Tom Lippet, sales representative for DuPont Engineering Polymers (DEP), felt uneasy as he drove to his appointment at GARD (Automotive Manufacturing (GARD). GARD is one of DEP’s biggest customers. In the past, sales deals with GARD had proceeded smoothly. Oftentimes competitors were not even invited to bid on the GARD business. Mike O’Leary, purchasing agent at GARD, claimed that was because no competitor could match DEP’s product quality.
But this contract negotiation was different. Several weeks before the contract renewal talks began, O’Leary had announced his plan to retire in 6 months. GARD management quickly promoted Richard Binish as O’Leary’s successor. Although Binish had been relatively quiet at the previous two meetings Lippet sensed that it would not be business as usual with Binish. While the contract decision ultimately depended upon O’Leary’s recommendation, Lippet felt Binish might pose a problem.
Binish, 35, had worked for a Fortune 500 firm following completion of his undergraduate degree in operations management. While with the Fortune 500 firm Binish had become extensively involved with JIT and quality programs. He had returned to school and earned an MBA with a concentration in purchasing and logistics. Eager to make his mark, Binish had rejected offers to return to large corporations and instead accepted GARD’s offer in inventory management.
GARD, an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for U.S. auto producers and aftermarket retailers, makes a wide variety of plastic products for automobiles and light trucks. Examples of GARD products are dashboards, door and window handles, and assorted control knobs. When Binish began working with GARD’s inventory management he applied the 80/20 rule, illustrating to management that 80 percent of GARD’s business was related to 20 percent of its product line. Over the next 3 years, as contracts expired with customers and suppliers, Binish trimmed GARD’s product line. GARD management was impressed with the positive impact on GARD’s profits as unprofitable contracts and products were discarded. A trimmer product line composed primarily of faster-moving products also resulted in higher inventory velocity.
So, when O’Leary announced his retirement plans, management immediately offered Binish the position. After taking a few days to review GARD’s purchasing practices Binish felt he could make an impact. He accepted management’s offer. As he learned his way around the purchasing department Binish tried to stay in the background, but he soon found himself questioning many of O’Leary’s practices. He particularly disdained O’Leary’s frequent “business lunches” with long-time associates from GARD suppliers. Despite these feelings Binish made an effort to not be openly critical of O’Leary. Such efforts did not, however, prevent him from asking more and more questions about GARD’s purchasing process.
O’Leary, for his part, felt his style had served GARD well. Prices were kept low and quality was generally within established parameters. Although O’Leary typically maintained a wide network of suppliers, critical materials were sourced from a limited number of them. In those cases contract bids were a ritual, with the winner known well in advance.
DEP was one such winner. Its polymers were a critical feedstock material in GARD’s manufacturing process. When O’Leary began sourcing from DEP nearly 15 years ago, there was no question that DEP polymers were the best on the market. GARD’s production managers rarely complained about production problems caused by substandard polymers. O’Leary reasoned that the fewer complaints from manufacturing, the better.
“Hi, Tom! Come on in! Good to see you. You remember Richard Binish, don’t you?” Lippet’s spirits were buoyed by O’Leary’s cheery greeting.
“Absolutely! How are you,...