What the Duck?! Episode 29 Transcript
SURPRISE, YOUR ORDER HAS ARRIVED!(?) How to Deal with Supply Surprises with Curtis Strzinek
Welcome to What the Duck?! a podcast with real experts talking about direct spend challenges and experiences, and now here’s your host SourceDay’s very own manufacturing Maven, Sarah Scudder. Thank you for joining me for What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast, brought to you by SourceDay. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder, and this is a podcast for people working in the direct materials part of supply chain. I’m @SarahScudder on LinkedIn and @SScudder on Twitter. If you are new to the show, make sure to follow this podcast so you don’t miss any of our direct materials supply chain content. Today, I’m going to be joined by Curtis Strzinek, and we’re going to discuss how to deal with supply surprises. If you work for a manufacturer and are struggling to know if and when your parts and materials are going to arrive, then this episode is for you. Curtis has sold and bought many different industrial commodities throughout his 30-plus year career, and I want to say Curtis and I have been LinkedIn friends for gosh, three or four years now. So, welcome to the show, Curtis.
Hi, Sarah. So, when we were prepping for the show, you gave me a little tour of your office, and I have to say, a little crazy for me. I have a table and a laptop, and that is all that’s in my office, and I feel like with your long career in supply chain, you have things in collections everywhere in your office for all different things related to supply chain.
When you want to answer, you keep going. Oh no, we’re just chatting. Okay, so next time you’re down at Corpus, and we do actually have schedules and plans up, you’ll have to come by my office and just completely be flabbergasted with all the stuff, like the talent, the actual calendar on your wall, which is kind of the thing that is crazy to me. I live off my calendar on my phone and my computer, yes, and I do too. My phone, my laptop, my desktop, everything is coordinated – LinkedIn, Outlook, Teams – it’s all overlapping. And I have found, I even have a desk pad I didn’t show you.
You have a what? Did you say a desk pad? Yeah, another calendar on my desk. Like, it covers.
Oh yeah, those were like a thing. I remember when my parents were working, desk calendars were a thing.
Yes, and obviously, they don’t just make these for me, so I get, I don’t know, several hundred of them a year brought to my office – hundreds.
So, Curtis, what’s the important thing that you learned in yourself?
I think the most important thing that kind of covers all aspects of buying, selling, just you know, supply chain period, is you can’t be surprised when something good or something bad happens, whether you’re negotiating or whether you’re calling up on orders, or confirming orders or expediting, whatever the case may be, or sourcing something. You can’t let yourself be surprised. And to elaborate on a little bit or give you an example, you place an order and you’re following up on it because the NGOs are reaches out to you and says, ‘Hey, can you check on this? This just became more critical. We want to make sure.’ And it’s usually email. ‘We want to make sure that there are no issues while we’re planning this job.’ And now with most ERPs, that’s all done automatically with the kitting and staging and work order process, and all that’s done automatically through SAP in our case. But if there is something that they want handheld, and you reach out to the supplier, and it was ordered six weeks ago and it’s supposed to be here in a week, and your trusted employer and confidant and relationship, bill manufacturer, distributor, whatever the case may be, says, ‘I don’t have that order. I can’t find that order in my system.’ And so many people just freak out and free things. The world’s gonna end. And you just have to stop and look at first. You said, ‘Well, here’s a copy of it. Here’s an email where your company paying me back saying that you did get it to our system.’ And somehow, somewhere in this unbelievably unwritten untouched automated world, oh my gosh, something happened, and an order got lost.
So then you go back to the end-user and say, ‘Okay, what day is the world going to end? What day is your world going to end?’ And they say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got this with all these people coming, all these schedules made, and all these people are going to be here Monday morning at 7 A.M. When they show up, if we don’t have these parts, it’s going to cost us X-Men at all.’ And this is a Monday. You know we’ve had all that irons. If I don’t get all those, you know, that’s what you give them to work for you. You give yourself that margin. And then you see what they can do. And they come back with, ‘Well, we’re going to have to be partners in your company to get this here by next Thursday. You know, we’re going to have to own part of your company. That’s what it’s going to cost you.’ And it goes back and forth. You can’t just let yourself get freaked out surprised because a lot of the guys in the field and a lot of even the suppliers kind of get freaked out. And you just have to take it step by step. Yeah, it’s definitely a certain mindset that I think doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, and it’s an important skill to learn and master if you’re planning to be a buyer and spend your career in supply chain. Curtis, a question for you about why supply chain. Why did you choose to get into this crazy industry?
Well, it kind of shows me, I’ll be honest. You know, working after college farming and ranching in the local South Texas oil field and realizing that with a college degree, you’re making really good money working out the whole field, but do you want to be climbing up on rigs for the rest of your life? Looking for things where you’ve used or experience in industrial distribution, there was an opportunity that came up, and I did that for 10 or 12 years, and that opportunity led to this opportunity. So, I went from Scotland Divine. Some of my favorite customers in my career have been salespeople, and I think it’s because they understand the importance of relationships and working as a team versus the US versus me versus them or us first them mentality.
Oh, most definitely, that kind of sarcastic way I use the term ‘partner and vendor relationship’ is not meant lightly in this case. You have to okay, how many arms is that for me? The relationship can’t be about profit-loss 100 anyway. You have to be able to trust them; you have to be able to understand how their system works. It’s important that they understand how yours will become worked, and what most people at the higher level who are putting contracts in place that trickle down out of all these different locations don’t understand is you get what you pay for to an extent. There’s always gray areas.
Career where you were an operations manager, yes, in a district industrial distributor? Okay, okay, so why the change from operations manager to buyer?
Is that black and white enough? Shortly double the pay, yeah.
So you became a buyer, and now you’ve been a buyer at your company for, I want to say, 20 years, which is a really, really long time to be at one company. What was the biggest challenge that you experienced when you started at your company as a buyer?
Oh wow, that was, that’s actually going to be easy. Where I came from on the Sterling side, you know, you had the owner of the company, and he owned 100% of the company, so there was nobody else questioning his decision. So you would go to your manager, ask him a question, and he had full carte blanche to make whatever decision he deemed necessary. And if, for some reason, okay this is above my pay grade, he would go directly down to the company, and the decision would be made before you hung up on the phone, it was done. Talk about, talk about no red tape, oh, zero, zero red tape. And I went from that to somebody asking a question or anything, well, we need to form another team and an ad hoc committee to decide if that really is a question that we need to be addressing, and we need to make sure that it’s all in the right compartments and 15 colors of red tape just to see if you can make it through the meeting without somebody going into everyone like, thinking about somebody questioning what’s going on. So, that was a big change.
What is the biggest challenge you face today as a buyer, 21 years later?
I think it’s people. You don’t, I know I’ve been doing this forever, but you don’t have anyone else or a lot of areas where people stick to a job. You know, you can go through, I think dinner any other website or hospital, whatever, and you look at somebody’s resume and you’ll see two years, one year, three years, one year, two years, five years. Oh my gosh, you lasted five years somewhere, and I help with the hiring process and enter and going through for different positions with our company, and I see that and you just can’t fathom that people think they learn something in a year in one year or got any experience or they just jump down the road in the oil field in the refining world, the determines, they went across the street from that SureNick one Allen, you know. So, a lot of times when I see that, I question that, are you making a step to better yourself in your for your family, your career, whatever the case may be, or can you not be happy anywhere or successful anymore? And that, that’s my, you know, I could prove it to you a thousand times over, but I don’t think I need to. So, I would argue that the role of a buyer has changed most dramatically in the last two to three years.
How is your position evolved as a buyer over the years? So, you started out coming from a very small organization, having a privately run business where your owner could make a decision instantly, to a larger organization, but what really stands out as the evolution of the change in your role as a buyer?
But most definitely, it’s a transactional lot, like I was mentioning earlier, or our ERP customers automated to them, and I wouldn’t say like three or three years, there are three blood 10, 12, 15 years, it’s, it started when I got here, it was already, you know, what’s, how can you make our world instill demons is necessary, so my job has evolved from being transactional 10-15 years ago to being more strategic, fixing problems, preventing them from happening to begin with, providing input and training a lot of new hires. I mean, every day there are questions, and so I’m one of the few people still around and say, “Well, here’s how you do that, and here’s, you know, this is how you handle that situation.” You’re like the company historian. I’m gonna go ahead and take that as a compliment instead of a dig at my age, but that’s because I like it. So, what’s the most important thing you do for your company if you had to pick one thing?
Even all the situations like I was referencing to do with all these young buyers from all over the world sing something and go, “Oh my gosh, what do we do, what do we do,” because they don’t have the experience of going, “Oh wait a minute, wait a minute, that’s no problem, no issue, we can fix that. Here, let me show you,” and that’s handed down to me from an if you can get in our group that I’m appreciated for that.
So when you and I were prepping for our conversation today, the theme that really stood out was your ability to be calm and cool and collected in situations when their supply surprises. So I want to dive into that a little bit more because I think it’s really valuable for our listeners. So you struggle to know if and when your order is going to arrive, even though you have 30 plus years of experience in the industry. You have an ERP, but you don’t always know where your supply is and if it’s going to arrive on time.
Why is that? Why is there so much disconnect from a purchase order being cut to if and when you’re actually going to receive supply?
That could have different ways of looking at it. You know what’s the old thing, garbage in garbage out. You enter an order and it comes from somebody’s request, out and appeal and or they’re actually, and everything’s automated. They’re entering it in and then maybe you’re relying on the supplier to provide you with confirmation or acknowledgment of yes, we received the order, yes, it’s, you know, it’s against the contract pricing, isn’t an issue, here’s for delivery, and then you’re relying on that person that they keyed it all incorrectly and they got it incorrectly or the symptoms flanged up correctly to go from your ERP to their ERP, which is more, more nowadays, that’s the way those different different tools that are out there. So you’re still relying on people because then you go down to the point of what we use in the MRO world, you know, in the maintenance where it’s an indirect purchasing, there, this is not an Amazon, there are not robots running around a warehouse, you know these items are technically checked in certain areas or Metallurgy checks and I mean it, it’s a fun item, I could go on for hours on the different products and different things that have to be checked before they come to the gate. Well, you have people doing that and you go back to who to do hard, how long have they been there, do they know what they’re doing, did they do it right before it ever showed up. And I think there’s a lot in experience in some fields, people want to move up and I get it, wow, yes of course you want to do the best thing for your career, your family, your situation, whatever the case may be, but companies and in the most part, in the industrial distribution and manufacturing world, are owned by another company that’s owned by another company, it’s owned by a holding company that’s worried about your bottom line, done bottom line and when you have 50,000 Bo lines a week issued automatically to your system, you’re saying that hey, if we got a five percent fail rate or error rate, I think we did pretty good, or you could say that we had 5,000 errors, and then I look at it, and people are willing to weigh, I’m sorry, go ahead. So what are you personally doing to reduce the number of surprise supply surprises for you and your team?
Well, we’ve made sure that with some of the companies that have merged and our different product supply line, there’s a lot of distributors that own the Burton product line from a manufacturer, now identical to somebody else, but you stay ahead of that, you always have a plan B, C, and D, two belts, two pairs of suspenders, and my lord, you make sure that if it’s something critical, you have one on the shelf and if you have to get one, you weigh what it’s going to cost to not have it, and because when the plant shuts down, it’s not like turning off the light that’s in your office, it’s an act of Congress to get back up again.
So you stay out of it.
Why has the volume of supply surprises increased so much? I feel like almost every buyer I speak to in the manufacturing space lists this as one of the top three issues that they’ve had to deal with in the last couple of years. Like, it seems like it’s just completely skyrocketed. Well, if anything else in free trade is going to involve the political result of the world, and with COVID and everything else, you could ball it all up and do a great big Perfect Storm, and it gave people an excuse to not go back to work in some cases. It gave people a reason for different parts of the country to maybe move to different parts of the country and think, “You know what, I don’t want to be a truck driver anymore. I’m gonna go to work somewhere else. I’m gonna go to work in retail or something.” And so the biggest heartache for us is, everyone we talk to, all of our suppliers, everything shows up here on a truck eventually. It may get to a certain point in a pipeline, in a railcar, or in some sort of shipping situation or barge or something, but it comes through the plant gate, at least on the indirect side, on a truck.
And that goes to some of the things that were put into place in the last few years that have caused some people to not want to be a truck driver.
Yeah, transportation is an interesting topic. There was a lot of unrest that’s happened in the transportation space in the last year. Yeah, it’s still happening. Yeah, there’s still a shortage of good truck drivers.
So supply issues have skyrocketed.
As for you and your team, you are doing what you can to get that under control. What are you doing to build good relationships with your suppliers?
Well, most of your suppliers that you’ve been working with for years because there are certain things that are OEM you’re going to replace and find you’re not going to reinvent the wheel. You might upgrade from time to time, but that’s usually something suggested by them with new technology or maybe lessons learned from a different customer. So, the relationships are pretty much always there, and when you’re in the situation to spend money, they come looking for you to build a relationship. And then you wait and see if there’s a need for that relationship to be built. But I’ve always learned since I’ve been on both sides of the desk, you don’t burn bridges anymore. People call me, and I talk to them, and I explain to them that you cannot possibly do business with us based upon this or this, AKA you haven’t done your research right. I had three reach-outs on LinkedIn since lunch, just to give you an example, different freight forwarding company saying, “We want all your business. We have the best freight forwarding company in the world. We can do it better than everybody, quicker, better, and faster, and we own 16 space levels, and we can take stuff around the world from that boy.” And what they don’t realize is most of our product leaves here in a pipeline or in a railcar and our different plan, so homework is nothing, that’s called reading. That’s called reading the first paragraph or website, and so you just delete, delete and left her hearts. So for the education of our listeners, what does your company do?
We make chemicals, chemicals that make other chemicals, and we make polymers that come from these chemicals, plastic polymers, different grades, and styles. So if you have anything made out of them in your home, what I can already see are your clothes, everything somewhere somehow down the line, one of the products that made that chances are came through one of our plants or one of our products. Do you own a car? I do. That was a bit of a struggle. I was moved to Austin, and looking in the when it was crazy, and the used cars are more than new cars, so it was not easy, but I was able to finally buy a used car. I remember when you remember, I remember you reached out to me and said, “Hey, I’m getting closer,” so that was funny. But yeah, in other words, our homes, packaging, those are our big end products. Okay, well, thank you for discussing how to deal with supply surprises today, Curtis. Where would you like people where would you like to send people to find you if they want to chat or learn more about you or your company?
LinkedIn is fine. I check LinkedIn several times a day, and they can reach out to me there if they want to connect and ask me a question. I have no issues with responding. If you missed anything, you can check out our show notes. You can find us by typing “What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast” in Google. To have optimal search results, make sure to add “Another Supply Chain Podcast” at the end of your search to ensure you don’t miss a single episode. Make sure to follow this podcast and subscribe to us on YouTube. I’m @SarahScudder on LinkedIn and @Sscudder on Twitter. This brings us to the end of another episode of What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder, and we’ll be back next week.