Care for an inspiring story? Meet Amanda McElmurray of Fairphone.
Inspired-Talent | 16 September 2020
By: Eni van Bree and Jip Kelderman
Amanda McElmurray is only 29 years old and already the Supply Chain Manager of Fairphone, a very interesting Dutch company that is changing the mobile industry from within. How? By ‘simply’ executing their mission: Selling a fairly produced phone with a circular design. Amanda was born and raised in Arizona and moved to The Netherlands about 3,5 years ago, together with her husband and pup. In the early years of her career, Amanda worked in various roles within logistics for IKEA USA. After she had become the Logistic Manager in the Southern Netherlands Region, she decided to make a change: “The scope of my work had become so broad, that I didn’t really feel a direct impact being made with my work anymore which led me to Fairphone”. This made us curious to find out more: What does it mean to work for a company that has sustainability as part of its DNA? How does it impact the tasks and responsibilities of the supply chain team?
Have you always wanted to include sustainability in your work?
‘At first, I naturally started to navigate towards logistics focused roles. Being raised in Arizona is like growing up in nature. Therefore, this awareness has always been a part of my life, both professionally and personally. When I started working for IKEA in 2014, I started to understand the impact of companies and how that can relate to sustainability. Working for a company, together with colleagues who also value the sustainability of their impact, helps you to prioritize this. Especially now, working for Fairphone, there is no way I could even tell my colleagues that I’m not carefully handling my daily garbage at home without a finger wag in my direction!’
What kind of supply chain manager and leader are you?
‘My current role as supply chain manager at Fairphone is unique compared to previous roles as it is heavily operations-focused, and more on the manufacturer-forward-side of things. So, it starts with the outbound logistics at the manufacturer and goes all the way to warehousing at our 3PL and delivery to the end consumer. In regard to leadership, I believe in empowerment of my team – Such as collaboration and delegating responsibility, which I’ve found makes our team more effective and all colleagues hold personal responsibility in the team which I feel is appreciated! Something I’ve learned with that though is when you give responsibility, you have to truly accept that there will be mistakes made that have to be corrected and learned from so it’s important to allow the space for those moments as a leader.’
How are your tasks and those of your team influenced by the sustainable mission of Fairphone?
‘I think the main purpose for every supply chain team is to ensure that commercial ambitions are supported in the most efficient and effective way possible. That’s similar across different companies, however at Fairphone, we have the additional layer of our mission to put people & planet first which means still doing business, not at all costs. We take our impact seriously and establish criteria that is agreed upon on both a strategic and organizational level. Which, I think that is key for alignment across teams. An example of how this would impact my team would be around the initiatives we have in partnership with our manufacturer and suppliers around fair working conditions, materials sourcing, etc. We actually have an entire team dedicated to setting them up called ‘Impact Innovation’ that gets these great initiatives going and once they are established, they are typically handed over to my team to maintain so the Impact team can focus on the next initiatives.’
So, the impact innovation team makes agreements with supply chain partners with regard to the fairness of their operations. How do you ensure that your supply chain partners are being held to their promises?
‘We make these agreements with partners early on before starting our partnership together so both parties are fully aligned. From there, we follow up via regular communication and if needed, we even make action plans together so that these initiatives can be put into practice, particularly when more support and follow up is needed. Together with this and sometimes even input from worker surveys, we get continuous feedback that our impact innovation team and my team is monitoring this to ensure we’re on track.’
Although Fairphone is a big success, your sales numbers are very small compared to other phone giants like Samsung and Apple. How do you get supply chain partners to change their way of working especially for you?
‘That is one of our biggest challenges for sure. We indeed have low volumes compared to the big players in our industry and we have really big initiatives next to that. So, it can be hard to engage partners with that in mind, but we do manage to do it! There are various ways that we have to approach it – The approach between a material supplier and a manufacturer can look very different. For example, when ordering fair gold, we might team up with other companies to increase our ordering volumes and engage suppliers to source fair and sustainably. With manufacturers, it could be a financial incentive or there could be a shared interest or a benefit for both parties that we can tap into. For example, if we have initiatives to improve the working conditions for employees in the factory, this will likely also improve employee satisfaction return. Which could have a positive impact on employee retainment and training, resulting in not only an improvement in working conditions, but a positive business impact for the manufacturer as well. However, we definitely need to continue scale and increase our volumes in order for our initiatives to scale as well!’
So, you team up with competitors in your sourcing process. Are you not afraid they will copy your business propositions?
‘Well honestly, that would be a great thing for people & planet, so we encourage it! The reason we are in the smartphone industry is due to our start as a campaign at Waag around understanding what is actually inside of our smartphones. That campaign eventually became Fairphone in 2013 and we still have the mission of making electronics more honest and raising awareness of the consequences of current production methods which we definitely cannot do alone!’
That is very inspiring. Within Inspired-Talent, we want to contribute to fairness and sustainability too. With big dreams as such, it can be hard to define the first small steps towards achieving them because there is so much to be done. How do you choose what to do and improve first?
‘That is a really good point, and I think there are a lot of ways you can approach that. Professionally, for example, you could only look for jobs at companies that align with your values like I did. For me personally, the professional angle also pushed me to take steps on a personal level as well. Also, you’re typically working with colleagues who share those values, like I’m lucky to have at Fairphone, and that will keep you inspired to make your impact!’
Do you have any other tips for young professionals who want to make a positive impact?
‘Yes: Just do it and be yourself! And most importantly, do not be scared to have the unpopular opinion. There will be times where you will be the only with your opinion and it will be very uncomfortable, and you may want to just shut up and never say anything again. But those moments are when it’s most important to power through and stay true to yourself. Those uncomfortable moments can sometimes be what moves the needle and brings about change!’
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