Every once in a while, a person comes along in your career that influences your professional life as a mentor, or a colleague, or a friend; in my case, he was all three. His name was Les Sandler, and he passed away earlier this year. What I now realize, in retrospect, were the many valuable lessons that I learned from him. In addition, he was practicing many of today’s best practices back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s long before they were in fashion. Les had 45 years of purchasing and supply chain experience in the manufacturing, building materials, construction, transportation, fashion, and retail industries. Here is a sampling of his wisdom.

Working with suppliers: Purchasing should issue a monthly report on supplier performance, measuring on-time performance and material rejects. Quarterly reports to the supplier base should summarize the monthly data and add subjective evaluations on communications, service, value-analysis contribution, and price competitiveness. He was a proponent of instituting a supplier/vendor certification program as part of the company wide quality program; all key suppliers should be required to be certified according to your criteria: "The only way to have a top-notch, world-class supplier is to be a good customer, with timely and organized information. Improved forecasting of your needs will result in better help for responsive suppliers. Your purchasing department needs to know the marketplace regarding: cost versus price, availability, and technology that meets your objectives," said Les. "At Caradco Corporation, we research the marketplace, supplier performance, and supplier-proven reliability. We're very thorough in our supplier Pre-Qualification and Qualification investigations.”

The purchasing and transportation link: Transportation and purchasing are inextricably bound. "You can't buy a commodity or goods without thinking about its transportation." He suggested having purchasing and transportation staff co-located in the same office. At Bend Millwork Systems, purchasing was responsible for both inbound and outbound freight and the operation of a 25 tractor, 40 trailer, private fleet. Staff also was responsible for selling our private fleet freight services for back hauls. By interlining with common carriers, selling carriage on back hauls, and supplying transportation to its own suppliers, as well as picking up raw materials from suppliers, his department reduced the fleet's empty miles to 3%, down from 22% the previous year. Les felt that the management of the inbound freight function was one of the most overlooked areas for significant cost reduction in many companies. As he often said, “it’s the second largest spend after cost of materials and supplies. Inbound freight management is also a great way to control inventory in transit.”

Process versus technology: The way you get good purchasing and supply chain practices in place is to define a set of processes and procedures and make sure they are implemented everywhere in the organization. “If you want to change process in any significant way, you effectively need to change the organization - and often that means there will be war with allied functions.” Les firmly believed that you should focus on the method, not the means. “No amount of software will replace good sound fundamentals when it comes to creating repeatable processes in an organization which help take it to the next level.” He believed that much of purchasing and supply chain knowledge is based on craft. “The person developing a craft solution to a problem draws on fortunate accidents, personal experience, insight, and the expertise of others to fashion a solution and revise it through trial and error. Craft is then passed on through a system of expert-based instruction and practice based internships.”

Mentoring, coaching, and training: If Les was certain of one thing, it was that a mentor most likely provided guidance and helped you overcome challenges sometime during your career. And if you were really lucky, he/she inspired you along the way! As Jack Lemmon, the famous actor, used to say, “If you have done well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” Les felt it was your responsibility to send the elevator back down to your staff. One of your jobs as a mentor is to coach - provide advice and encouragement - but in order to do so, you need to make the time to listen and understand the situation. A coach’s mantra must be: “Do as I do, not just as I say.” He preached that professional development of the staff is critical. At every company, he instituted a training program for all staff members, using a variety of materials for in-house sessions, plus correspondence courses and public seminars. For Les, training also relied on craft which is quite easy to learn and its use seldom requires much training or prior experience. Craft produces a body of knowledge and expertise through one-on-one coaching opportunities.

In closing, he believed that purchasing and the supply chain needed more decisive leaders who are known for their boldness and ability to make the tough calls. These people have good leadership skills; they help their staff see the importance of every task. They are driven by their vision and they focus their attention on why people do what they do. They are able to set goals and provide a clear direction, which brings about enthusiasm and excitement. Aside from good leadership skills, these types of leaders are committed, dedicated, and intense.

This article is part of the monthly series authored by ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, trainers, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain topics.

Thomas L. Tanel, CTL, C.P.M., CISCM, is the President and CEO of CATTAN Services Group, Inc., specializing in Logistics and Supply Chain issues. He is also the Chair of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at tanel@cattan.com or (979) 210-8200. Membership in the Group is open to all ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in the Logistics & Transportation fields.