October 2006 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Milton Young: A Tree Grows in Houston

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Milton Young is in the Christmas tree business, but not the kind you decorate with tinsel and twinkling lights.

His employer, Houston-based FMC Technologies, manufactures valve assemblies that control the flow of product pumped from undersea petroleum fields. Called "subsea Christmas trees" for their branching shape, these systems are engineered to withstand rough usage one mile below the ocean's surface.

"The fluids—crude oil and gas—are often severe, passing through at high velocities," says Young, global sourcing director, subsea systems, at FMC.

That kind of environment demands components that resist extreme heat and corrosion. "At times our sourcing needs resemble those of the aerospace industry," he says.

Reporting to FMC's subsea leadership team, Young directs two sourcing groups. One works with FMC's five global manufacturing locations to aggregate demand for specific commodities and set up purchasing agreements. The other nurtures relationships with suppliers to improve performance.

Until recently, getting suppliers to commit to those improvements was tough, because FMC did not guarantee a steady stream of business. Part of Young's mandate when he joined the company in 2004 was to coordinate sourcing from the plants and negotiate long-term contracts with suppliers.

"Today suppliers are assured of our business for two to three years, and they can invest in performance improvements," he says.

Young began his career as a chemical engineer, then worked in finance at Exxon Corp. and Whirlpool. He eventually landed on a Whirlpool team that was planning the company's Calypso and Catalyst washing machines.

Besides putting together dollar figures for the new products, Young worked with engineers on design and with the procurement manager on sourcing parts. That's where he ran into a major supply chain challenge.

"There was a mismatch between when the engineers thought they had to finish the design and when the suppliers thought they would receive it," Young says.

A national retail chain planned to introduce the new washers in the fall, so it was crucial to start manufacturing on time.

Further conversations revealed that the engineers could deliver the design in increments, rather than finishing all the work before turning it over for procurement.

"This enabled the suppliers to procure raw materials, and size the tooling equipment and production line they needed to create," Young says.

Such "concurrent engineering" was unusual in the appliance industry at the time, he says, but became common practice at Whirlpool.

Working at FMC with teams of employees in different locations, from different cultures, Young strives to maintain a collaborative leadership style. That means encouraging everyone to contribute before weighing in with his own opinions.

"Working cross-functionally is important," he adds.

The Big Questions

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

One of my hobbies is studying architecture—not from a theoretical perspective, but trying to understand how cities develop architecturally. My wife and I will often time our visit to a new city so we can compete in a 5K or 10K run while we're there. We use these runs to get to know the city.

Ideal dinner companion?

What's in your briefcase?

My passport, iPod, Blackberry, frequent-flier cards, and 110V-to-220V converter.

Technology you couldn't live without?

Wi-Fi broadband. I travel around the world frequently, and being able to connect wirelessly in the hotel room or at the airport is a big plus.

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

Restaurant critic for a major publication such as the New York Times, or a photographer for National Geographic.

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