Procuring diversity: The benefits of balance

Procuring diversity: The benefits of balance

Sanja Cancar-Todorovic, Enterprise Procurement, Outsourcing & Vendor Management Leader, talks about diversity and why balance is best for productivity

Following a career that saw her spend 18 years in the male-dominated telecommunications industry, Sanja Cancar-Todorovic is no stranger to a diversity imbalance. 

But rather than simply endure the status quo, she is determined to bring about fresh change in her latest role at Home Trust, Canada’s largest independent trust company that offers a wide range of financial services including deposits, residential mortgages, commercial mortgages, and credit cards.

“I head up the Enterprise Procurement Outsourcing and Vendor Management team here at Home Trust,” she explains, when asked to define her current role. “My team is driving enterprise procurement, contact center outsourcing, and third-party risk management strategies to create value across the organisation while influencing behaviors and processes consistent with our policy, risk appetite, business strategies, best practices, all while mitigating the risks to the organization.”

Her work in the telecommunications industry has shaped her approach to procurement because 11 out of the 18 years spent in telcos were specifically in strategic sourcing, outsourcing, and vendor management area. 

“From my experience, telcos are leaders in innovation, automation, and digitization of processes, simply because they have to be due to the competitive landscape they operate in, and the fact that they support the infrastructure that IOT is built on.”

Cancar-Todorovic says she is grateful for the time she spent in that environment because it taught her ‘everything’ about the importance of the customer experience, reliability, and sustainability of products and services, agile working environment with fast go-to-market mandates in order to remain on that competitive edge.

But, she says, “The most importantly, telco experience instilled in me is that diversity is the key driver to innovation. And when I say diversity, I'm not talking about DEI (diversity, equality, inclusion) only, but also diversity of thought, diversity of the supply chain, diversity of suppliers through products, services, and offerings.” 


Diversity in business

Diversity, Cancar-Todorovic says, fosters creativity and generates the best ideas from our suppliers, partners, customers, and employees at all levels of the organisation, and incorporating them into our business, guarantees business success.  

The only caveat, she believes, is to have a strong corporate culture, that encourages innovation. An agile approach to the implementation of new ideas also encourages people to try new things, in a controlled environment without the fear of failure. 

“And if they're not successful, they're able to fail small, fail fast, learn from it and try again, but this time with gained experience” Cancar-Todorovic says. So, in essence, celebrating the failures and successes of any innovative process only breeds more success and more innovation down the line.


Women in procurement

Though she feels lucky that her current role allows her to amalgamate all of her 20 years of experience, best practices, and lessons learned, into one role experience, Cancar-Todorovic says she never felt that her performance in the workplace was disadvantaged.

She also takes a pragmatic approach to her environment, seeing it as an opportunity to make headway in a challenging setting. “I think the trick to that is really not to take things seriously and personally, and really use every interaction as a learning opportunity. 

Having a family was never up for debate for Cancar-Todorovic. She wanted to be both a mother and a respected corporate professional. She has certainly achieved that goal, but it hasn’t always been an easy ride. 

Ultimately, she acknowledges that working mothers face unique challenges. . “If you're out of sight, you are out of mind, and sometimes that translates into delayed career growth. If I could do it all over again, would I change anything? Absolutely not. I think people need to measure their happiness by how fulfilled their life is. And personally, I don't know that I would be able to ever feel fulfilled without having my family.”

She is also adamant that ‘Procurement’ in general, needs women because of the unique talents that they bring to the business table. “I think women have a very strong emotional intelligence, and that is crucial to being a great leader, strong negotiator, and a good business partner.”


Diversity in the industry

As part of her mission in procurement to increase diversity levels, Cancar-Todorovic has introduced the Corporate Supplier Diversity Program to Home Trust. The initiative was launched in January 2021 and has been instrumental in successfully forming a number of significant business relationships with certified diverse suppliers, which will be expanded upon. 

The current focus is on tier-1 suppliers, and as the company evolves there are plans to shift that focus to include tier-2 suppliers as well. 

Home Trust is now a corporate sponsor to Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council, which is the organization that certifies Aboriginal and minority-owned businesses, as well as the corporate sponsor to Women Business Enterprise Canada, which is the organisation that certifies women-owned business.

She explains, “A diverse and inclusive environment facilitates a broader exchange of perspectives and better reflects the true makeup of our society. So, choosing to do business with organisations that share the same values as us, and building a portfolio of viable competitive and diverse suppliers, allows us to make better business decisions while helping to create healthier communities and differentiate ourselves in the hearts and minds of our customers.”

Cancar-Todorovic believes the procurement industry lends itself perfectly to meeting diversity objectives in the workplace as well as in business. 

“Over the years I have seen an increase in women coming into this industry, and it makes me happy,” she says. “I'm not surprised by it because this industry is so dynamic. There is no other role in any organization that gives you visibility across the entire organization (as opposed to just your business unit), is impacted by not just what’s happening in the organization, but what’s happening on a global scale (from a geopolitical standpoint to weather and climate change across the globe), and it truly is never ever boring!   It’s a great dynamic industry, and I'm glad to see that a lot more women are seeing the value in joining it and really thriving in it.”

The general sphere of diversity is also changing, she feels. “DEI really became a hot topic in the recent months. And while organizations spoke about it in the past, I think the advent of the last 16 to 18 months really put those words into actionable measurable targets that most organizations are now reporting to their shareholders. So, as the saying goes, “What gets measured gets done,’ which is a good step in the right direction.”


Risk mitigation and management

Alongside her passion for diversity, Cancar-Todorovic is also an expert in risk management. The past two years have been challenging for companies globally For many,  “digital transformation was primarily driven by, not the CIO, but the COVID. And the pandemic truly accelerated the fourth industrial revolution”.

“A lot of organizations were tiptoeing around the concept of digital transformation until COVID literally just pushed them right into it. It's amazing to see the changes that have occurred in such a short period of time. But with massive changes, you now have the exposure to massive risks that, if not mitigated properly, could be catastrophic to the organization.”

Cancar-Todorovic points to areas such as supply chain, vendor concentration, fourth-party risk management, information security, business continuity and says that all of those were points that were ticking-the-box exercises prior to COVID. But as a result of the pandemic, they're now part of the elevated third-party risk management process.

“At Home Trust we have partnered with some great vendors that enabled us to automate our sourcing process and ensure a robust third-party vendor management program that ensures a solid due diligence process, not just at the onboarding stage, but throughout the life cycle of the vendor relationships, including continues monitoring of our critical suppliers."

Attitudes to risk management have changed over the past two years too – and companies have had to find unique ways to respond to that. She explains that while both procurement and risk management might have been seen as bottleneck functions within the organization, the view has changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic.

“The disruptions we all felt and continue to feel within supply chains, as well as the unprecedented reliance on IT Vendors for the business continuity, elevated the importance of the robust Procurement and Vendor Management Strategy. 

Home has taken this one step further, and shed the concept of the conventional Vendor Management practice, to Partnership Management, where vendors are not just the service or product providers, but are a critical part of our roadmap and continues success.”

Cancar-Todorovic says the traditional measures of success for procurement were always based on savings or value for money. That outdated concept has now been replaced by the value of ownership. “We focus on strategic partnerships based on mutual trust and respect, efficient operating model, financial stewardship, risk containment, supplier management, reliability, sustainability, appetite for innovation, and passion for customer experience.”


Strategic partnerships in procurement

Partnership roles have been essential in making sure the massive shifts that have occurred over the past two years have been dealt with smoothly. As an organization Home Trust is in the final stretch of its IGNITE program, a multi-year, digital transformation initiative for the company. In addition to a significant SAP re-platforming, it involves numerous other strategic vendor partners. Ignite drives significant improvements in Home’s ability to manage deposits, loans, treasury, and syndications, while allowing us to streamline financial operations, and enhancing our ability to deliver superior customer service.

“Aside from IGNITE, which is an overarching program, we have numerous different initiatives of a transformative nature,” says Cancar-Todorovic. These include digital banking, credit cards, and contact centers, that all demand a strong and strategic sourcing strategy and a robust vendor management program. 

“Even within our own procurement team, we have engaged a number of vendors to help us automate our processes, making us more efficient, resilient, and adaptable to business needs. We have partnered with ServiceNow to ensure that we have a robust in-take process and embedded workflows, ensuring adequate controls are put in place in line with our organizational risk appetite.”

Home Trust also partnered with DocuSign, a collaboration that has been instrumental in the sourcing business continuity, especially as the company moved to the work-from-home model in early 2020.

“We are further looking to enhance that process by integrating DocuSign with our SharePoint central contract repository that was also launched earlier this year. Panorays is another vendor that we engage with on our Third-Party Risk Management Transformation, in order to automate our Third-Party security management for Vendor Due Diligence process, Annual Vendor Attestations & Vendor Materiality Assessments.”

Scanmarket eSourcing tool is another strategic partnership, formed recently to help accelerate Home Trust’s go-to-market strategy by simplifying and speeding up the competitive bidding process that was previously done manually.


Cyber initiatives for Home Trust

With digital transformation now in full swing, cybersecurity is now an area of major concern. The footprint upon which criminals can attack has been widened by the work from home mandates. Strategy is key, says Cancar-Todorovic, and ultimately, the fortification of a company comes down to leadership, training, and a solid plan of action. 

“Cybersecurity and information security is one of the most important risks that we continuously look to improve. At Home, we do that by investing in our cyber resources and tools. We provide regular training and testing to all of our employees, and we have the governance processes around the operational risk committee. We always try to stay one step ahead of the threat, and that seems to be a secret sauce to our success thus far.”

Home Trust enabled 98% of its workforce to work from home within two weeks of the pandemic being announced, without experiencing any service disruption. 

Cancar-Todorovic says the remote working mandate also shifted attitudes globally towards the security of the home environment, and people’s ability to buy and keep their homes. The demand for mortgages and home loans skyrocketed. “While we were moving to a remote working model, we also had to launch and administer a deferral program to provide temporary financial support to many of our borrowers”.

“It's a perfect storm when you have so many moving parts happening all at the same time. And on top of it all, it was important to update all the processes and documentation required to support mortgage lending and ensure the safeguard of the physical safety of our stakeholders and all the documents that were coming in, like appraisals, inspections, legal documents, and so on.”

But unlike many companies that were caught short by sudden digital shift, Home Trust had already made strides towards digitisation. 

“Home has moved to paperless underwriting and funding, which prepared us well to enable our customers to achieve their homeownership goals in a remote workplace. But looking back now, the dependence on the IT vendors has not dropped. 

“More than ever we are now dependent on our IT vendors, and that will just continue to be the case as we move to a more hybrid work-from-home model. Home has been able to keep our culture alive and thriving while continuing to meet our strategic objectives and deliver strong financial performance. This is evident in both our employee engagement scores, as well as the value we are creating for our shareholders.”

Throughout the pandemic Home Trust also made a significant effort to provide people leaders with the new tools and resources, to manage and lead their teams remotely. These included seminars, workshops, guest speakers, and the deployment of new and engaging collaboration tools. 

“We also work very closely with the mortgage broker community to serve our customers. And during the pandemic, we made broker engagement, education, and service a priority to ensure that they too could meet the evolving needs of their clients through these unprecedented times”.

“We also provided direct-to-consumer solutions and we have been working to enhance their digital experience and the platform’s functionality so they can interact with us in a medium of their choice, through a variety of omni-channels, whether its voice, in-person or over the phone.”


People value and mortgages

The mortgage lending business is a people-driven business and therefore the knowledge and expertise of Home Trust’s people, its partners, services, and relationships are critical to success in this industry. The company encourages a solution-oriented, entrepreneurial, and hardworking culture embedded in the foundation of sustainable risk culture. 

In 2018, Home Trust introduced a new set of corporate values, which are part of everyday language, and govern every decision its employees make.

“We regularly engage our employees to help make sure that Home is a great place to work by conducting regular employee town halls, surveys, feedback sessions,” says Cancar-Todorovic. 

“And we actually use the feedback that we get from those sessions to further improve where we are. So, it really doesn't come as a surprise that recently we had been awarded the Great Place to Work certification, and Home has also been named a Great Place to Work in Ontario.”


The future of procurement

While diversity is obviously a key passion, she also believes the industry will have much bigger changes in store over the next five to ten years, and part of that will be its recognition as an essential profession. 

“Until recently, procurement as a term in a profession was not really given the recognition it deserved. It was often misused to describe a purchaser or a buyer. In the next five years, I think procurement will solidify its position as the key player and a trusted advisor to the business, recognized for its strategic process of product and service sourcing, market research, planning, negotiations, and third-party risk management.”

The pandemic had motivated this period of maturation, she explains, because it revealed how unprepared the supply chain was for major global disruption. 

“Many might feel content with the changes that have been put in place so far. And I know it's not a popular opinion or belief, but all roads are pointing to the fact that we might be hit with another pandemic in our lifetime. And as such, this industry cannot get complacent with the transformation that has taken place so far and simply just take a break from this transformative journey that we are on. The way the industry has reinvented itself during COVID should only be the beginning and not the final destination.”

And this time in history is the perfect point to embrace innovation, she adds, because change and dynamism are everywhere. “I love being in a position where I have a front-row seat to the new and innovative vendors and their products and services that really have the ability to change everything that we do.”