Quality Time for EHS Professionals

September 26, 2023
by Dave Blanchard, EHS Today

Avnet’s Bob Kerwin sees a further convergence of the EHS and quality roles.

U.K.-based Bob Kerwin is about a year into his role as global director, environmental, health and safety (EHS) at Avnet, a $26 billion electronics distributor and technology solutions company. His influence and experience as a career quality management professional are paying dividends as evidence that the two career paths continue to converge.

Kerwin shared with EHS Today his thoughts on the similarities he sees between EHS and quality, and why he sees the functions coming closer together. He also described his EHS plans for Avnet, along with some of the challenges and opportunities working with multiple stakeholders across the complex ecosystem of a large, global company.

EHS Today: Can you explain why Avnet created this new role?

Kerwin: This new position was created to institute a global vision, develop global standards, and coordinate the multitude of independent environmental health and safety initiatives in place across Avnet’s many regions and businesses. Having global governance will also help achieve consistency and transparency in the data used for reporting on the company’s progress.

You transitioned into this role after several decades in quality management. How did you get started at Avnet?

I came to Avnet through acquisition of the Avnet Abacus organization, where I started in a warehouse role back in 1994. My background had always been warehousing and logistics. Previously I worked for six years with the U.K. Ministry of Defense, starting in 1982, so I’ve been in logistics and distribution for over 40 years now. I transitioned to the quality manager role in 1999.

Regarding the new EHS role, I don’t think so much that quality managers transition [to safety], but rather that the role transitions around them. The reason I say that is if you go back 30 years, customers were saying we want you to have quality management systems. Over the last 10 to 15 years now that’s changed and also a lot of legislation is driving people to look more closely at environmental health and safety. It’s a natural transition from quality as all three topics are actually management systems.

What have you taken from your previous role in quality to your current role in EHS?

I think the role of quality manager is actually going to be renamed at some point in the future. They’ll become management systems roles, because we’ll work with all of the management systems that come along covering quality, EHS and other systems as they become business relevant.

What I take into this role from the previous one includes the contacts I developed in quality management and a deep understanding of management systems. I talk with my counterparts in quality management often. Whenever I’m doing anything now from an EHS perspective, the subject matter experts that I go to are my existing quality contacts. They’re also dealing with environmental and health and safety issues from many aspects already. I still join all of their calls and I go to all of our internal quality summits.

What it’s like working within a large, complex organization like Avnet?

We’re a global organization. We’re in every region and we’ve got subsidiary operations. My attitude has always been around the idea of “One Avnet,” and anything new we try to implement we’re going to do it from a global perspective.

Describe your first projects as you took on the EHS role. What did you focus on at the outset?

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