Hobbs DeWitt first became enamored with supply chain management his junior year of college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, when a professor illustrated the concept with a glass bottle. “He had us think through the entire process, from silica to the store shelf,” DeWitt says. “That was the turning point for me.”
Now, many years later, DeWitt is driving major transformation in his role as vice president of supply chain at TruGreen, the largest US provider of lawn care and tree and shrub services. By optimizing the company’s procurement, real estate, and fleet processes, his goal is to improve profitability to support the company’s strategic pillars, which include growth through customer-centered innovation, efficiencies to fuel growth, and digital transformation. He’s already saved the company millions since coming to TruGreen in early 2018.
Previously, DeWitt spent fifteen years in procurement and supply chain at IBM. He worked his way up to global sourcing and strategy manager for marketing and communications, managing a $1.1 billion annual spend. “I worked with the best minds in procurement and had the opportunity to engage in business transformation there,” he says.
He also came away from IBM an expert in the seven-step procurement process, a proven method for strategic sourcing and negotiations. “This process ensures you understand the requirements, the stakeholder’s goals, and marketplace trends,” he says. At TruGreen, he put this same process in place to manage the company’s addressable spend in both direct and indirect categories.
“If you wait until the end game to get OUr Procurement Team involved, we’re not going to have much negotiating power. It’s like if you go to buy a car and say, ‘I have to have it’—that weakens your negotiating position.”
Getting the procurement team involved early on is essential to the process’s success. Through the strong leadership and direction of the CEO and CFO, TruGreen departments quickly realized the value of including procurement as a partner sooner rather than later. “We’re working to get people to understand that there is a procurement process and to change the behavior of departments that had previously purchased goods and services without the support of the procurement organization,” DeWitt says. “If you wait until the end game to get our procurement team involved, we’re not going to have as much negotiating power. It’s like if you go to buy a car and say, ‘I have to have it’—that weakens your position.”
In real estate, DeWitt and his team are starting a space utilization study to rationalize the location, size, and number of TruGreen’s locations, which currently number 296 throughout the US and Canada. “Our goal is to have the most cost-effective locations that serve our customers well,” he says.
To achieve this, his team partners with one of their brokers, Newmark, a commercial real estate advisory firm, for data analytics on customer and employee location, traffic patterns, future area growth, environmental impact, and other factors. “These data points give us a predictive understanding of what the market is doing and will do to help us improve and optimize our network of real estate.”
DeWitt is also using data to cut out inefficiencies in the management of TruGreen’s 9,500-strong fleet of vehicles that service more than two million customers. To guide decisions on whether to perform maintenance on a vehicle or order a replacement, DeWitt’s team has introduced a health scorecard that ranks vehicles based on criteria such as mileage, utilization, maintenance cost, and remaining economic value.
“The new [truck] design reduces cost, uses quality material and is beneficial to the company. Now for every four trucks we purchase, we can buy an additional truck with the savings.”
He has also optimized the design of TruGreen’s trucks. DeWitt and his Director of Fleet formed a guiding coalition team (Kotter’s change management approach) of field personnel and corporate fleet department employees that collaborated with Monroe Truck Equipment to design and create a simplified commercial truck featuring a stainless-steel flatbed and two independent polyethylene tank spraying systems. The trucks also allow the back end, which has a twenty-year lifespan, to be separated from the front chassis (which has an average ten-year lifespan) and reattached to a new chassis.
“The new design reduces cost, uses quality material, and is beneficial to the company. Now for every four commercial stake body trucks we purchase, we can buy an additional commercial stake body truck with the savings,” DeWitt says. The first new truck was deployed in spring 2019 to glowing reviews from the field.
None of these projects would have been a success without an engaged and aligned team, DeWitt says. To guide his team, he relies on a situational leadership philosophy that calls for managers to adjust their style depending on employees’ individual strengths and align the management technique with each individual situation. “We have built a strong team with the passion to do the work and the willingness to learn and collaborate,” he notes.
Team development heads up DeWitt’s list of goals for the next few years. Specifically, he aims to continue building out his team, giving them the tools needed for success, and building strong succession candidates for key positions. He’s also aiming to develop increasing value to fuel TruGreen’s growth, continue to document category strategy and playbooks, and establish strategic supplier relationships that “lessen the company’s risks while maintaining a cost-effective supply chain.”
Overall, he says he feels blessed to have his job. “I’ve always loved everything about the work I do,” DeWitt says. “The variety is fantastic, and the complexity stimulates me every day. There’s never a dull moment.”