In this week’s podcast, Philip Ideson interviews Vytas Sliesoraitis, a procurement leader turned Ironman competitor. Click here to listen.
Vytas has a diverse procurement background that includes time in procurement at Intel in his native Brazil, leading procurement at Google X (Google’s R&D company), and Global Head of Procurement at Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite.
In 2019, he discovered sprint triathlons as a way of challenging himself. Each event is half a mile swim, 12-mile bike, and a 5K run. From there, he expanded into Ironman triathlons, competitions consisting of three sequential sports: swimming, biking, and running – for a total distance of 140 miles.
Vytas offered three key learnings from his Ironman training that may be helpful to other procurement professionals.
Be open to learning and failure
Vytas’ first triathlon was in 2019. It was the first time he biked on a road and the first time he ran a 5K. Both events required him to learn new things and develop new skills. He made the mistake of overtraining, pushing himself too hard and getting injured. But he learned from it all and adjusted his training regimen accordingly.
In the same way, procurement has to take risks and learn new things. As Vytas pointed out, “If you have been doing strategic sourcing and category management, why not learn more about procurement operations or contingent workforce management? Eventually you could make a move into those areas.”
Procurement can change companies, change categories, even change roles based on their valuable experience. But the more they learn in each situation, the more they take with them into the next challenge.
Take the First Step and Say Yes
Saying yes changes everything. Before discovering triathlons, a friend of Vytas’ invited him to take up open water swimming, a sport that emphasizes swimming in a lake or ocean rather than in a pool. The friend was training to swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco.
Vytas’ initial reaction? “No way! This is absolutely crazy! There are sharks! I’m not fit enough!” Once those thoughts wore off, he continued thinking about it. He started by making a plan: a commitment to get in the pool three times a week, drilling in the colder water of the aquatic park, and getting used to his wetsuit. That simple act – creating a plan – built momentum. It also gave him confidence.
Vytas did the swim and successfully made the journey from Alcatraz to Pier 39 in San Francisco. That, in turn, led him to join the triathlon club and continue on to Ironman.
Many times in life we are presented with opportunities. It might be to lead an off-site, to become a manager, or to present at a conference. It is natural for our first thought to be, “No!” In reality, we need to stop and think and ask ourselves what Vytas considers the most powerful question, “What if?”
Saying yes and making a plan and doing our best to succeed can lead us on surprising new journeys. Some opportunities only come around once in a lifetime. Saying yes is the only way to find out what happens next.
We are more capable than we think when we use the right tools
Before his first Ironman, Vytas trained for nine months. He trained six times a week. He was nervous, but his training had prepared him well.
On the day of the competition, the swim went fine. Next up was biking. 70 miles into his ride, he hit a strong headwind that made it extremely hard to ride back before the run. He started to wonder if he should quit, if he was good enough to finish.
Rather than giving up, Vytas started to smile at others and encourage them. By helping others, he changed his own mindset. He was able to finish biking and get to the run. Fatigue was starting to set in, and this time it was his body instead of his mind that wanted to give up. He made the conscious decision to remain in the present moment, and one step at a time he finished the event. After starting at 8:05 am, he crossed the finish line a few minutes after midnight.
Everyone faces stressful situations. Maybe it is a product launch or a review at the end of the quarter. It can feel like a race. Stay calm, think positively, and encourage those around you. Take one step at a time – left, right, left, right, until you cross the finish line – in the Ironman, in procurement, and in life.
To hear more from Vytas and his experiences in procurement and Ironman, listen to Establishing Procurement in a Moonshot Factory w/ Vytas Sliesoraitis on the Art of Procurement podcast.