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Melissa Smith, 36
Director of indirect spend
Kansas City Southern
Nominator’s quote: “Her work ethic, integrity and willingness to take on more and more sets her apart from many her age. Her contributions to Kansas City Southern (KCS) — and ultimately to the rail industry — are often ‘thankless tasks’ or ones that aren’t necessarily high profile. But, her contributions to KCS allow us to continue on our vision.” — Bill Blaise, KCS
What is your educational background?
My bachelor’s degree is in network and communications management from DeVry University in Kansas City, Missouri. I earned my MBA and a certificate in project management from the Keller Graduate School of Management while working full time.
Describe your current job and responsibilities.
I am currently the director of indirect spend for Kansas City Southern. Indirect spend to KCS means anything that doesn’t fall neatly into operations or logistics categories. My team is located in both the United States and in Mexico, and together, we support many internal departments with their bids, purchases and negotiations. We support the process from the initial ideation stage all the way through contract signing. We are also responsible for both the corporate card and corporate travel programs as well as spend reporting and analysis.
Describe your career path.
I started my career as a part-time help desk technician with Perot Systems while I was in school completing my Bachelor’s degree. I was promoted to an asset and procurement manager supporting one of their pharmaceutical clients until I was hired by Kansas City Southern in 2011 as a senior technology buyer. I’ve been fortunate enough to be promoted two times in my 9 year career with KCS which has always been in the procurement/finance team.
How or why did you get into the railroad industry?
My career with the railroad happened because of luck. I really enjoyed both procurement and technology, so when I was approached about being the technology buyer at KCS, it was the perfect opportunity. It’s just icing on the cake to be able to learn so much about this unique industry while continuing my career in a field that I love. I don’t think you ever really stop learning new things when you work in the railroad space, and I like the challenge and perspective that the constant evolution of the industry brings to my job. No two days are alike and there is most certainly never a dull moment.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
“Don’t leave your legacy at work.” I spent the first part of my career perfecting a database that isn’t used in any form today. When I think of all the stress and sleepless nights that caused, it helps me put my daily work into perspective. I’ve learned to focus on progress over perfection and complement working hard at my job with raising my two sons with my husband. A well-rounded person is more productive.
What advice would you give to a new railroader?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In my experience, railroaders are very passionate about what they do and they’ll gladly spend the time to make sure they fully answer your question. They usually have a great story or two, as well.
What was your very first job?
I was a server at Applebee’s while I was in college. Hard work, but I learned so much.
Describe a fun fact about yourself.
I grew up on a farm that has been in our family for more than a century now. We grow corn, soybeans, and we have cattle. It’s fun to look at the progress of several generations, since most farms don’t make it that long.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I have two sons who are two and four, so almost all of my spare time is dedicated to them.
When time allows, I like to play volleyball and golf with my husband.
What is the biggest challenge the rail industry now faces or will face?
I think the biggest opportunity for the rail industry lies in the data. In procurement alone, there is a tremendous amount of data generated by all of our transactions, but it’s too much to consume, interpret, or leverage on a daily basis. As our systems continue to evolve, and our data analyses quicken, I think there will be new stories and opportunities that will emerge, allowing us to improve our business in ways we never thought of before.