December 2009 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Terri Sheely: Ready for Ignition

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One tricky aspect of Terri Sheely's work is the way her company, Altronic, manages inventory. "We don't carry a lot of finished products," says Sheely, purchasing and traffic manager at the Girard, Ohio, firm that makes ignition systems and digital instrumentation used in large engines that pump natural gas.

But when a customer places an order, Altronic needs to deliver fast. "We quote customers very short lead times," Sheely says. "Six to eight weeks is typical." The trick lies in the fact that it often takes six to eight months to get the components Altronic needs to build its products.

That means Sheely and the three buyers who work for her must predict which components they need to keep in stock to fill the orders they are likely to receive.

"We don't formally forecast," Sheely says. But based on experience, and with continual communication among themselves, the sales force, and suppliers, buyers usually manage to match inventory with demand. "Very seldom are we unable to honor a customer delivery," she says.

Throughout her career, Sheely has proven that she's determined to get product where it needs to go, even in the face of daunting obstacles. While working for Houston, Texas-based automotive supplier Eastwood Manufacturing, she once had to get parts to a plant in Oklahoma City quickly. She arranged for the parts to hitch a ride on a Lear jet, then drove them to the local airport, only to find that the plane was already taxiing for takeoff. So she drove her car onto the runway.

"The airport managers weren't too happy with me, but they did stop the plane and I got the parts on," Sheely says. She couldn't do that sort of thing in these less innocent times, she concedes.

More recently, a real criminal act nearly halted a shipment to one of Altronic's customers. A truck carrying critical parts from a Mexican supplier was stopped for inspection at the border. The load itself was fine, but inspectors found every hollow space in the cab packed with drugs.

"Inspectors threatened to hold the truck at the border for three or four months while they tore the tractor apart," Sheely says. The delay would have forced the customer, a large engine manufacturer, to shut down a production line.

Sheely worked with U.S. and Mexico Customs and the supplier to get the trailer released and hauled away by a different tractor. The negotiations took two weeks.

The customer got by during that period, though, and didn't impose any charges. "They understood that it was a hired truck and it wasn't the fault of anyone involved in the move," Sheely says.

The drug bust was dramatic, but Sheely anticipates adventures of a more conventional sort now that Swiss manufacturer Hoerbiger has completed its recent acquisition of Altronic. For one thing, the U.S. company will implement the same SAP enterprise resource planning system its new parent uses.

Having gone through the implementation of an enterprise solution before, Sheely says she looks forward to the experience, even if it's difficult. She's eager to use the new software.

"I've heard from many suppliers that if it doesn't kill you while you're implementing it, you will grow to appreciate the system's capabilities," she says. "There's nothing like a good challenge to keep things interesting."

The Big Questions

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

My husband and I usually have a "do-it-yourself" project in progress at home. We built a large garden shed last year and we're currently remodeling our kitchen. In addition, I teach classes at Youngstown State University for purchasing and supply chain professionals who are preparing for certification exams. I also like to travel.

Ideal dinner companion?

Albert Einstein. It would be interesting to find out his take on today's technologies.

What's in your briefcase?

My computer, documents, a crossword puzzle book, an iPod, and some pens and pencils.

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

Artist or landscape photographer.

Business motto?

Don't ever say "I can't" or "I won't."

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