A common nightmare goes something like this: after a great build-up, you’re introduced to a large gathering of experts eager to hear your wisdom. And, as you approach the lectern, you suddenly realize that you’re no expert. In fact, you really have no clue at all about the matter at hand. Nothing. Now imagine that nightmare coming true during a job interview. That’s pretty much what happened to Elm Valle.
Valle was interviewing with Arch Chemical, and it would be his first job after his departure from the Army. The interviewer, who had been an Army officer as well, set up a scenario: how would Valle set up eight grassroots distribution centers for Walmart and attain an expected 95 percent accuracy rate?
“I had no idea about business supply chains at this point,” Valle recalls. “So, I looked at the situation through a military lens—that is, moving food, fuel, and other life critical supplies to their destinations through areas with no infrastructure or roads, while getting shot at. I factored in all sorts of contingencies and drew up my plan on a whiteboard. [The interviewer] said it was the best answer he’d seen, and I was hired.”
Valle leveraged his military expertise and leadership to build a successful career within supply chain management, from Arch Chemical to his current role as director of operations and supply chain for Dril-Quip’s Downhole Tools Business Unit.
Born in the Philippines while his father served in the US Army, Valle grew up in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and many central European countries—amounting to about thirteen countries, fourteen US states, and all continents except Antarctica. The constant moving offered some unexpected benefits; Valle learned to communicate with people in many different cultures—and what motivates them.
When his father retired in California, Valle earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of California at Davis. While at Davis, he received an ROTC commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Army. He spent the next six years as a Light Cavalry Scout with the 10th Mountain Division, the most versatile and deployed unit. He, then, earned an MBA from Central Michigan University during his service and left the Army in 2002 as a captain.
Valle cut his supply chain management teeth during his time at Arch Chemicals, and later worked in similar capacities for AmeriGas, Geokinetics Inc., Valaris Drilling, and Shell-Motiva Enterprises. He joined Dril-Quip, a manufacturer of highly engineered equipment for oil and gas drilling, in 2019 as its director of materials management.
He was hired by Michael Wells, then vice president of supply chain, to organize and structure the company’s system. “I was on my own at the beginning,” Valle says, “but within a year, my group comprised six people, and we controlled the global inventory management, distribution, and the traceability of global inventory, the works.”
When Wells left Dril-Quip in 2021, Valle was promoted to director of global supply chain. In January 2022, Dril-Quip restructured into business units, and he moved into his current role. Valle heads a team of forty-five that oversees procurement, inventory, contracts, planning, manufacturing, and other operations that span six countries.
“Our customers include Shell, Chevron, BP, and other major oil-industry companies, and timely delivery of equipment and supplies is crucial to them. Downtime can cost a drilling operation up to a million dollars a day,” he says.
The pandemic didn’t make anyone’s job any easier, but his team pulled together and maintained a 90 percent on-time delivery score. His key day-to-day challenges include availability (or the lack thereof) of materials, logistics of finding the capacity to handle deliveries, and getting the products on-site when promised.
“We always take a team approach to these situations because no single person will have all the answers,” Valle says. He’s also big on building relationships with his carriers and other logistical supports—even competitors. “We can leverage each other’s strengths and make various trade-offs to get the job done. I like to remind them that we’re all in the same situation, so why not cooperate?”
Valle’s military career also influenced his leadership style. “I had good commanders and did my best work when I was given latitude to choose my own solutions,” he says. “I learned to trust the others in my military unit to do their jobs, and I look at my Dril-Quip team the same way. I give them directions and then let them execute the process.”
He also promotes a familial atmosphere in the department. “I always tell them that family comes first,” he explains. “I don’t count their minutes or hours on-the-job; if you don’t have a happy family at home, your work will suffer.” The department also hosts baby showers, mini recognition ceremonies, potlucks, and other events.
“Elm is a dedicated leader that has the unique ability to turn complex problems into simple solutions,” notes James Burdine, TMX station owner at TFWW.
Valle’s deeply held faith—he’s pursuing a master’s degree in divinity and Christian leadership—also informs his professional life. “Many people see me as a sort of spiritual leader, not just a corporate leader,” he says. He’s quick to point out that he doesn’t push religion on anyone, but that he is always willing to offer insights to others when asked.
Elm Valle expects to count on his team even more as supply chain issues continue. “I think the challenges—especially logistics and availability—will remain to some extent for the next five to ten years,” he predicts. “Even when the back orders are filled, there will still be pressure to perform because demand will always be ongoing.”