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Home Run

Home Run

June Slawinski Youngs ’79 hits it out of the park as a top player in the field of supply chain management.

By Claire Kowalchik
Photographs by Cait Costa Photography

On the wall in June Youngs’s office, in the place where you might expect to see her diplomas, hangs a baseball bat. It recalls a moment that helped shape Youngs’s outlook, a moment that gave her access to a male-dominated career in which she would excel in performance, management, and leadership.

It was bat day at the Yankees game in the Bronx. Youngs loved sports, and baseball in particular. Her uncles John and Bob had bought tickets for an assemblage of family members—uncles, aunts, cousins—to go to the game. “We were so excited,” recalls Youngs, who was 10 at the time. “We kids, who had nothing, were going to get brand new bats.” As they walked into Yankee stadium, bats were handed to every child but Youngs. She turned to Uncle John and told him what hadn’t happened. “He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s giving you a bat,’ and without any argument, the guy gave me one.”

Later, Youngs learned the stadium staffer had told her uncle that they didn’t give bats to girls. “I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to get one,” says Youngs. “I felt there was no question I was going to get that bat. I’ve often thought, ‘What if my uncle hadn’t done anything?’
 It would have made a huge difference in my life.”

The Major Leagues

That experience gave Youngs a simple rule she would later apply to her career and her leadership style: Don’t believe for one second that you don’t belong in the game. “I really went after what interested me,” says Youngs. “My approach was, ‘This is what I want to do, and I’m going to find a way to do it.’”

Guided by that resolve, she rose to the highest echelons in a challenging male-dominated field: supply chain management. Most recently, she served as vice president of logistics for CVS Health before retiring in 2019. Youngs has held positions as director of transportation and distribution services at Nabisco, senior vice president of global supply chain at Hasbro, and director of supply chain North America for the agricultural cooperative Ocean Spray.

In 2000, Youngs was named one of the Top 20 Logistics Professionals in the United States. In 2007, she received the Women of Influence in the Northeast award from the Griffin Report of Food Marketing. She was the first female chairperson of the National Industrial Transportation League in its 90-year history.

“June is one of the most professional people I know—very balanced, fair, and reasonable,” says former colleague Joanne Haworth, vice president of global ecommerce finance at Hasbro, who partnered with Youngs on a career-pathing initiative to develop employees through cross-organizational networking. “Having all of those qualities makes her a remarkable manager and leader. She is an excellent mentor and a great role model for both men and women.”

Youngs gives the real credit for her success to Moravian. She enrolled with the intention of becoming an engineer. “Physics and I didn’t get along,” she says, so she found her way to a major in English with minors in political science and music, sampling psychology, sociology, and other courses along the way.

“My liberal arts education allowed me to morph during my career.”

“What helped me in my career was the diversity of classes I took,” says Youngs. “My liberal arts education allowed me to morph during my career. I started in logistics but also ran manufacturing and global customer service. My baseline undergraduate education allowed me to do that. It also made me a better speaker and communicator, a better leader. It was a gift.”

After graduation, Youngs took a job in banking and then became an analyst for an oil and gas company before settling in at Nabisco, where she began working in logistics, now referred to as supply chain. “I fell in love with it,” says Youngs.

Running supply chain requires touching a global network of things and people, and at any one time you need to have the ability to understand how to manage across countries and personalities to get things done, explains Youngs. A successful manager must have skills in analysis, problem solving, and leadership. She or he needs vision, plus the agility to direct adjustments that bring that vision to fruition. “I loved working with people across spectrums that have different deliverables, different goals, problems, or opportunities or are in competition with each other,” says Youngs.

“The people piece of it drives me the most,” she adds, “getting that product, toy, or food item to those who want or need it, or fixing trucks at the end of their life and donating them to food banks—the outcome of the work, the practical and emotional, is the reward.”

Home Run inset  Home Run inset photo

(Left) When June Youngs ’79 stepped down from her 2-year position as cochair of the Women’s Success Network at CVS Health, the group presented her with a bat, symbolic of her story. (Right) Youngs with her son, Ryan. “He is my everything.”

The Field

Supply chain was and still is a very male-dominated profession. At Nabisco, Youngs was the one woman of 30 in every meeting, and even when she retired in 2019, men filled the majority of positions in logistics. Youngs says she was aware of being the only woman but didn’t think about it. “You need to understand that you are providing value, and there will always be people that don’t accept where you are coming from, what you are doing, or your background. If you provide value in whatever situation you are in, you can overcome it.”

You can also find ways to become part of a group that doesn’t
 see you as one of them. Youngs tells a story of when she was promoted to director at Nabisco. All the directors had offices along a glass wall. Every day she would hear her colleagues 
come down the hall, “Ken, are you going to lunch? Fred, you going to lunch?” and they’d skip her office. It went on for about a week, and then Youngs took things into her own hands. “About 15 minutes before the usual roundup, I’d walk down 
the hall, ‘Fred, are you going to lunch? Wally, are you going to lunch?’ We all went together. It took some guts, but it sent a message without being confrontational. Being the only woman in a male-dominated workplace wasn’t about not being included; it was figuring out how to include myself.”

Youngs learned golf because she knew that important business discussions were taking place not only on the course but over drinks in the clubhouse, and that being part of those conversations would help her excel and advance in her career. When off-campus meetings came up, Youngs would point out that her area of expertise would bring an important perspective to those meetings. She got invited.

Still, at crucial moments in her career, the way forward was blocked. Though Youngs prefers to talk about the good work she’s done for herself and other people, she relents and tells the story of having been denied the first major position of her career. It was a director role, and the hiring group chose a man who was far less qualified for the job than Youngs but was good friends with the men in the group.

After a year, the director moved on. Youngs was promoted and exceled in her position, but the lost year had financial repercussions that would carry forward, and the feeling of being let down by her colleagues stuck with her. Much later in Youngs’s career, this scenario would play out again.

Youngs is quick to add that there were men who offered her opportunities for great career growth, including the CEO who promoted her to run manufacturing in a significant sector of the business. “I said, ‘You do know that I have no manufacturing experience,’” June recalls. “He said, ‘I know, but you have leadership ability and a complete background around that space, and I’m not going to throw you in the deep end of the pool and not rescue you if you need help.’”

“I loved working with people across spectrums that have
different deliverables, different goals, problems, or opportunities.”

Youngs accepted that promotion—to the dismay of a longtime friend and colleague. “We had carpooled for years. He was a really good friend. I knew his family,” says Youngs. “Once I
 got that promotion, he alienated me.” He excluded her from network meetings, budget meetings, quality meetings, capital meetings—all of which could have impacted her ability to succeed. She had to force her way into those meetings. “He had wanted another of his friends to get the job,” says Youngs. “In my opinion, he saw that his friend knew the world of manufacturing while I didn’t. There I was in this new role with this friend/colleague who wasn’t interested in helping me at all.”

“June succeeded, but it hasn’t been without pain,” says Haworth. “Kudos for her persistence and to the great men and women who saw her potential and supported her, but there were also those who were not supportive.”

Youngs points out that people surround themselves with colleagues they feel comfortable with—the golf buddy or someone they’ve hung out with for years. She says that her experience was not unique. She’s heard similar stories from people she mentors, and while women struggle to advance in their careers, introverted male executives are also overlooked because they don’t fit the model of the tough, loudly assertive man.

“It’s unconscious bias,” says Youngs. “We all have it. It’s not recognizing that the person has a seat at the table. As I moved through my career, I made sure men, women, and people of all backgrounds had that seat at the table, literally. I learned that some of the best ideas came from those who were most quiet, so if I was leading a team or running a group, I always made sure that those folks had time and space to think about the issue at hand and had an opportunity to speak. It’s what I learned from my own experiences of having to push my way into discussions. I wanted to open the door for others. We need to make all people feel comfortable in moving things forward.”

At Home

After the death of her husband two years ago, Youngs bought
 a condo in Narragansett, Rhode Island. “It was my husband’s favorite beach, and I use the condo to make wonderful new memories with family and friends in his memory. He would love that, and it makes me happy.”

Though Youngs is retired, she’s not camped out on the couch bingeing the latest HBO series. She serves on multiple boards, and while she misses supply chain, she enjoys consulting. She loves to spend time with her son and entertain her big family. She enjoys golf and tennis, loves watching sports, and continues to play piano. It’s a liberal arts life.

Youngs has begun formulating a book that she plans to write. “Not a classic leadership guide or a ‘woman in business’ book,” she says, but something unique: “what I have learned in life that translated to success, helped me be a better leader, and allowed me to help other people.”