In this episode of Be EPIC, Matt is joined by Jason Evans, vice president of international realty and supply chain at Walmart.
A Walton College alumnus, Evans has held a number of impressive positions at Walmart, including senior director of Latin America business processes and senior director of international supply chain engineering. He continues to contribute to the Walton community as an MBA student mentor.
Listen as Jason Evans shares how he balanced work and continuing his education, why he finds working in Walmart’s international sector rewarding, and his thoughts on global supply chain volatility— and resilience—during the pandemic.
0:00:05.7 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to be Be Epic, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality and what those values mean in business education and your life today. I have with me today Jason Evans, who is vice president international supply chain at Walmart. He's been at Walmart for over 21 years. He received his undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Arkansas in 2003, and then his MBA in 2011. Thank you so much for joining me today.
0:00:52.2 Jason Evans: Absolutely, Dean Waller. And thanks for having me.
0:00:54.5 Matt Waller: Jason, one thing I would like to ask you is, you waited almost 10 years before you came back to get your MBA. But you were working at Walmart. Was it hard to balance school and your work life?
0:01:10.7 Jason Evans: Yes. Thinking back to that time, definitely it was. And it was also something that I was doing on purpose as well. I think one of the things I decided after I completed my undergraduate degree is that I had interest in doing advanced education in some field. I wasn't sure at the moment. But I wanted to get work experience first before I went back. And it came a point in time and it was around 2009, 2010 when I started looking at different programs and ways of doing it. I purposefully did an MBA because I wanted to broaden myself a bit. And I was an engineer by undergraduate. And when I made the choice of where I wanted to go and what I... There was a couple of things that were important. One was I wanted to be around other students in my MBA program. I wanted to also do it where I could work at the same time. And the program that is there now, I think we call it the Executive MBA at Arkansas. It sort of checked a lot of those boxes. And so I decided to do that one. And the piece with balance, I would tell you, just growing a little bit older from that, that was about 10 years ago when I took it.
0:02:21.2 Jason Evans: I didn't have kids at the time. But it was something that I knew was gonna be coming soon. So I was trying to balance that piece of home, family, work, school and what was coming. But it was a challenge. But I do think it was one of those things that when you go through it, it helps build your capacity. It helps build your ability to manage and scale time. 'Cause it only gets harder. And I'm sure you know as you go more and more in your career, time is more and more of a premium. So long-winded answer to your question, but absolutely. And it's one of those skills that have helped. And I think that's one of the biggest takeaways, I would say, coming out of the program too, is being able to manage time and prioritize.
0:03:02.1 Matt Waller: Yeah, that is so tough. It's one of those things that it sounds like it's easy to do, but it's never easy. And especially when you're going to school and working. You weren't just working. You had a very demanding job. You were director of International Productivity Operations. But it looks like you've been in international quite a bit.
0:03:26.1 Jason Evans: Yeah. I've spent the majority of my career with... I moved to our international division around in 2008. So about 13 of my 21 years have been in our international segment.
0:03:37.5 Matt Waller: Did you want to be involved in international?
0:03:40.5 Jason Evans: Yes. It was definitely something I was very interested in. Even coming into Walmart, I knew a bit of the scale and what it entailed. But it was definitely part of our business that I was intrigued and wanted to be in.
0:03:53.9 Matt Waller: So, tell me a little bit about your current job. What do you do?
0:03:58.1 Jason Evans: I support all of our supply chain operations outside of the US. And so Walmart, as a total enterprise, we have our US division, we have our Sam's division and we have our international division. And this operates in several countries outside of the US. And so my direct team supports our distribution and transportation operations in those businesses outside of the US. So for example, we have a Walmart Mexico. So the supply chain operations leader there is who I work with directly and help support his business.
0:04:34.9 Matt Waller: So, I know at one point earlier in your career, you were senior director of Latin America Business Processes.
0:04:43.0 Jason Evans: Yes.
0:04:44.0 Matt Waller: And Walmart really grew in Latin America fairly quickly around that time. What kinds of things were you doing there?
0:04:52.9 Jason Evans: Yep. I actually have spent a lot of my time in international working with our Latin American businesses. We've got a really large and successful business in Mexico and Central America. And during the time in that role, a lot of my job function was supporting our stores in those markets and really leveraging the best processes, the best technologies that we have within Walmart, and getting those localized into their businesses. And so when we talk about Latin America and the countries I've mentioned, we have enterprise systems. And so we have systems that run stores. We have systems that run distribution centers, etcetera. And it's not as simple as just to turn a system on in a different business unit, an operating unit. There's different rules. There's different business processes. You'll see a Walmart store in Mexico, but there will be different items 'cause the customers are different, they are asking for different things. And so what my team was doing a lot during that time in my career was really leveraging our best processes from an operations business point of view. So how we run stores. How do we receive freight into a store? How do we check customers out at the cashier? What kind of systems do our associates have in Mexico to be able to provide that best service to a customer?
0:06:09.0 Jason Evans: And so from our team's standpoint it's getting what's ever new and best from wherever, it could be from the US, it could be from the UK at the time but getting those into those different countries so that they would really get the value of being a part of the Walmart enterprise. When we look at our international division, especially our teams that work here corporately, our sort of mantra, what we're trying to do is really provide that powered by Walmart. We have local entities that operate retail businesses. But what our teams are doing from the home office here is to help drive that value of being part of the bigger global scale of Walmart as a whole. And so during my time working at the stores is in that same mantra and then as well as in my time in supply chain that's been a bulk of my career.
0:06:56.1 Matt Waller: Countries vary quite a bit in terms of things like regulatory issues, even the psycho-graphics of people in those countries, what they long for, what they value, and in the US, we are very focused on efficiency and productivity, but even within the United States, different regions of the country have different cultural aspects and in some cases, different regulatory issues. I would think from the perspective of international supply chain operations, it must be somewhat challenging to, keeping all of that in mind as you roll out new supply chain processes or improving them.
0:07:46.5 Jason Evans: Yeah, and it's really... I would tell you one of my... Like I said the bulk of my career has been in our international segment, and when people ask why I've spent this amount of time in this division and not gone back to the US or gone to a different part of our organization, the answer is pretty easy for me, I've really enjoyed the people, I really enjoy the differences of culture of learning those different types of things that are really unique, so when you go... When you're trying to run a distribution center in Mexico City, all the different problems that they see just within that versus a Toronto, Canada or Santiago, Chile, there's such depth in that diversity of problems, and there's also... It's really interesting, the problems can be very similar in terms of how to solve them, but to be successful, you really have to understand the people component of it, and it's something that I've really passioned myself to be thoughtful in learning and being authentic and wanting to learn that.
0:08:56.1 Jason Evans: And so it's really fulfilling to do those things, and to your question, where you're going in terms of of those uniquenesses, the challenge is where you can find the similarities because there is gonna be uniquenesses. And so a lot of our jobs in the work that we do is, there's always gonna be things that are different is, how do we take what's actually the same and then be able to adapt to some of those differences that are local, and I think it is a very fulfilling thing, because once you can go and learn and understand a business and the culture of the people running those businesses, it's always been very rewarding from what I've found.
0:09:33.8 Matt Waller: With the current situation in supply chain, it's interesting, there's a colleague of mine at Michigan State, Jason Miller, who post quite a bit on LinkedIn about his data analysis of the supply chain, and part of his point is that you see all these headlines saying the supply chain's broken, but he says the data doesn't show that in the sense that, yes, there are problems, there's a lot of congestion in ports and other places, but if you look at the amount of throughput, it's really high. So if the processes were broken, you wouldn't be able to get this much throughput, the problem is the demand's so high, and there are certainly shortages, but when demand spikes, it can't help but happen. And on top of that, we had COVID, but I'd love to hear some of your thoughts about that.
0:10:26.5 Jason Evans: It's a global problem, and it's been one that it's shown itself in different ways over the past 18 months or so, I think if you think back, there were basic consumables that were real big challenge at the beginning, and that all gets spun into the... It was just a different demand and a plan, if business, and this isn't just Walmart, just businesses in general, knew those things were happening, or were going to happen, they would have been able to plan it further in advance and get things... It is that volatility, especially just throughout the supply chain that it's not planed for. And I'm sure your supply chain students are learning a lot about this when they're going through forecasting and economic order quantities and those types of things, the volatility of demand across from source all the way down to the customer that's actually buying it. It's just not been something that we've seen across different industries, both from the manufacturing to the retailer segment, so I think we're trying to work through what is gonna be normal, what is that demand really gonna end up being. You know, there was a lot of research done at the front end of COVID of where is the demand gonna go after this falls off.
0:11:40.8 Jason Evans: What's gonna really... There was a lot of things and headlines out there is that these businesses are gonna really suffer once COVID goes away because they're only hot now because of COVID, I think, but in general, people have seen those continue to be positive and thrive even. And so it's that new customer behavior, understanding where are the... That shopper and that customer is wanting to go. I think if we can, I think everybody is trying to figure that to they self, so that we could get this... What is that new demand pattern, what's that new forecast need to be, to best position your business to be able to serve in the most cost-efficient way?
0:12:19.3 Matt Waller: That's interesting. Obviously, I know there's a lot of uncertainty at the consumer level, and there's that concept of the bullwhip effect. Do you see that playing out? Is the uncertainty amplification at the consumer level really being amplified as it goes up the supply chain right now?
0:12:42.0 Jason Evans: I think so. I think you'll see it in different ways in different parts of supply chain, so if you go from the customer all the way back, there, you're making different choices throughout on how much are you willing to spend to assure that that customer has availability of what you're trying to provide them, whether it's an item or if it's a service, you're building that capacity one way or another, and I think what... If you looked at a bunch of things when this first happened, I think there was a huge change in mindset on resiliency, that was a super hot topic about 2020, is how do we be more resilient, how do you be more resilient? I would say there's a simple answer to resiliency and that's how much you wanna spend. Now, it's gonna turn into a sort of a cost-benefit analysis to determine that, but that's a big part of it, because you don't wanna be overly resilient 'cause you're just duplicating things and that can turn into inefficiencies very quickly. So to answer your question, I think so, yes. And I think each decision point on what you're trying to make investments and what you're trying to design or develop for your business, you're gonna have to have that choice.
0:13:57.6 Matt Waller: Jason, what advice do you have for students? Is there... Whether they be undergraduates or MBA students?
0:14:04.0 Jason Evans: No, I think it's a great question. And when I get this question, I'll start off by saying it's overly simplistic, but I think these were key learnings for me going through my career that were immensely helpful. The first thing I would say is it really... I would really challenge everyone to be very thoughtful on yourself. So what really are you good at and what really do you have opportunities in? It's a very simple thing to say. It's a really hard thing for people to actually do to be that introspective and critical, and it certainly... I was in my 30s before I would start listening, I think, to the context of what I was hearing, and I'll start with that by saying, one, being able to listen and being able to listen to hear and to understand versus to be able to speak and respond is a very powerful skill for people in business, some of the best business leaders I've seen are incredible listeners, and they can read into what people are saying better, faster than most people, and I think that's a super skill to be very purposeful of developing and really being able to take in information in a way that, I guess, if you let people talk, they'll talk to you, but are you really listening to what they're talking to you about? That's been a big learning for me.
0:15:27.4 Jason Evans: And then the second one I would say is being really honest with yourself on what's important and being able to continuously assess that so that you're making decisions for yourself that makes you happy. A lot of times I'll talk with people that are making sort of career choices or life choices that it's not about for them what's most important, and so I really challenge them back in the context. Especially with my mentor group and people that I talk with, you need to... First of, what's most important for you? Is it location, is it money, is it position, is it company? What are the things that you really put the sort of guardrails about your choice so that you know that you're making the best choice for you? 'Cause it's not gonna be the same for everyone. And it's not something that people talk about a lot. It seems more of like just how do I get to my next role? That's all I want, well, maybe, maybe not, personally, there was... I've had chances to make career choices in my career that it really took some time, I had to figure, is this really what I want to do? Why is that? Does my wife agree? Is this the best position for my family? Etcetera, etcetera.
0:16:42.2 Jason Evans: I think age has helped that, I think going through life experiences has helped that, but I think I wish someone would have told me that when I was starting my career more, that just wasn't something that was overly talked about at the front end.
0:16:53.5 Matt Waller: Well, I know you serve as a mentor for our MBA mentorship program.
0:17:00.6 Jason Evans: Yeah.
0:17:01.6 Matt Waller: And I know that's a critical part of our program, actually, I really believe everyone needs to be mentoring and to be mentored. I currently have a couple of mentors and I mentor a couple of people. I started doing it, I think in the '90s. And it really does make a big difference when you've got someone, especially mentors who can speak into your life, honestly, know about your blind spots and your strengths and be an encouragement to you, but we're all imperfect and we all make mistakes. And back to your listening concept, I totally agree with that. It's something I do think you learn as you get older, although I don't think everyone does, it's a mix, but the earlier you can get that in life, the better, and I think having a good mentor that understands that makes a big difference, but you're one of our mentors for our MBA students. Have you enjoyed that? How's that gone?
0:18:02.7 Matt Waller: Yeah. So, one, I would say yes, for sure. In terms of enjoyment it is, it's something that... The value, I always tell the students I get to talk with, the value is both ways, I love hearing their perspective, it is such a different world that they're going through right now coming through that than when I went in. I think a lot of times, they don't really get that context of what we can get back as a mentor to hear from mentees, so I always tell the groups that I get to talk with that's something I really value and enjoy. It does make you feel good when you can help someone make choices and decisions and that are really purposely trying to listen and learn because it's the biggest decision that they can make a lot of times that they're trying to get advice on how to find full-time employment after graduating or maybe making career changes after getting a degree and trying to do some different things, but how to frame up that choice. I always like talking with my mentors on their perspective of what went wrong and why, so that I could avoid problems potentially, but just those types of open conversations.
0:19:12.1 Jason Evans: The last cycle of students... I didn't do it this cycle, but the last cohort that went through that I was a mentor with, I believe each one had called me separately after, on just different topics like that. Alright, I'm going into this... And maybe it's just reassurance of, "No, you're gonna be fine. Go do good." Sometimes people just need to hear that but those are the types of things I've enjoyed the most.
0:19:40.7 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The Be Epic Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching, Be Epic podcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C Podcast. And now be epic.