Here’s the latest in our Supply Chain Executive interview series, where we speak with leaders from all corners of the Supply Chain discipline. We’ve spoken with individuals in everything from Logistics to Procurement to Planning, in industries as diverse as Consumer Goods, Public Sector, Retail, Manufacturing, with the goal of helping show off the tremendous diversity of the field we know and love – while keeping our readers abreast of what’s on the mind of some of its top players.
This time, we interviewed Mike Croza. With an extensive background in Supply Chain and Distribution in the automotive and office supply industries, Mike is the founder and Managing Partner of Supply Chain Alliance Partners, one of the most successful management consulting companies in the Supply Chain space. He’s known as an innovator and problem solver within the industry who has also acted as a standard bearer and educator for all that is great about Supply Chain.
Mike has the kind of perspective that’s tremendously valuable both to organizations and individuals looking to enter the field, with a unique sense both of Supply Chain’s history and where it’s going in the future. So check out what he had to say!
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in Supply Chain?
I joined Magna back in the early 80s. Just in time manufacturing had just come to North America through the Japanese automakers. The American big 3 (General Motors, Chrysler and Ford) were struggling, and at that time Magna’s Frank Stronach had really started expanding his business in a very entrepreneurial environment. When I joined Magna in 1983, they were building a plant every 4 months in Southern Ontario. I was very fortunate to get in on the ground level for a 600,000 square ft. robotic paint shop that painted and shipped injection-molded plastic bumpers just in time to about 10 assembly plants. I was the first person in the warehouse, and when production went 3 months later I had 60 people working for me. Frank Stronach had made arrangements with the Liberal Government to accept and employ a lot of Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese newcomers to Canada, and it was a pleasure to grow and work with people who were coming to Canada for the first time.
I learned so much about what just in time manufacturing does. At the time, the failure of a shipment was worth a quarter million dollars an hour. I ended up doing more, not just from a quality perspective, but all the programs for all the assembly plants. I got to see all the plants, how it all works, the mechanics of it, it was a great way to start my career. I loved the production pace. It was something I could really sink my teeth into.
Can you tell our readers about how you got into Supply Chain Management consulting?
I had an opportunity at ACCO, which was an office supply company. When I got to ACCO there were a lot of Supply Chain issues which was a great Supply Chain learning experience. Warehouses with wrong inventory, how people were buying inventory, what we were paying for freight, supplying the customers. My role was very integrated from customer service back to production scheduling, and I was able to make improvements in the business. I brought in things like forecasting and inventory management practices, and got involved with systems implementation.
I’d had an opportunity to move to Chicago where ACCO was based, but I had a young family and it was 1993. I knew some people who were consultants and, to be honest, they were okay, but I felt I could do better. I came home and said to my wife, I can always get a job but I’d like to hang my shingle.
What does Supply Chain Alliance Partners do?
It’s been a work in progress for 23 years. We’re a management consulting firm, specialized in Supply Chain. We work right across the Supply Chain, both upstream and downstream, in planning and execution. We’ve worked with 150 companies across 350 Supply Chain projects, within many verticals. Everything from nuclear power, to beer, to motorcycles, to government. All these companies have had different issues, but it’s always Supply Chain related.
We’re a boutique firm, a small group who have all run Supply Chain operations. If you look at the work we do, it’s really about accelerating change within companies. We work on projects that are often transformational. We worked with the City of Edmonton on their total Supply Chain. It could be network optimization like our work with Harley Davidson Canada. It could be Distribution Centre design. It could be working with companies upstream on Merchandise Planning and Retail. We’ve spent a lot of time in western Canada on mining, Oil & Gas and Retail. The neat thing about our company is that, being small, we don’t have a bureaucracy. We think, “if we ran this company, what would we do?” We do up front assessment, development of strategy, and we help them implement. In that sense it’s very gratifying.
What do you think a skilled Supply Chain consultant can offer companies in comparison to a permanent employee?
You hopefully get an acceleration of getting things done. Our skills are oriented that way, towards continuous improvement. The issue of “why isn’t the Supply Chain better?” is important to us only as a reference point. Instead, we want to ask, “where are you going?” Our assessment encompasses people, process, systems, and policies. Then we provide a roadmap, and end up implementing the roadmap. That last step involves bringing in best practices whether it be in reporting, or bringing KPIs (key performance indicators) to an organization, changing a process, integrating planning. It’s helping companies do that. And a lot of companies need help in bridging that. The difference is that we bring the energy and expertise to get some of that done.
The projects are very exciting in the sense that it’s helping a company with a Supply Chain capability at a “2” or “3” get to a “7” or “8.” Part of it is that you bring in hired guns, and that’s where some people are confused. I might hear, “I just hired a VP of Supply Chain.” I know you have, but a team isn’t just one person. So in many cases, we get involved in a company who gets the religion of Supply Chain management, who has the proper person, but doesn’t have the horsepower to get things done. It’s all about time, now: “I have to be here in 6 months. How do I get there? What are the steps? What’s the ROI?” All of our projects have to have an economic benefit. In Supply Chain, if you can hit on all four, which is increased revenue, decreased assets, decreased costs, and increased service, that’s where you really win. And if you do it right, you can.
A big thank you to Mike Croza for taking the time for this interview! As we said up top, it’s great to speak with someone with experience across such a wide variety of industries, with such a solid sense of Supply Chain’s past and future. Stay tuned for the rest of our interview, where we discuss the biggest challenges companies are facing in their Supply Chains, and how Supply Chain stands to evolve over the next 5 years!