March 2008 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Michael Strauss: Putting Military Training On the Line

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In the early 1990s, artillery officer Mike Strauss was leading an Army convoy down a German country road in the middle of the night when he got word of a breakdown three-quarters of the way back in line.

The stopped vehicle blocked the road so completely that nothing behind it could squeeze past. One of the obstructed vehicles housed mess hall equipment and the battalion's food. If the troops at the front kept moving, they would not have hot meals - only the notoriously unappealing Meals Ready to Eat.

Strauss got on the radio to find other U.S. troops in the area.

"Another unit was traveling in the opposite direction," he says. "We made a deal with them to swap food supplies for 48 hours."

Strauss's troops ate from the other unit's mess truck until the broken vehicle was fixed. Then his unit's mess truck caught up with the other battalion and delivered food and supplies to replace what they had borrowed.

"It was my first cross-docking experience," Strauss laughs.

As chief supply chain officer at C.H. Briggs Company in Reading, Penn., Strauss no longer worries about moving long strings of trucks, troops, and supplies. Instead, he moves materials that cabinet makers and countertop fabricators use in residential and commercial construction.

Reporting to the company's president and chief operating officer, Strauss directs employees who purchase wood, hardware, and decorative surfacing from some 250 suppliers.

He manages receiving, warehousing in three facilities, and a shipping operation that uses a private fleet of 25 trucks, plus LTL carriers and UPS, to deliver to customers located mainly in the mid-Atlantic region. He also leads an initiative to evaluate the company's business processes for ways to boost efficiency.

Strauss's varied career included time in manufacturing, construction, and the software industry before he joined C.H. Briggs last November.

One of Strauss's challenges arises from the recent addition of granite counter surfacing to the product line. Although C.H. Briggs sources most other products domestically, it buys granite mainly from Brazil, Italy, and India, and is investigating sources in China. Briggs competes for ocean containers during peak shipping months, so Strauss keeps an eye on currency exchange rates.

Also, home fashion trends play a bigger role in demand for granite than for other materials, and the product is more susceptible to damage. "It has unique moving and storing requirements," Strauss says.

Strauss, who had never worked for a distributor before he took the job at C.H. Briggs, was surprised by the close strategic relationship Briggs maintains with its suppliers.

Supplier brand matters much less to a manufacturer sourcing product than it does to a distributor. A distributor's customers want specific brands, so its sales and marketing team works closely with key suppliers.

For the supply chain team, that close relationship changes the nature of vendor management, including the role of supplier performance measurement.

"We do track performance, but it has a different dynamic with a distributor than it does with a traditional manufacturer," Strauss says.

If a supplier doesn't meet performance expectations, the distributor can't simply buy products elsewhere because the brand itself is so important. "You have to collaborate to solve those problems," he says.

The Big Questions

What do you do when you're not at work?

Spending time with my family and fishing are my two favorite activities.

Ideal dinner companion?

Jack London or Jesus.

What's in your laptop bag?

Business cards, pens, notebooks, a book on business process management, and a series of inventory reports and metrics that I try to read every day.

Business motto?

I like the Army motto: "Be, know, do."

If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

Offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Your idea of a successful day?

Accomplishing what we set out to do as a team. I love those far-too-rare days when everyone involved loses all sense of time, forgets about titles, and simply works together to achieve in one day what was thought to be almost impossible the day before.

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