Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 96 - One for All, and All for Naught

          I told our landlady today that we would be moving out by the end of January. This should give her plenty of time to find a new tenant for the house. I hated to do it, but time is growing short. It sure looks to me like nothing good is going to happen anytime soon on the job front or in the economy.
Last year I put on a seafood boil for the neighborhood for New Year’s Eve. It was a great party. Everyone brought their own beverages and desserts and appetizers. I did a huge pot of Low Country Boil that included shrimp, crab, scallops, clams, mussels, lobster, kielbasa, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and onions. I put out bowls of drawn butter, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, and a chipotle rĂ©moulade. We dumped the cooked seafood onto a central table covered with newspapers, and everyone just dug in. It was fabulous.
Everyone had a great time. I want to do it again this year—kind of a last hurrah before I have to pack up my stuff and run to safety. The neighbors have agreed to ante up on a ratable basis so I don’t have to pay for the whole thing like I did last year. I love this place.  
The next big project we launched at Albatross was the strategic sourcing initiative. This was a very big deal. It came under Ringcomme’s supply chain umbrella, but it was actually initiated by the new CFO, another of Jed Boome’s cronies from the crane company days. The CFO, let’s call him Wylie Lovett, was a smooth talking, silver haired, sharp dressed man who exuded class and competence. He made everyone, including me, feel as though we were on the right track. He had grand ideas rooted in good sense that we vetted thoroughly before implementing. Everything seemed so rosy for a time.
We hired a consulting firm to shepherd us through the process. They sent a squad of high energy kids down from Chicago—all bright, focused, and confident. Management picked Albatross employees to be involved in the project. Before we finished more than a hundred of us were involved in one aspect of the project or another.
Central to the project were a handful of commodities teams. There was one for wood and fiberglass, one for hardware and fittings, one for metals and extrusions, one for rubber and plastics, and one for MRO or maintenance and supply items. Each team had eight to twelve members from all different areas within the company.
The teams were to stage a supplier conference, post a list of items they proposed to buy, solicit bids from selected suppliers for the items on their list, visit the suppliers to determine their suitability and capacity to meet our requirements, negotiate with suppliers to achieve the best overall performance in terms of quality, service, and price, and select the best overall vendors. The idea was to save in total costs, to partner with suppliers to provide the best possible products in the most agreeable time-frame to our customers at the lowest possible cost to us.
To achieve these laudable goals we put in a tremendous number of hours beyond what it took to do our usual jobs. We developed lists. We made phone calls. We studied cost structures. We mapped product movement. We developed and published specifications and drawings. We attended classes in communication and negotiating. We wrote, developed, and rehearsed presentations. We did role playing exercises. We went to endless meetings. We beat ourselves half to death for the company because the promise was—the promise that we believed with all our hearts—that we stood to save tens of millions of dollars over the next five years if we did a good job. That was tens of millions of dollars that we absolutely needed to save in order to remain competitive and profitable.
I got tapped to join the MRO team. I didn’t want to do it because, for one thing I didn’t even know what MRO meant at the time. Besides I felt I’d already been assigned more than I could hope to accomplish is a lifetime. Since starting at Albatross as controller of the boat division, I’d also assumed responsibility for all the commercial fixtures products, and then, when the shared services controller was canned and the school business controller left for greener pastures, I got their jobs added to mine as well.
I calculated that if the company paid me the salaries of all the controllers whose duties I had assumed they would have to give me an annual wage of $540 thousand. If they also gave me just a quarter of the salary they were paying Robert Lester, who was still eating up a tremendous amount of my time trying to get an understanding of the boat business, I would have been the highest paid individual in the company—knocking down nearly $630 thousand.
I’m not complaining about the money, but I did have plenty to do without getting immersed in the strategic sourcing project. I tried to get out of it. I went to the CFO and made a pretty good case I thought. Rongcomme made a better one against me. He wanted me on a team, and he had way more clout than I. I started going to the MRO meetings.     
It was a huge commitment of time and effort, but I ended up enjoying it a lot, especially when we got to the negotiation phase. There was something about sitting across the table from teams of supplier executives and hammering out deals that really tripped my trigger. The hours were incredibly long and arduous, but the satisfaction quotient for me was as high as it’s ever been in my working life.
If I could do that all day every day I’d be a happy fellow. I think I’d be pretty successful too. I mean I think I’m good at negotiating, good at overcoming objections, finding common ground, making persuasive arguments, getting to ‘yes’. I’m not a natural. It didn’t come easy to me because I’m naturally shy and reticent. I don’t like meeting and interacting with strangers, and I don’t like having to put on a performance. But with practice I can get really good at something I enjoy, and I enjoyed this…a lot. It would have been even better if, after the project was done and we had new agreements with a new slate of suppliers, it had meant anything at all to any of us.
Like so many other things I’ve been involved in at work over the years, executive management sabotaged the whole deal. In the end no matter what vendor we thought offered the best hope of helping us reach our goals, Ringcomme picked vendors based on prior relationships he had with them. The whole sourcing initiative was just a shell game. We paid the consultants $5 million and change, paid another bucket full of money on travel and staging dog and pony shows, put in an astronomical number of hours doing homework and taking meetings, negotiated our hearts out, and we could have saved all that time, money and effort by just asking Ringcomme who he wanted to do business with.
So we didn’t save any real money. We just spent it. Even the vendors who gave us price concessions did so based on volumes we never achieved. Favorable payment terms that I personally had beaten out of a goodly number of suppliers never materialized because we couldn’t even meet the extended payment schedules. We didn’t have the cash. We’d spent it on consultants and projects.

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