Tag Archives: Supplier Relations

The cost of being a bad customer

If John Henke’s calculations are accurate, General Motors could boost its operating income by $400 million per year just by improving its relationships with its suppliers. For Ford the number is $327 million, and Chrysler, $308 million.

We are not alone in claiming that suppliers don’t give their best stuff to their worst customers, but Henke, who is a Ph.D. and president and CEO of Planning Perspectives, Inc. has finally projected a dollar cost for bad relationships. He’s been studying supplier relationships and cost concessions within the automotive industry for many years, and he developed an index to measure it.

For the first time ever, however, Henke used proprietary data his firm has collected, public records, and media reports to calculate the costs when suppliers do such things as shift their innovations, A-Team support, or added value service to other customers. Foreign automakers have been able to take advantage of those shifts and have saved significantly over time as a result, according to Henke.

You might quibble with Henke’s formula, but the conclusion is pretty solid for any manufacturer in any sector. Beating up suppliers on price is a short-term tactic, not a long-term strategy for profitability. Are the Big Three listening? Here’s an Automotive News video report with Ford’s chief purchaser sounding like he’s read the study and is trying to catch up, while Toyota’s purchasing chief is taking steps to shore up his declining supplier scores.



White House endorses quicker supplier payments

One of the maxims of this blog is, “Suppliers don’t offer their best ideas to their worst customers,” and one of the quickest routes to the category of “worst customer” is stretching out payments to 60, 90 or  120 days — as has been fashionable in the automotive and other industries. We generally applaud the idea of thinking like a CFO when you are a supply manager, but too often the finance-department led idea of pushing the cost of money onto suppliers by delaying payments results in tighter margins for the supply base that stifle reinvestment in equipment or research and development.

Apparently President Obama has come around to our thinking on the topic because he recently endorsed an organization of companies that have pledged to pay suppliers quickly, or help them find lower cost working capital.

In the White House announcement, the Administration claims its QuickPay program of paying small government contractors quickly has saved them $1 billion since 2011. The private business version of the program, called SupplierPay is an opportunity not just to save money, but to create better relationships that foster innovation.


Move over Big Three

A seismic shift may be coming in the automotive industry.

“Not even two years after the delivery of the first Model S, Tesla Motors has transformed from fledgling start-up to arguably the most important car company in the world.  We are not joking,” said Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas in a quote to the LA Times.

According to the article, suppliers who once dismissed this manufacturer are now considering building dedicated lines and facilities solely for Tesla’s business.

At least four southwestern states are vying mightily to become the home of Tesla’s $5 billion gigafactory which will employ more than 6,000 people to produce enough battery packs by 2020 to supply 500,000 vehicles.

But suppliers and states aren’t the only ones to sit up and take notice. One of the largest automakers in the world, General Motors, established an internal “Team Tesla” to analyze that company’s culture and success. Managing and collaborating with suppliers is one key to success.

Dare we say the current may be shifting toward electric cars?

Back to basics with three R’s

Strip away all the sophisticated software, instant communications tools and reams of data we can now incorporate into our decision-making and a simple truth remains: people are still the key to good procurement, and relationships among people still count.
Chris Jones at DC Velocity reminded me of that recently in a column he wrote about the three Rs of supply chain competitiveness. He says he heard them from a former professor nearly 20 years ago, and they haven’t changed much since. They are:
> Responsiveness
> Reliability
> Relationship
These are good principles to guide decisions about how we use all the procurement tools we have at our command. Will a big data analysis really help us respond quicker to changing conditions or anticipate possible risks? Does the vendor management software package make us a more reliable customer? How do faster communication channels help us build our relationships?
We often assume that whatever is new or “trending” is better, and data can often obscure as well as uncover a truth. So it’s good to have a few basic principles to guide us through all our metrics, and these are three that have stood the test of time.
They aren’t just good for supply management, they apply in general to business — and life.

New index will determine supplier risk

Concerned your suppliers might not be prepared if a disaster strikes? Or that they may be doing something that could be considered unethical? This morning at ISM 2014  a new “Supplier Risk Index” was announced to enable companies to survey the risk, ethics and sustainability practices among their suppliers and their supplier’s suppliers.

The new index will help companies identify potential supply disruptions — including disasters, and ethics, compliance and sustainability issues — to keep their businesses running and protect their brands. The data can be used to address any weaknesses and implement risk mitigation strategies before anything happens.

ISM and The Ethisphere Institute partnered to develop the new index and will demo it on Wednesday, May 28, at 1 p.m. ET on Readytalk.com.

To Become a CPO, Think Like a CEO

For a number of years we’ve been watching the trend of supply managers to think more strategically, for instance, looking for ways that relationships with suppliers can bring innovations that could increase sales instead of simply reducing costs. The Hackett Group recently released a research alert that confirms that trend. Read it here.
The report is based on an annual survey of procurement leaders, and this year’s survey found supply managers looking past cutting or containing costs to more strategic priorities as expanding the scope of procurement’s influence on spend and tapping suppliers for innovations.
The Hackett Group Global Managing Director and Procurement Advisory Practice Leader Chris Sawchuk said, “We believe many procurement organizations have reached the upper limit of cost reductions possible in categories they are actively sourcing today. So they’re looking for ways to reinvent their value proposition. A key part of this is expanding their influence, and taking a life-cycle approach to category management. This requires working more effectively with spend owners, executives, requisitioners, suppliers, and other stakeholders. It also calls for skills that are outside procurement’s traditional areas of expertise.”
The big idea from this research is that long term success for supply managers comes when they think like a CEO. However, as we all know, if you are stuck in the swamp it’s darn hard to see what it looks like from the mountaintop. To get from here to there it may take investments to raise your skills and those of the team around you. It may take a continuous process improvement approach to the work your department does, and it may take investments in technology to reduce the transaction costs of non-strategic purchases. In short, you may have to start thinking like a CEO of your team before you can align with the CEO of your organization.





Managing supplier relationships

We couldn’t agree more with Philip Hicks, procurement manager at Northumbrian Water, who said the key to his company’s supply chain sustainability is getting out and meeting with its top suppliers. As he points out, companies expect their suppliers to help them achieve their sustainability goals, and it’s only through personal engagement that suppliers will come to understand the role they play.

A Sedexglobal report, however, encourages companies to go a step further into the supply chain and meet with as many suppliers as possible, whether they’re Tier 1, 2 or 3. It points out that the “greatest and most critical sustainability risks are found deeper down the supply chain.” Unfortunately, only a third of companies are actively seeking transparency below Tier 1 in their supply chain.

How deep into the supply chain are you managing your supplier relationships? Are you going far enough?

Ford seeks innovation from partnership with minority supplier

We regularly write about using your supplier base to bring innovation to your company, but here’s a twist on that theme. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Ford patented a process for welding aluminum, then shared it with a supplier to develop the technology for production. The deal was made under the umbrella of minority supplier development because the supplier is minority-owned. But it also takes advantage of the supplier’s knowledge and experience. Who better to take an idea from the lab to the assembly line than someone who is already fabricating aluminum in production volumes?
There was a time when automakers would develop a new process from beginning to end, then simply dictate to suppliers how it would be implemented. In practice, that approach only gets you to the starting line. Sharing development responsibilities sets a better foundation for improvements even after the process is production-ready.
Automakers have a bad reputation for supplier relationships, so it’s good to see evidence of more collaborative approaches.

120-day payments? Maybe not in the UK

A few years ago when the global economy was in a funk, companies could point to their own cash-flow problems as they extended their payment cycles to 90 or even 120 days. That’s a pretty hard case to make now that the economy has been growing for more than four years straight (according to the ISM Report
On Business™).
Nevertheless, it’s apparently not that uncommon still. In fact, British Prime Minister David Cameron has started talking about legislating limits to late payments. Here’s the coverage a Twitter follower of mine found in The Guardian.

Pushing payments out to four months certainly gives a boost to factoring companies, which will advance funds based on invoices. And it may help a company to winnow out weaker suppliers for components or services that are easy to source. However, for critical parts or strategic suppliers that are bringing your company innovations or unique value — slow payments are a good way to dry up the working capital your suppliers’ need for expansions, replacing equipment or R&D. Or worse, drive them to take their unique value to your competitors.

Conversation starters

Keep looking forward, don’t forget the basics, and what goes around comes around.  Those three messages were at the heart of three conversations I have had with magazine and web editors recently.

After I spoke at the first Drug, Chemical & Associated Technologies Association (DCAT) “Sharp Sourcing” event, Rob Wright, editor in chief of Life Sciences Leader took note of this video that I shared about the technology outlook for 2020. It underscores the need for procurement organizations to look for innovations from suppliers – especially in supply chain transparency, sustainability, and value that positions your organization for success. Identifying key suppliers and building strategic relationships are essential. Here’s the link to the blog post.

U.S. manufacturing is the phenomenon that is coming back around. I had a good conversation about that with Rachel Leisemann Immel, Associate Editor, IMPO. As the cost of labor in China has risen, the issues of distance, lag times, transportation costs and other risks are bringing manufacturing investments back to the U.S. I say “investments,” not “jobs” because the work that is coming back generally involves a good degree of automation, and fewer workers. Our discussion covered a lot of ground. You can find it here.

Finally, no matter what you are buying it’s always smart to know whatever you can about your suppliers’ costs. It’s a pretty basic part of procurement, but it can easily get sidelined when you get into strategic negotiations or are buying parts that are difficult to find. We covered those basics with Bridget McCrea at Digi-Key Corporation, which is in the electronic parts business.