Empowering Women in Supply Chain Management: Anne Kimball’s Journey and Vision for the Future

As Anne Kimball’s career in supply chain management has demonstrated, women are becoming increasingly influential in the field. “The number of women who I see at various conferences has increased quite a bit over the last five to eight years,” she reports. “Prior to that, it was pretty limited. You’d see maybe one or two women, whereas now with a conference of 150, you see at least 40 or 50 women. So that’s been a significant increase.”

Kimball – who is chief supply officer for Boudin – did not set out early in her career to manage supply chains. “I fell into international procurement within the cruise industry, and absolutely fell in love with the challenges of solving sourcing and logistics, and have been in it ever since,” she recalls. But in the beginning, her gender isolated her; however, she attributes her ability to overcome these “glass ceilings” with some great male mentors in the cruise industry and again at Jamba Juice Co., where she led international supply chain efforts for 10 years.

“When I started in the cruise industry, there was only one other woman I was aware of in supply chain at that time – we’re going back to the mid-1980s,” she remembers. “It was a very male-driven industry, and very sexist, very chauvinistic, especially working with European chefs and Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian suppliers.”

Now that the influence of women in the supply chain industry has improved, Kimball does not think gender should give women an undue advantage. “Women in supply chain continue to gain ground in leadership roles,” Kimball observes. “Tell us what you’re going to do, demonstrate accountability – don’t assume a role of entitlement because you’re a woman. You own your own development. Leverage your personal communication style that enhances these strategic supply relationships and creates value for your organizations.”

For Boudin’s 30 restaurants throughout California and its baking and distribution facilities, Kimball oversees supply chain, distribution, construction, development, facilities management, security and compliance. “At Boudin, I keep very busy,” she says. “I have recently assumed responsibility for security and compliance, which has been a tremendous learning opportunity. The company’s security and compliance efforts mitigate risk from a workers’ compensation perspective as well as loss prevention. We installed a surveillance system to ensure that we could monitor that our employees were operating in a safe environment and that they were following operational policies.”

Evolving Strategies

Kimball has been working on transitioning Boudin’s distribution model both internally as well as externally to optimize efficiencies and create transparency. Boudin has also invested in new systems which help to provide transparency including sales mix data, inventories, purchases, cost of goods, etc. “That has been very helpful,” Kimball says.

“The bigger challenge is to get that transparency at the distribution level – that’s where the next level of transparency needs to occur,” she emphasizes. “Certainly, some third-party vendors are out there trying to provide that, but it feels like we should be able to have that transparency directly with the distribution centers themselves.”

For the future, Kimball is doing succession planning. “The challenge within any organization is to ensure proper succession planning and bringing in the right talent that will continue to build upon the foundation that has been created,” she says. “As far as the future of supply chain here, I think it’s about continuing to build strategic relationships with suppliers and distributors that maintain our high standards while driving efforts to more sustainable and natural products, while ensuring we have the right partners to support growth. A lot of restaurant companies are growing by leaps and bounds. We’re a 166-year-old company, so being part of this iconic brand is a privilege.”