International Person of the Year 2016 - LeeAnn Schumacher, BDA

Sourcing traces a product back to its (often) far-flung origins, and LeeAnn Schumacher formed her career diving down that rabbit hole. But her journey was no accident; it was borne of a childhood addiction to fabrics and design (as a teenager, she made most of her own clothing) and a persistent intrigue about the hidden story. How were these things made? Where did they come from?

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“I was always an operational person, and I was always intrigued by the factories,” says Schumacher, the vice president of sourcing for Top 40 distributor BDA (asi/137616). “I always wanted to get overseas to see how you put things together. To me, it’s a large jigsaw puzzle. How do you put the puzzle pieces together to make one intricate design in the end?”

That curiosity transformed her into a worldly traveler who visited 21 countries a year at one point and now spends 60% of her time abroad. Today, the scope of Schumacher’s job is as extensive as the collection of stamps in her passport. She has no less a task as overseeing all the sourcing for the industry’s fourth-largest distributor, which has two offices in China and a wide network of custom supplier and factory partnerships around the world.

That role included a not-so-simple task when she joined BDA in March of 2015: launching a new dedicated sourcing office in Shanghai. Schumacher had to find real estate, help design and review floor plans, find and hire excellent staff (“The China way,” she reminds. “It’s not the American way.”) and then train them. To leave no stone unturned, she versed herself in local laws and joined multiple networking groups to soak up information from ex-pats. The office, which has a staff of nine people and is growing, was launched start to finish in less than five months.

“It was a thrill,” she says. Of course, she had to secure the approval of BDA’s executives and attorney, “but to be there and do it by myself was so fulfilling for me,” she adds.

Such worldly wisdom wasn’t accrued overnight. She quickly acclimated to promotional products two decades ago when she moved into the home division of Spiegel (the catalog company), and then learned worlds of info from Janelle Nevins during her time at Summit Group. (Schumacher carries a passion for mentorship today.)

With that experience in tow, she hit the ground running at BDA in her newly created position. For example, the distributor used a disparate set of suppliers that varied by division; Schumacher consolidated them to promote better pricing and efficiency.

“LeeAnn is the global cornerstone of our supply chain efforts,” says Jay Deutsch, cofounder and CEO of BDA. “Her intercultural communication skills and deep-rooted industry knowledge are invaluable to BDA as we continue to identify and cultivate partnerships with new and existing manufacturers worldwide.”

Indeed, Schumacher is a rare breed – a people person who loves crunching numbers, available anytime in two zones and yet still sleeps seven hours a night. “I haven’t cut out the things I love to do personally because of a considerable workload,” she says, citing reading, fashion and theater. “I make time for myself. I think happy people at home are happy people at work and vice versa.” No matter which country they work in.