Learning, Developing, and Performing Through an Unprecedented Industry Downturn

Today's blog post is written by Chris B.  Chris is currently a Project Buyer at Brose North America in Auburn Hills, MI. A graduate of Michigan State University with a B.A., Supply Chain Management, Chris started his career in Procurement as a Buyer at Caterpillar in Peoria, IL. He is a diehard Boston sports fan, enjoys traveling, and most of all, loves America.

Always Deliver for the Customer

For any business to remain profitable and at the top of its respective industry, the company must offer a value proposition greater than its competitors and be able to clearly differentiate themselves in the marketplace from its competitors. For Caterpillar, the service parts distribution network created over years of development and investment has emerged as one of the differentiating factors over its competitors.  During my time at Caterpillar, I worked in Aftermarket Procurement and the entire team was aware of the importance of our role in retaining one of our most important value propositions during a tough industry downturn. During tough times when every company in an industry is fighting for sales to remain profitable, the importance of these differentiators become magnified and even more important than when an industry is in an upturn. It may be the difference between being awarded a long term, multi-million dollar contract and losing it to a competitor.

Volunteering and Unexpectedly Learning

The fondest memory of my 1.5-year stint in Peoria, Illinois was the opportunity to help young baseball players improve their skills through coaching a travel team, the Central Illinois Lightning. I worked along side three other genuine, caring coaches who truly wanted to help kids improve. Although I did not expect this to happen at the time, this opportunity helped me improve my leadership skills. The difference in communication style required to be effective between technical professionals at a world-class organization and 9-year-old kids could not be more different. This forced me to tailor my teachings and conversations with the kids to more encouraging and constant reinforcement of baseball knowledge. The final tournament of the season involved an unexpected rules change that forced the kids to learn a whole new set of very advanced skills overnight. Their willingness to learn and how quickly they adapted to the sudden uncertainty thrown at them was my proudest moment as their coach and certainly tested our ability to coach, strategize, lead, and encourage them all at once. This experience ties into my next point by not letting what seems like constant negativity and bad news at work affect your life outside of work and your own personal development. All of the coaches owed the kids their focus and effort during practice, games, and tournaments and witnessing the commitment of the players helped the coaches focus on the moment and not allow our minds to wander to other topics.

Never Stop Developing 

I found it very easy to get caught up in the constant rumors, daily news, and information about restructuring across the company. It is important to keep in mind that each person’s responsibilities and work does not stop even in the midst of bad news. The company still has a responsibility to deliver results for customers and shareholders. During downturns, it is important for employees to take the initiative for their professional development because with reduced funding in many “non-critical” programs, the opportunity for structured training programs may be limited. However, by taking the initiative to ask your direct supervisor for additional responsibilities or special projects, this potential reduction in formal training can be mitigated. In many cases, special projects can be more valuable than formal training programs in terms of having the opportunity to work cross-functionally with other areas of the company. For example, a Buyer could take on an assignment focused on reducing the complexity of a part that results in material cost reduction. During an industry downturn, there is an increased emphasis on material cost reduction to be attained by Purchasing, so this would be an appropriate assignment during this time. The Buyer would be required to work with engineering to get their input on any designs that are more complex than required. This would be a great learning experience and project for a Buyer to improve their technical skills and an easy way to start building a network outside of Purchasing.  

Even in difficult and uncertain times, there are opportunities available in every company and community for those who are able to rise above the negativity and focus on the positive things that can be achieved. Whether there is a customer to satisfy, a youth baseball team to coach, or professional skills to be developed, opportunities are always out there. Thank you for reading!