WestRock Company has a very specific mission: to be the premier partner and unrivaled provider of paper and packaging solutions to the consumer and corrugated markets. Mauricio Morales has a plan that’s helping it get there fast.
Morales joined WestRock in March 2016 as procurement director of raw materials, a year after the company was formed by the merger of Rock-Tenn Company and MeadWestvaco Corporation. He quickly turned his department into a leader in efficiency and innovation. How? By providing a framework that keeps them motivated and empowered to perform at a high level.
“When I started, we had people from two legacy companies who needed to be on the same page,” says Morales, who leads five category managers sourcing chemicals such as sulfuric acid and materials such as starch for WestRock’s paper and packaging. “I thought it was important to put together something simple that brought us back to the basics of strategic sourcing and cate-
Morales has shown a knack for creating strong management structures everywhere he’s been. Prior to WestRock, he held procurement and project-management roles at appliance manufacturer Electrolux and at the management consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal. “I learned that when leading a team, it’s important to provide clear direction, with goals and objectives and a link from the team’s work to the results,” he says. “It’s also helpful to have a quick reference guide when the team feels lost. Having that playbook in place gives you a sense of where to go if you don’t know what to do next.”
With that in mind, Morales has set up a strategic working process to guide his raw-materials team at WestRock. The process is essentially a cycle, culminating with a review point that leads to the process beginning again.
Step one is creating a category profile. Category managers define the spend of the category and how it has changed over time. They also increase their understanding of the market, the players in the space, and stakeholder needs and priorities. “We align the outside world with the inside world and find angles to attack,” Morales says.
The second step is creating the category strategy, which starts by understanding where the category is and where WestRock wants it to be. In this step, category managers also quantify risks and opportunities and communicate those to the stakeholders. The managers even create a playbook, which Morales helped design using his prior experience.
“We create a playbook for each category we manage and review it at least twice a year so that we can make any necessary adjustments,” Morales says. “The playbook includes a lot of things, from what the market is doing to how we go about meeting the company’s needs.”
“When I started, we had people from two legacy companies who needed to be on the same page. I thought it was important to put together something simple that brought us back to the basics.”
The playbook serves as a helpful reference, reminding category managers of the steps and tools available to help them perform their jobs. Morales says it’s also “a reference to review work and measure success, and a great communication tool that helps us talk to the entire organization, stakeholders, and leaders about what we do and how we do it.”
From there, category managers move to step three of Morales’s process: the execution of the strategy through initiatives and negotiations. “This step is very heavy on interaction with suppliers and internal stakeholders,” he says. “It requires the team to have good skills in teamwork, project management, and communication.”
Step four is supplier-relationship management, which is exactly what it sounds like. Category managers keep up those relationships, collaborate, and define mutual objectives and expectations that create mutual accountability.
Finally, in step five, category managers make sure the work is delivering the expected results. They also identify any risks that may have shifted during the process. From this information, they can see where the next adjustments and updates should be made for the next cycle.
Having equipped his team with this process and its accompanying playbooks, Morales simply lets his category managers do their jobs. And they have, at a very high level. “I think the team feels like they’re responsible for their jobs and accountable for the results without having someone always looking over their shoulders,” Morales says. “The process gives them a sense of autonomy and ownership. They’re the owners of their part of the process. They manage categories and make decisions around it. Within the framework of the process and agreed-upon deliverables, they’re empowered to make decisions and recommendations.”
WestRock has taken note of what’s happening in Morales’s department. The company’s internal performance-excellence team is reviewing Morales’s process and exploring opportunities to create other variations of it for other departments. “It’s always subject to improvement, and I’m happy to receive feedback,” Morales says. “But, at least it’s working for my team. We’re delivering the results, and that feels good for all of us.”
Meanwhile, Morales is looking for other ways to help drive results at WestRock. “I’m trying to coach my team to be leaders of change within the organization,” he says. “Change is happening in every area of the company, and I want us to be part of that. At the same time, I’m always trying to prepare myself to take on new challenges.”
In addition to Morales’s two certifications in project management and supply management, he also finished his MBA at the University of South Carolina in October 2016. “I believe in working hard for a better tomorrow,” he says. “I think the raw-materials team needs to continue being a source of innovation and financial strength to support the company’s growth plans. It will bring a lot of opportunities.”
Whatever those opportunities are, Morales will have a plan to make the most of them.