck doing stuff every day but the stuff we're doing isn't climbing our Mount Everest. We have to get out of this activity trap and not just taking action but getting traction. Traction is when you're taking action on the things towards your goal. Your goal's often different. Your goal is something you don't do today. You gotta practice the future.

Dawn Tiura: I hear from so many people that it's so easy to get caught in your own trap. You just keep doing the same things over and over and of course you're going to expect a different outcome, even though it's foolish. But, I love the idea of creating your own chain and not breaking it. I had no idea that that came from Jerry Seinfeld.

Kate VitasekYeah. Actually, just go online. There's apps called 'The Way of Life', 'The Chain'. There's all kinds of little, simple to use apps on your cell phone. You can set a goal and say I'm gonna work on this every day. Even if your goal is something like to lose 10 pounds, did you get up and move today? You don't have to run a marathon, but did you do something positive towards your goal?

Dawn Tiura: Yeah, I love that. Do people only have one Mount Everest?

Kate VitasekNo. I've had multiple Mount Everests, actually. My first Mount Everest was to be a Vice President for $40,000, but then, as I mentioned, in college I had to readjust. Then, I said I still wanted to be a Vice President, but I upped the salary a bit. Then, I wanted to, as I was a Practitioner, I knew I really didn't want to run an operation anymore. I'd done that. Been there, done that. I liked the consulting aspect, but I didn't wanna go back into a major, big consulting firm. So, my next Mount Everest was to find a small boutique company, it's called Supply Chain Visions, and I had that company for 11 years.

Kate VitasekActually, the only reason I don't have that company anymore is because I'm so passionate about the work that I do at the University of Tennessee. I just really couldn't do both. I couldn't sustain a consulting firm with several employees and try to keep them fed and close the next deal and then try to do some of the forward thinking, thought work, the writing and stuff, that I really like to do. So, I had to let go of my consulting firm. Not because it wasn't successful, but because I think ... This is good advice my Dean at the University of Tennessee said. I went to him and I said you know, I've got this really successful consulting firm. We were actually ranked one of the top 10 coolest boutique consulting firms... by Gartner and ARC Advisory. We were a kind of small but cool little boutique. I said, "how can I let this go? We've created this really cool stuff. But, what I'm doing here at the university is so amazing." He just looked at me and he says, he owns a ranch, "Kate, you can't ride two horses."

Dawn Tiura: That is so true.

Kate VitasekI thought yeah, you're right. Now, you can wear multiple hats on your one common goal, but if you have two things that are so disparate like that, running a consulting company or creating the Vested movement and taking that research and turning it into tools and classes, that was taking a lot of time and energy. So, I really had to step back and say I have to let something go. It's hard. It's like your kid graduating and going off to college. I had to let him go. But, I had that skillset that could carry with me, so I didn't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Those skills manifested and carried over to what I'm doing. For example, all the skills I've learned carry over. Going all the way back to Anderson Consulting, in 1994, my very first project was to work with Microsoft to develop an outsourcing strategy.

Dawn Tiura: Oh my goodness.

Kate VitasekSeriously. Seriously. I remember creating this, we call it the 'Big Idea'. We shared the "Big Idea" with the Microsoft executives. And, Microsoft was tiny. There were 4,000 people at the time. 4,000 people.

Dawn Tiura: Oh my goodness.

Kate VitasekTiny, right? Microsoft's like yeah, that'll never work and they shelved it. In consulting, you have these vinyl binders. So, we had a vinyl binder study, and I was tired of doing these vinyl binder studies. That's one of the reasons why I went to work for Microsoft, because they had called me back. He said we want those kids to come back up here. They had some good ideas, but we gotta figure out how to do them now. I thought wow, I have to take this leap from consulting. As fun as it is, I've gotta do more of my advice. So, Vested stems all the way back to my earliest days. And then, being at Microsoft and outsourcing, actually doing and leading some of their outsourcing efforts in the early '90s, a lot of my learnings came from there. And then, going to work for Microsoft's largest supplier. I'd been on the buy-side. I'd been on the sale-side. There's no way I would have the learnings I had if I wasn't a consultant, a buyer, and a supplier. You see the problem from so many different angles and it makes you so much stronger.

Dawn Tiura: It sure does. I love that. So, you've been on this journey and you've had your multiple Mount Everests, but if you could look back to your younger self, maybe the one that was in college, and gave yourself some advice, or maybe right after college, upon graduation, what do you wish you had known then?

Kate VitasekWhat do I wish I had known then? Can I flip this just one bit?

Dawn Tiura: Yeah.

Kate Vitasekwanna tell you one thing I was told that stayed with me to this day, and I pass this advice on to everyone. We had a class at the University of Tennessee called 'Executive in Residence'. It was really awesome. Every week, an executive, literally a CEO, would come. We've had the CEO of Proctor & Gamble. Amazing people. CEO of Pepsi come down and talk to a class of 40 kids. I happen to be lucky enough to be one of those kids in that class and one of the executives said, and I wrote this down and I swear by it, "everything is a pilot and a draft". Because, when you're trying to drive change, people are resistant to change. If you just say, "can I pilot it? It's a crazy idea, but can I just give it a pilot? Oh, it's a draft. You might not like it. What do you think?" It softens, it gives people a runway for change.

Dawn Tiura: That's a great idea, yeah.

Kate VitasekI think that's what we need. Sometimes we are so stuck in the way we've always done it. Think about a best practice. Why do we hate the concept of a best practice? We're gonna do best practices. Well, today's best practice is not the next practice.

Dawn Tiura: Exactly.

Kate Vitasek: You get ingrained in the best practice instead of the best fit.

Dawn Tiura: Yes.

Kate VitasekI don't want best practice, I want best fit. I wanna be applying today's best fit solution, but today's best fit solution isn't gonna be tomorrow's because business is dynamic. So, everything's a pilot, everything's a draft.

Dawn Tiura:Oh, that's great.

Kate VitasekWhat have I learned myself, personally? I think if I had one advice to give someone, it would be that you don't have a career ladder. This notion of a career ladder is so lame. You don't go I did this for two years and I do this for two years and I have this career ladder. Instead, career surf. Go surfing. When young people ask me, I say career surf. One, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Go look. Go google and just do a LinkedIn. Go to LinkedIn and pick someone you admire that has that role. If it was the CEO of a startup, you find the startup you admire. Go look at their LinkedIn profile. What jobs did they do? Don't be afraid to just randomly pick up the phone and call someone. Send them a note. They may not answer you on LinkedIn. Actually, some of the more important people, I hate, they block themselves. They don't allow people to reach out to them, which I think is bad.

Dawn Tiura: I agree.

Kate VitasekI guess I get why they do that. But, pick up the phone. You might just get lucky and be able to talk to them. It never hurts. People call me and I answer the phone. They're like you answered the phone? I was like yeah, I talk. Really find who you think has led that Mount Everest expedition and reverse engineer their job career.

Dawn Tiura: From this podcast series, I have to tell you Kate, I've talked to so many people. I even have somebody who dropped out of high school who is now a VP of a company that is huge. Excuse me, a founder of a company that's huge. And he dropped out of high school. He wanted to be a recording artist and a music writer and a songwriter. His path was certainly nothing that I've ever heard of before. So, I love that you recognize that in everybody.

Kate VitasekEach time you do surfing, you're picking up some new skills. The key is to recognize when you've got the skills that you need and you need a new Mount Everest. I think sometimes people ... My dad. My dad had the same job for 38 years.

Dawn Tiura: Wow.

Kate VitasekWhen he left, that was his life. He didn't know anything better. Some people like that, and that's good, but I think our young people today, they'd go nuts if they were asked to keep the same job for 38 years. So, they need to understand their vision. They need to career surf to get those skills. And, they need to really every year, step back and reflect and go am I where I wanna be and do I have the skills I need? And, don't be afraid to go backwards. I took a huge pay cut when I left consulting to go work for Microsoft, but it was a wonderful decision because I needed those skills. I couldn't be where I'm at without those skills.

Dawn Tiura: That's great, I love that. What's next for you?

Kate VitasekI get that question all the time. I mentioned earlier 20 years. My mountain is so steep, so I've got a lot of uphill climbing. My vision's not changing, but I'm nowhere near the top. I'll just throw out a couple statistics, because I'm really proud of this. The first book came out in 2010. So, we started our research in 2003, our first book came out in 2010. So, in nine years, we've had over 1,500 people come through our classes at the University of Tennessee. And we have a free class. I don't count the free class. So, they've actually sat in online or in one of our classes. That's from over 300 companies. So, 300 companies sending 1,500 people. Vested is different. It's like the Wright Brothers trying to fly. It's different. Vested isn't always for everyone, especially the first time that they learn about it. We have 57 companies. People go isn't that a failure? 300 companies have come to your classes, only 57 have done deals? No, that's a victory. Do you realize the challenges these companies have to change? The contracts. They're going to legal and legal's going what, are you nuts? I've never seen a relational contract. What are you, nuts? We've never done that before. It's a huge change for these companies to change not just their behaviors of how they work with suppliers, learning not to use power.

Kate VitasekIf you're a big company, how easy it is to use power. They've been taught the project matrix, where you leverage, leverage, leverage, leverage. It's like no, leverage can be positive. Pull. Pulling the best suppliers to you, not beating them up. I look at that. The average company take almost two years between when they learn about Vested til they do a Vested deal. My goal is really to speed that up through our case studies. This is why I spend so much time on our case studies, because the case studies make it real. They're like wow, they did that? Really? Wow. It's not just the same original case studies that were in the book Vested how P&G, McDonald's, and Microsoft are winning, but now I have 17 case studies. We have healthcare case studies. We have a labor, a union, case study. We have a small business case study.

Kate VitasekSo, really doubling down on more of the outreach. More of the outreach, the keynotes, getting out there. Because, if people don't hear about what you're doing, they're never gonna learn. The rule of nines. You just gotta keep going. More case studies. Making our materials more accessible. We have 20 universities today that teach some aspects of our material. If you're a university, we give you our material. We want you to be teaching and introducing to the younger generation these newer, fresher concepts. That's where I'm really working. I've got a very steep climb, because in three years from now I hope I have 1,057 companies who are doing a deal. I don't know that I'll make that, but if I don't say it I'll never do it. It's like writing a book. You don't say you're gonna write a book, you're never gonna write a book. If you're not taking action every day to write a book, you're never gonna write a book.

Dawn Tiura: That's so true. I love it. Kate, as usual, I could talk to you for hours, but I know we're on a tight time schedule. I wanna just thank you for sharing your career advice. Folks, listen to this. Listen to it again and again, because Kate really knows what she's talking about and I want everyone in the world to be talking about Kate Vitasek and her Vested sourcing methodology. Kate, thank you so much. By the way folks, if you're listening, Kate does pick up her phone. She does reach out to you. She is the most incredible communicator. So, do reach out to her if you want some advice or you wanna ask her a question. She will return your call. Kate, thank you so much.

Kate VitasekWell, thanks for hosting me. This has been super fun. Normally, I'm always talking just about Vested and it's fun to give advice to others because it's the young people who are gonna drive the change. The dinosaurs are gonna die. It's true.

Dawn Tiura: Thank God.

Kate VitasekIt is true. Thank God. I can't wait. Fortunately, I'm not so old. I'm gonna be able to outwait these dinosaurs. I am gonna see a sourcing world where everyone's creating value instead of bringing out the hammer.

Dawn Tiura: I agree. I know, I agree. I can't wait to watch that new world evolve with you.

Kate VitasekAwesome. Well, thanks so much for having me.

Dawn Tiura: Thank you. Folks, that was Kate Vitasek from University of Tennessee and the author of the Vested Sourcing Methodology and a number of books. Hopefully, you'll listen and share this podcast. Please join us again very soon. Bye-bye.


About The Author

Kate Vitasek's picture

Kate Vitasek is an international authority for her award-winning research and Vested business model for highly collaborative relationships. She is the author of six books on the Vested model and a faculty member at the University of Tennessee. She has been lauded by World Trade Magazine as one of the “Fabulous 50+1” most influential people impacting global commerce.