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Women in Procurement Spotlight | Teresa O’Brien

Meet Teresa O’Brien, a procurement veteran with 30+ years of experience who has charted a remarkable journey from an entry-level receptionist to a leading figure at Intuitive Surgical. Teresa's career is a compelling narrative of growth, mentorship, and the unexpected turns that led her to shape procurement and sourcing organizations. Her story not only sheds light on the evolution of procurement but also emphasizes the significance of aligning personal values with professional goals, mentorship, and the impact of advocating for women's health and STEM education. Teresa's insights offer invaluable lessons for those navigating the procurement field, making her journey an inspiring testament to resilience and innovation in a male-dominated industry.

How did you find yourself pursuing a career in procurement?

I didn’t pick procurement; procurement picked me. Early on, there were no formal supply chain degrees, so my entry into this world was quite unorthodox. I started as a receptionist at a high-tech manufacturing company, soon moving up to an expediter role, which introduced me to the intricacies of procurement and negotiation. Back then, it was an all-men's world, complete with office smoking and lunchtime cocktails. But some leaders saw potential in me, bringing me into negotiations and teaching me the art of the deal. My education paralleled my career growth; obtaining a Bachelor of Science took me nine years, during which I gained invaluable procurement experience, eventually leading me to explore the broader supply chain.

What has been a significant challenge in your career, and how did you overcome it?

One major challenge was my early career focus on titles and money, mistakenly equating them with my self-worth. This pursuit often led me astray. Over time, I learned the importance of aligning with companies and managers whose core values matched mine, realizing that job moves driven by title or compensation, against my internal compass, never worked out.

What advice would you offer young women aspiring to succeed in procurement?

It's been an uncomfortable journey, especially as an introvert. My advice is to put yourself out there, seek mentors, and build networks within and outside of procurement. It's akin to dating – you won't click with everyone, but that's fine. It's crucial to find those with whom you do. The personal board of directors I've formed over the years has been invaluable, offering reassurance and advice when needed. Starting this practice early in one's career is essential.

Where do you see the future of procurement heading, and what skills are essential for future leaders?

I often say we need to “speak CFO” – translating our work into financial impacts that resonate with executive leadership. Beyond mastering “procurement speak,” it's vital to embrace data, moving from traditional negotiation tactics to information-driven decision-making. The future will lean heavily on artificial intelligence, making the quality of our information, not just our negotiation style, the key differentiator.

What passions or hobbies do you pursue outside of work, and how do they influence your professional life?

My mornings start early at F-45, a high-intensity training gym, which is where I channel stress and prep for the day. While I've dabbled in creative hobbies like glass blowing, fitness remains my constant. Another passion is advocating for women's health, specifically around menopause awareness, aiming to open dialogues about this significant yet often overlooked phase.

In honor of Women's History Month, could you share the women who have inspired you the most, both professionally and personally?

My mother was a trailblazer, demonstrating what female leadership in a male-dominated industry looks like. Her example showed me anything is possible. Additionally, working at Intuitive Surgical has surrounded me with brilliant women in STEM, further fueling my passion for encouraging girls in science and engineering. Witnessing their achievements reinforces the belief that if you can see it, you can be it, emphasizing the power of representation and aspiration.

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