Computer skills really help. I took some courses especially for people who are involved with computers to find out what's going on. It would really help people coming into business nowadays to have some computer background. It wouldn't hurt just to understand what is going on. At one time, the computer people used to tell us and did tell us everything. Now we are beginning to tell the computer people what we want and have them figure out how to do it.
Flexible writing and speaking skills are extremely important. I've learned to present something highly technical in writing in a very simple fashion. Often I can present something so clearly that people won't even know they're getting something technical.
Within the materials management function people can focus on any one of three disciplines: distribution, purchasing, or production inventory control. They should at least have the technical skills involved in those disciplines. Overall, the materials management field has needed the computer to manipulate the data. It's important to have a basic understanding of data processing, simply so that you know the capabilities of that tool. It's a very important tool.
One of the most obvious things is the ability to deal with numbers. A good head for mathematics is important, because we use a lot of statistics and a lot of mathematics. Comparing and preparing reports and being able to interpret things and to take them beyond face value are also important. And nothing can take the place of good common sense.
Question - What do you enjoy about your job?
Answer - I like the continual challenge that's involved with the materials management function. I like the interaction with the various groups within the company. Because of the nature of the position, I get involved with every department we have.
I find materials management very exciting. It's one of constant change and challenge. It requires a lot of initiative.
The most satisfying part of my job is when we can really control the inventories. We publish a shortage report, and I'm probably measured as much on that as anything, although unfairly, in my opinion.
If we can get our turnover accomplished and still keep the shortage down, then I really feel good about that. By the same token, I really feel lousy when the shortages are up and I really can't help them. That's the unfair part. But, like the man told me one time, every team has to have a coach, and when things go wrong the coach gets hell for it! That's the way it is. If we can meet the customer service level and also meet our turnover objective, then we feel good.
I probably have the most interesting job in the world. Every day I walk in and my decision really is, "Who do I want to beat me over the head today?" Because if I've got too much inventory, I've got fifteen financial people after me about "asset tie-up," asking if I don't know about the prime rate and product obsolescence. If I have too little inventory, the phones ring off the hook from the sales department telling me about all the millions of dollars worth of lost sales. So "perfect" inventory is really an unattainable goal, one I can never reach. But striving for it or getting close to it really makes it a very rewarding thing. When the end of the month comes to "make the numbers" and when I have enough inventory to cover all the orders we need, that's a pretty good feeling. By the same token, when we look at our results and we find out that what I threw away or lost to obsolescence was well within budget, that's a nice feeling too. It's a constant challenge.
Virtually all the people I deal with are pretty nice. I have a good rapport not only with the people within the company (and it's a great company to work for) but with my suppliers. On a very human level, it gives me that opportunity to meet and deal with many people and many personalities. It's fascinating in terms of human contact.
It is extremely exciting, in that the field is basically my laboratory. When I make an enhancement in the system, I get an immediate feedback the next day whether it's working or not. It may even blow up (not literally), or it may completely stall out and create quite a crisis, but that doesn't happen much anymore.
Question - What's the worst part of the job?
Answer - The worst part of the job is the complete lack of understanding on the part of the salespeople of what we are trying to do. I understand that if I was a salesperson, I wouldn't care anything about a shortage objective or customer service objective unless I was the one you were shorting. The sales management should understand, but it doesn't seem to me that they do. If we have a shortage or a customer service objective and we hit that, then we shouldn't be the target of a lot of abuse about products that we do run out of. But it seems that we are anyway, and maybe that is true everywhere.
We're involved in the sales meetings and marketing meetings, and we talk about it, but I'm not really sure we accomplish anything by it. We've gone over the same thing year after year, about how we reach production levels, how we accomplish the inventory levels, where the numbers come from, and so forth, and that's the most frustrating part.