While some of Modern Distribution Management’s Women in Distribution Award winners are third or fourth generation executives in distribution, WESCO’s Rose Chen is the face of where the industry is headed. Chen brings expertise in emerging technologies, such as IoT, artificial intelligence and digital experience, to her job of head of innovation partnerships and investments at WESCO International.
“Rose Chen leads innovation partnerships and investments,” says WESCO Distribution Marketing Manager Emily Munk in her nomination of Chen. “She is passionate about innovation with a growth mindset, focusing on accelerating digital transformation by collaborating with the innovation technology ecosystem. At WESCO, Rose fosters innovation by engaging with executive stakeholders and the venture community to share best practices of innovation in distribution and supply chain.
“She also drives new growth opportunities while promoting cross-collaboration with emerging technology partners in artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and digital technology to deliver impactful business outcomes.”
Chen came to WESCO two years ago after previously serving as an advisor at Quantum Insights for seven years. On the educational front, Chen has various degrees from Stanford University, Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.
She’s also a certified coach by the Coaching & Training Institute and a chartered financial analyst via the CFA Institute. Chen says some of her friends and colleagues might be surprised to learn that she is a certified coach, but it’s a role that is dear to her heart.
“Other than the tech skills and the finance skills that I have acquired all these years, I went through a route to get myself into the area of coaching because I do believe in the potential of people,” she says. “We do always have a human side where we want to strive to be the best. One area that is very dear to me is to be able to empower others around me to be their best.”
The benefits of collaboration
With her varied background in technology, the venture community and innovation, Chen says she’s had numerous mentors, but she cites Eric Hsia, who currently works for Translink Capital, as one of her primary mentors in the venture capital sector.
“I think it’s important to really reach out to your colleagues and learn about what would help with a collaboration,” Chen says. “What would help with improving the collaboration, especially as my focus is on innovation.
“A lot of times in the innovations space, we would actually learn more from failures than from collaborations. It’s very important to have that growth mindset and be open to reaching out to learn about each other’s priorities and be able to find that common area where we can both innovate and collaborate together to produce a better outcome.”
WESCO made strides on the digital transformation front prior to the onset of COVID-19 last year, but as a company that deals in supply chains, it has seen an acceleration in its digital transformations.
“We are seeing a lot more activities after the pandemic started,” Chen says. “There has been a lot of new approaches to work and focusing on job safety and business continuity. And at the same time, how to improve our customer experience during this difficult period of time when supply chains really see a bottleneck in certain areas.
“We do have longstanding relationships with our business customers. We want to see their businesses continue during this difficult period of time. Very often, we would be helping them to source new approaches and new technologies to really ensure their business continuity and safety, and at the same time really tackle the difficulties in the supply chains that were stressed.”
Paying it forward
Along with the coaching, Chen is also active in the non-profit community by serving as an advisory board member of Stanford Women on Boards.
“Stanford Women on Boards is an organization with access to 1,000-plus qualified female board members,” Chen says. “Some of the board opportunities currently are not accessible to qualified females, and so we wanted to raise that awareness. At the same time, we also want to be able to help those who aspire to serve on boards to obtain those opportunities.”
Chen also served as an executive mentor at this year’s Women in Cloud Digital Summit, which was targeted at women technologists, entrepreneurs and founders that are in the cloud space.
“Even outside of that Summit, I do provide advice to women entrepreneurs and founders,” Chen says. “Typically, there aren’t a lot of them. When I do come across some of these companies—especially in AI, machine learning, and IoT—I take the time and meet with them. I discuss with them about their solutions and their impact. How to access customers. How to work with corporates, and what are the best practices in order for them to get capital and visibility as well.”
Chen also chaired the finance and partnership committee at Kara, which is an organization that provides grief support. Given her roles as a mentor, coach and leading technologist, Chen has some advice for women who are just getting started in any industry.
“I think there’s more awareness of women as leaders,” Chen says. “I do see a big improvement in terms of awareness, and also there are more role models for the younger generations to follow. But I think we as women still need to be more vocal about opportunities and helping each other and raising that awareness.
“I do mentor a lot of women founders and entrepreneurs in the innovation space. Typically, the technology space is a very male-dominant industry. As technologists and innovators, we want to be able to raise that awareness and help women overcome some of those barriers to access opportunities.”
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