04 Nov Ryan B, Purchasing Associate
A Day in the Life of Ryan B., Purchasing associate for a major automotive manufacturer; Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.
MBA Operations Management
What I Do
I am responsible for purchasing wiring harnesses for all the electrical systems for about four different lines of vehicles. All of the electrical components in your car are connected by what we call a “wiring harness.” I negotiate prices for wiring on the entire vehicle line.
For example, when we do modeling changes, changes to the wiring system almost always result. Consequently, I have to piece together or cost out what the entire organization believes is the true cost of a wiring harness—based on how much and what types of wiring are needed.
I begin this process by interviewing people internally, then arriving at an answer or cost that is our end goal. In the negotiation process with suppliers, that answer or true cost changes, so I am in front of the suppliers negotiating the pricing, too.
The administrative part of the job is the actual processing of purchase orders for the tooling or equipment required for the parts. I spend a lot of time supporting engineering; when they are having problems getting parts or working with a particular supplier, they come to us and request our help.
My department is perceived as the “big stick” or last resort whenever engineering teams can’t resolve these supply issues themselves. People in my purchasing group have a variety of backgrounds—from MBAs (finance and operations), to engineers, to people from other purchasing backgrounds.
What I Enjoy Most
I like the negotiation process with our suppliers and the analysis that goes before that, so that I have a carefully thought-out pricing goal. Within the MBA program, I took a collective bargaining course, which has been helpful in how I go about this, and I have worked in unionized environments before, so I appreciate all the dynamics of such environments and how to operate effectively in them.
Also, I like cars, and that’s what we build.
What I Enjoy Least
The regular administrative part—the paper, documentation, and punching of keys to make the purchase—is a chore. We use an old computerized order management system, and it is unforgiving; although we have administrative support to help, there are decision components of this process that require me to be there.
Why I Chose This Career
This job reflects a combination of wanting to stay with operations in an engineered product environment because I was in production management prior to the MBA and, given the pressures of the economy, I believe in this product. I think it will survive and come out a winner. Some manufacturing is not as sexy as other industries, but it’s relatively stable. Moreover, the little kid in me loves cars, so here I am.
Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career
You need analytical skills in the sense of looking at a situation and separating what’s important from what’s not. There’s a lot of noise out there—so many parts and pieces of the whole puzzle for how a wiring product impacts or is impacted by other aspects of building a vehicle. In the design stage, a decision to move a piece of wiring a few inches has financial impacts and other impacts.
In addition, the supplier is trying to get the best situation on his end; if the supplier is saying I need X, Y, and Z, I have to understand how that will play out as A, B, C, and D within my own walls. Confusion can benefit a supplier to our detriment, so I have to stay on top of it.
This takes organization—several vehicle lines, different suppliers. A person could become overwhelmed quickly without a good internal system of management.
Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path
Make sure you don’t mind having an undefined role. Mostly it’s up to me to create the process or make sense out of the potential chaos.
Build negotiation skills any way you can. Take a negotiation course if you can. Learn not to take things personally; negotiation has to be business, not personalities. If you get upset easily, you won’t last long in this type of environment. There is a lot of posturing and politicking going on from suppliers and engineering, so I have to remain objective and business-minded to keep the overall pricing goal in mind.
What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)
I had five years of operations and production management experience before returning to school for an MBA.
I worked for three years at Archer Daniels Midland in Georgia as a production operations assistant. I did construction projects for plant expansions, process improvements, and so forth.
Then I spent two years with Clorox at the Kingsford brand charcoal plant in Kentucky. I was a staff engineer and worked on process improvement, or de-bottlenecking projects. I later transitioned to a role managing production of the lighter fluid products.
My MBA internship was with my current company and I did some cost analysis for supplier negotiations. I also got to build a database to track different buyer metrics and program cost status for the different vehicle programs.
Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)
- MBA, University of Illinois, operations and entrepreneurship, 2012
- Bachelor of science, University of Illinois, chemical engineering, 2005
- GED, HANAC Education Center, 2001
In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…
Look for MBA programs that are strong, or are in the process of building strength, in your areas of interest. I knew I wanted to remain in manufacturing operations. If I had started with the end goal of finding the schools with the strongest history of MBAs in operations,
I would’ve dug more into looking at the actual classes I would want to take within two very fast years. This would’ve helped me more quickly define a short list of schools. Then once I had that short list, I would’ve taken the next step to talk with professors.
I ended up getting lucky because my school is building its operations focus, so I was able to get a good scholarship and I had the mentorship of an outstanding professor. In other words, people at the school were very interested in me, so I had an exceptional experience at Illinois.
I took a human resources course called Collective Bargaining that was very useful. Because I had already dealt in union environments, I knew I needed to take that course.
I did a cost/benefit analysis before I went for the MBA. This helped me decide on a full-time program and led me to go where I could get a good financial aid package. I was given a scholarship at the University of Illinois that tipped the balance for me to make the numbers work out.
I was already earning a good living as an engineer with five years of manufacturing experience. (Don’t overlook how important it is to weigh the potential income gained and MBA knowledge, which means future upward mobility, against the income lost by being in school for two years.)
At the same time, because I was married, I didn’t want to drag my family through the long haul of a part-time program that would take longer, even if it allowed me to keep my income; plus, I wasn’t living near a good part-time program anyway and would still have had to make a physical move. The type of MBA program had to work into what my family could manage.