An interview with new AWESOME Leader, Mary Blenn… 

April 04, 202410 minute read

We are thrilled to welcome Mary Blenn, former Senior VP of Global Operations & Supply Chain at Cytiva, to our AWESOME community. In a recent interview, Mary shared insights from her remarkable career journey, offering valuable perspectives on leadership, innovation, and collaboration in supply chain. We’re grateful for the opportunity to learn from her and look forward to the positive impact she will undoubtedly have on our AWESOME community.


Hi Mary, I’m so happy to welcome you to the AWESOME community. I’d love to know what about our network makes you excited.

Mary Blenn

What I find truly invigorating about AWESOME is the vibrant community it fosters, where individuals, particularly women, come together to uplift and empower each other in their professional journeys. Unlike within our respective organizations, where we might feel like solitary figures in a vast landscape, AWESOME offers a tightly-knit network of peers who share not only our aspirations but also our challenges in fields like supply chain management. Here, we’re united by a collective dedication to personal and collective growth, anchored by a common passion for supply chain excellence.

Moreover, AWESOME serves as a lens through which we gain invaluable insights into the multifaceted nature of supply chain dynamics across diverse industries. As someone entrenched in the intricacies of the medical device and biotech sector, I’m constantly fascinated by the distinct perspectives offered by professionals from consumer goods, industrial manufacturing, chemicals, and beyond. These diverse viewpoints enrich our understanding and equip us with a broader toolkit for tackling complex challenges.

Additionally, my career journey has underscored the pivotal role of networking in achieving professional milestones. AWESOME provides a dynamic platform for expanding our connections—a vital resource, particularly for those navigating the early stages of their careers. By widening our circles within AWESOME’s supportive ecosystem, we not only gain access to new opportunities but also cultivate relationships that fuel our continuous growth and advancement.


I think that’s a really great statement. Can you tell me a little bit more about your career journey?


Over the span of nearly three decades, I dedicated myself to the intricacies of operations and global supply chain, commencing my journey in manufacturing in the consumer industrial sector. The bulk of my tenure was with GE, where I moved between their lighting, healthcare, and biopharma divisions—each chapter enriching my understanding and expertise. From overseeing factory operations to spearheading global supply chain strategies, my role evolved to encompass a vast spectrum of responsibilities. This entailed critical functions such our S&OP process, sourcing, logistics, warehousing, manufacturing operations, environmental health & safety, and operational excellence initiatives.

However, in July of last year, I reached a pivotal juncture in my professional trajectory. Driven by a desire to explore new avenues and contribute to organizations in a different capacity, I made the significant decision to transition from my corporate role. With a renewed focus on board engagements and advisory opportunities, I am poised to leverage my wealth of experience to guide strategic decisions and drive organizational success.

This new chapter presents an exciting opportunity to give back and share insights garnered over the years. Joining AWESOME represents a compelling step forward in this journey, offering a vibrant platform to expand my professional network and engage with a diverse community of like-minded individuals. I am eager to cultivate meaningful connections, exchange insights, and embark on new horizons as I continue to evolve and grow in my professional endeavors.


Can you tell me about some significant achievements or challenges that you faced in your career?


Like many others, the onset of the pandemic was a significant turning point for me, especially given the unique circumstances surrounding my company, Cytiva. We had recently completed a monumental divestiture from GE on April 1st, 2020, only to be immediately confronted with the challenges of a global crisis. Amidst the chaos, we found ourselves tasked with not only establishing a new entity within a larger parent company but also grappling with the unprecedented surge in demand for our products.

Our offerings play a critical role in the production of vaccines and biopharmaceutical drugs, making the stakes exceptionally high. As demand skyrocketed, we faced the daunting task of rapidly scaling our operations while ensuring the safety of our associates and the timely delivery of essential products to our customers. It was a period marked by relentless dedication and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

The logistical hurdles posed by the pandemic added another layer of complexity to our operations. With air travel severely restricted, the traditional avenues for product shipment were suddenly disrupted. In response, we had to think innovatively, chartering our own planes and collaborating closely with suppliers and customers to navigate these unprecedented challenges.

Throughout this tumultuous period, two key factors proved instrumental in our success. Firstly, our unwavering commitment to a shared purpose instilled a sense of urgency and unity among our team. By clearly articulating the importance of our work and rallying behind our collective mission, we were able to garner support and cooperation from stakeholders at every level.

Secondly, cultivating strong relationships with our suppliers proved to be invaluable. By prioritizing open communication, mutual respect, and collaborative problem-solving, we established a foundation of trust and partnership that proved indispensable during times of crisis. These relationships, nurtured long before the pandemic, served as a lifeline, enabling us to weather the storm and emerge stronger together.

In hindsight, navigating the challenges of the pandemic underscored the importance of purpose-driven leadership and strategic collaboration. By staying true to our mission and fostering meaningful connections with our partners, we not only overcame adversity but also forged a path forward rooted in resilience and mutual support.


That really sounds like a mix of challenges and achievements right then and there. It seemed like the pressure was on, but you sailed through.


While we encountered our fair share of challenges along the way, the cornerstone of our success undoubtedly rested on the strength and dedication of our team. Open communication, extending across all echelons of the organization, served as a guiding principle, fostering transparency and collaboration even amidst uncertainty. Safeguarding the well-being of our team members remained paramount, particularly as they courageously reported to work each day during the pandemic.

Furthermore, maintaining close alignment with our commercial and customer-facing teams proved instrumental in navigating the turbulent waters. By forging a seamless synergy between our operational endeavors and the needs of our customers, we were able to achieve the best possible outcomes despite the adversities we faced.  


In your opinion, what are some key opportunities and challenges women leaders in the supply chain are facing?


The realm of possibilities is endless, yet it requires proactive engagement to seize them. Too often, women find themselves waiting on the sidelines, anticipating a serendipitous moment to materialize. However, true empowerment stems from taking initiative and boldly pursuing opportunities.

Ultimately, a company’s overarching objective is profitability. Achieving this goal hinges upon collaborative efforts within a cohesive team dynamic. By actively engaging with various departments—whether it be the commercial, R&D, or finance teams—one gains invaluable insights into their respective objectives. Success lies in identifying common ground and fostering synergy to propel the entire organization forward.

In contemplating opportunities, it’s essential to adopt a broad perspective. While focusing on one’s function is vital, embracing a cross-functional approach unlocks a wealth of untapped potential. By transcending silos and embracing a holistic view, individuals can uncover new avenues for growth and innovation.


So it sounds like more communication breaking down silos that like exists within supply chain.


Amid the challenges of the pandemic, a pivotal moment unfolded when our commercial leader and dear friend, Amanda, approached me with a simple yet profound question: “How can our commercial team support you (Operations / Supply Chain) in serving as many customers as possible?” This sparked a collaborative brainstorming session where we delved into innovative solutions.

One of the key strategies we explored was the optimization of supply allocations. By critically assessing the needs of individual customers, we unearthed opportunities to streamline supply quantities. For instance, we questioned whether a customer truly required a large quantity, discerning that their current order might exceed their immediate needs. This realization opened the door to a transformative discussion: encouraging customers to accept smaller quantities, thereby enabling us to redistribute surplus inventory to serve additional clients.

This proactive strategy not only enhanced resource efficiency but also cultivated a culture of seamless collaboration between our operations and supply chain teams, and our commercial counterparts. By harnessing our existing relationships and collective expertise, we adeptly maneuvered through the intricate challenges of the pandemic-era supply chain landscape, ensuring that customer needs remained at the forefront of our priorities.


How do you balance the demands of leadership with personal and professional growth?


Ultimately, finding the right work-life balance is a deeply personal journey, devoid of a one-size-fits-all solution or a magical fix. Work dynamics fluctuate, ranging from periods of intense productivity to moments of relative calm. Some individuals thrive by starting early and wrapping up their day promptly, while others, like myself, prefer longer but more focused hours. The key is to recognize when to pause, recharge, and ensure that daily responsibilities don’t consume us entirely.

Effective communication with one’s manager is paramount in navigating this delicate equilibrium, both on a personal and professional level. I often advise those I mentor to approach discussions with a mindset of “and” rather than “or.” Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to pursue a fulfilling career while nurturing personal priorities, such as family time. However, this often entails creative solutions and a willingness to negotiate trade-offs along the way.

The onset of the pandemic brought about a seismic shift in our work dynamics, challenging preconceived notions about remote work. What was once inconceivable for many, myself included, became a reality out of necessity. While remote work offers newfound flexibility, I’ve come to realize the importance of delineating boundaries between work and personal life, even within the confines of my home office.

Moreover, physical proximity to colleagues fosters spontaneous interactions and facilitates real-time collaboration, a dynamic that’s often irreplaceable in a remote setting. Personal anecdotes, casual conversations, and impromptu brainstorming sessions with colleagues—such as the exchanges I had with our CFO—fuel innovation and drive business outcomes in ways that virtual interactions sometimes cannot match.

While remote work undoubtedly offers its advantages, it’s essential to recognize its limitations, particularly in terms of fostering organic collaboration and maintaining efficiency. As we navigate this evolving landscape, striking a balance between remote and in-person work remains key to unlocking our full potential as individuals and as a team.


What advice would you offer to women who are aspiring leaders in supply chain?


Embrace the challenging roles. It’s a fundamental truth: actions resonate louder than words. By tackling tough assignments head-on and effectively resolving issues, you not only garner increased visibility but also set yourself apart from your peers at an accelerated pace. Throughout my own career journey, I made it a point to seek out and conquer roles that others might shy away from, consistently demonstrating my ability to thrive in adversity.

Another nugget of wisdom I often impart to those I mentor is the importance of advocating for yourself. If there’s a meeting or initiative that piques your interest and aligns with your career goals, don’t hesitate to express your desire to be involved. Many leaders are simply unaware of the value you can bring unless you speak up. By proactively seeking out opportunities to contribute and learn, you position yourself for growth and advancement.

Furthermore, I emphasize the significance of adopting a mindset of perpetual learning. True growth stems from listening attentively and remaining receptive to diverse perspectives, both within and beyond your immediate sphere. Actively engage with colleagues at all levels of the organization, empathetically understanding their concerns and viewpoints. This not only fosters a culture of collaboration but also serves as a rich source of experiential learning, allowing you to broaden your skill set and accumulate invaluable insights.

Lastly, recognize the power of assembling a dynamic team comprised of individuals with complementary strengths and perspectives. Acknowledge your own areas of expertise and seek out team members who excel in areas where you may lack proficiency. By harnessing the collective talents and diversity of thought within your team, you create a formidable force capable of overcoming challenges and achieving shared goals.

In essence, championing diversity in all its forms—be it in skills, experiences, or backgrounds—enhances the collective strength of your team and fosters an environment ripe for innovation and success.


Have you had any mentors in your life?


In my personal view, I’ve found that formal mentoring programs often lack the effectiveness I initially anticipated. By formal mentoring, I mean the traditional setup where you’re assigned a mentor without much consideration for personal compatibility or rapport. Early in my career, I was fortunate to be paired with CFOs and other influential leaders, a situation that offered invaluable insights but lacked the personal connection I needed to truly thrive.

As an engineer and introvert, I’ve always found networking sessions challenging. However, over time, I’ve discovered that organic networking—forged through meaningful interactions and shared experiences—is more conducive to genuine mentorship. For instance, building relationships with colleagues or leaders through collaborative projects or frequent interactions can pave the way for mentoring opportunities that feel more authentic and productive.

I firmly believe in investing in relationships built on mutual respect and understanding. The individuals I choose to mentor are often those with whom I’ve developed meaningful connections, either through work collaborations or personal friendships. Similarly, my own mentors are not necessarily senior figures but rather individuals who know me on a personal level and offer invaluable guidance based on that insight.

In fact, some of my most impactful mentors are close friends outside of the workplace. While they may not possess expertise in my field, their understanding of me as a person allows for deeper, more meaningful conversations that extend beyond professional advice. This balance between work mentors and personal confidants creates a well-rounded support system that nurtures both personal and professional growth.