Jim Lambo: Eye on the Sky
Jim Lambo is director of supplier management and procurement at Insitu in Bingen, Wash. He joined the company in 2007.
Responsibilities: Procurement and supplier management for all goods and services, including both indirect procurement and production.
Experience: Assistant plant manager, Merlino’s Italian Foods; procurement manager, Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, material division; senior manager, international programs, Integrated Defense Systems, Joint Strike Fighter; senior manager, partnerships and new ventures, Boeing Phantom-Works, advanced unmanned systems; global partners co-leader, 787 Propulsion Life Cycle Product Team, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Education: BA, business administration and marketing, Seattle University, 1980; MBA, finance, Seattle University, 1987.
Jim Lambo: Eye in the Sky
My first supply chain job was as a buyer at Boeing Electronics. It’s amazing how relationships helped me: The senior manager who hired me was my scoutmaster from my days as an Eagle Scout.
I worked at Boeing for almost 27 years before moving to Insitu, a small but quickly growing business that is now a wholly owned Boeing subsidiary. We design and manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles. Many people refer to them as drones, but we in the industry don’t like that word. A drone is an unthinking vehicle; ours are extremely smart. Customers in the civil, commercial, and defense sectors use our aircraft for everything from fighting forest fires to inspecting infrastructure to supporting military operations.
As director of supplier management and procurement, I’m responsible for all company expenditures except for wages, insurance, and utilities. I oversee a team of 42 people, including buyers, supply chain analysts, and managers. I report to Insitu’s chief operating officer.
We try to procure as much as we can from local suppliers in the Columbia Gorge. But we’re also branching out, with a supply chain that extends across the United States and around the world. Because Insitu started out small, we’re proud that more than 70 percent of the money we spend goes to small businesses.
The biggest challenge in my job arises from the rapid rate of change in technology. For example, I might procure an avionics module—the guidance package—for an aircraft. Then, while this component is on its way from our supplier, our engineers decide to make an upgrade, to make the product more capable for the customer. The engineering team always comes up with new ideas, and shares those ideas with customers. Then the customers want the improvements right away.
The product that’s coming in can’t be retrofitted with the upgrade here. If we send it back to the supplier for a new board, we won’t have components for production. So we have to temper our customers’ enthusiasm, making sure they understand that we can’t rush new products into the field without significant impact to the supply chain. We get the business development teams involved, so we all work together as a true integrated production team.
For the near future, one of my top priorities is to implement new technology tools. Although Insitu is part of Boeing, we don’t have access to its systems, including its supplier portal. I plan to implement a portal of our own, to foster better communications with our supplier base. I also want to implement an electronic system for documenting our procurement activities. Both systems will help my group work smarter while saving money.
When I came to Insitu, my department employed only two or three clerks and a supplier manager. I was charged with building an organization that could pass a government appraisal called the Contractor Purchasing System Review (CPSR). We went through our first CPSR in 2015 and passed. Only one percent of companies pass the first time around. I’m proud of the achievement.
The Big Questions
What do you do to de-stress?
I read a lot, especially science fiction and fantasy. Also, I make wine. It’s fun to make and drink. My wife and I are partners in a winery.
What’s the biggest surprise a job has thrown your way?
Coming from a large corporation with a highly structured environment, I wasn’t prepared for the lack of documentation I’d find at a small company. I didn’t know the extent to which I’d be writing most of the procurement procedures myself.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An astronaut. It was the early sixties: We were going to the moon, and Star Trek was on TV. No wonder I ended up working in aerospace all my life.
What’s the most unusual item in your office?
In my bookcase, I keep a piece of hardware called septimized core. It’s made of honeycombed composite or metal, with fabric inside, and used for sound reduction around the engine of a Boeing 787.