March 1, 2016

Burning Down the House

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a very young customer service manager at a ball bearing plant. At that time there was a terrific shortage of bearings in the US. Lead times were long and delivery was poor. Customers were put on allocations. This means they were limited in the quantities and sizes they could buy; much like toilet paper is unavailable  in any progressive-run country.

Customers spent their days angry and frustrated and it was up to my little fiefdom to try and placate the seething buyer on the other end of the phone line. Often top executives from major customers came directly to the plant to vent their rage. One day a VP of Purchasing from one of the big agriculture implement manufacturers came to complain about our horrible deliveries, the allocations, and the occasional quality issues and their effects on the customer's manufacturing plants. Even a Deere can't run without bearings.

We are all in the big conference room. The heavies from the plant were present -- plant manager, department heads, production control, and little insignificant me.  Mr. VP ranted and cursed. The team from our side told how we have striven to fix the various problems in procurement, production, and quality. We described our heroic efforts in spite of nearly insurmountable issues to get the big customer his product.

"I get it", he said. "You guys are great firefighters. The only problem is it looks like every single damn employee here is a fucking arsonist".

Man, did I get the evil eye from the bosses when I laughed out loud. But it did break the tension in the room. When the big cheese customer left he was somewhat satisfied things were going to get better. After all, that was the purpose of his trip. To this day that is still the best line ever delivered by a customer to a supplier.

1 comment:

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

As opposed to all of us firefighters at work trying to keep the boss from burning the place down.

I just need six more years, then I can retire.

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