From Nursing to Supply Chain Buyer: Hela Pela ‘95

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Growing up, Hela Pela ‘95 played a variety of sports at her local community center. She said, “There was a lot of Tongan influx at that time and we were trying to figure out where our place was.”

At M-A, Pela played volleyball and basketball. Retired PE teacher Pamela Wimberly was her coach, who “was tough and always made us run at practice,” Pela remembered.  Pela also helped organize campus-wide activities, such as an Earth Day celebration and prom.

Originally, Pela wanted to become a nurse. “I had a vision as a medical assistant, sort of fostering and nurturing,” she said. However, while obtaining her Certified Nurse Assistant degree, she remembers being “totally grossed out by watching people do surgery.” She said, “I decided I just wasn’t cut out for it.”

Then, one of Pela’s friends referred her to Bruce Bauer Lumber & Supply. Pela remembered, “She said I would be a great fit, and I found that I really liked it a lot.” Pela then worked her way up as a supply chain buyer at Bruce Bauer. “My boss taught me about the construction business industry, which helped me understand exactly what was necessary when I was buying things as well as what was coded for California,” she said.

Pela furthered her education at the University of Phoenix, obtaining a degree in Business Management and a master’s in Sociology. “I became really interested in the return on investment of goods. I got my degree to learn the business side of things. Then I figured if I’m managing people, I need to understand them. I wanted to learn how to communicate and get the best work done,” she said.

I figured if I’m managing people, I need to understand them. I wanted to learn how to communicate and get the best work done.

With her experience, she said, “I put my resume out there and McLendon Hardware reached out.” After some interviews, Pela moved to Washington. There, she bought hardware for stores across the country. 

McLendon was later acquired by another company, leading Pela to move to Alabama. Pela explained being a merchant as planning the mass purchase of products for a chain of stores. “For example, I look at a product like batteries. The numbers say we’ll get better traction with Duracell because it’s a brand name. So I go to Duracell and give them a market share for a lower price.”

Her favorite part, she said, is “looking at a vendor and proving that I know all the market trends and growth prospects so they have no choice but to say yes to my deal.”

Pela’s advice to M-A students: “Follow your gut instincts but also make a plan. Map it out and systematically incrementally work on it.”

Pela’s advice to students interested in business management: “Have the mindset of being a researcher. Also, find a specific niche and learn about it in your area and of course take the time to observe, listen, learn, and then make your decision and ask questions.”

Celeste is a junior in her second year of journalism. She is the co-writer of the weekly column Bears Doing Big Things, featuring alumni. She enjoys covering issues affecting the M-A community through features and writing about student culture. Her story on La Biscotteria was recognized as a top-10 NSPA Blog Post of 2023.

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