Mary Foster’s Excellent Adventure

Mary Foster’s Excellent Adventure

Mary Foster has served as vice president, supply chain management, at Inteva Products in Troy, Mich., since 2007. Inteva is a major global supplier of automotive closure systems, interiors systems, motors, electronics, and roof systems.

Responsibilities: Direct and indirect material purchasing, logistics.

Experience: Capacity planning, purchasing, Ford Tractor Operations; various positions in purchasing and production control, director of supply chain management, director of value chain optimization, director of business processes and planning, Ford Motor Company.

Education: Denison University, Granville, Ohio, BA, French, 1976; University of Detroit, Mercy, MBA, management, 1980


In 2006, after 30 years with Ford Motor Company, I accepted an offer of early retirement with pleasure and gratitude. About one year later, I joined the executive team of Inteva, a new, privately owned company formed from two divisions of automotive parts supplier Delphi. It has been an adventure.

Part of the initial excitement stemmed from the fact that we had to create so much from scratch, including a logistics organization and network, and an indirect procurement organization.

I had little experience in indirect procurement, and we had no idea how many items and products we’d be responsible for buying. Often we discovered that we needed to purchase something only when an emergency arose. Somebody would say, "We need a forklift," and we’d say, "Who buys forklifts? I guess we do."

The day we launched as Inteva in 2008, a strike at American Axle impacted one of our largest customers’ operations. We survived that strike and ran the business profitably for the year, but then came the economic crisis of 2009, including bankruptcy declarations by General Motors and Chrysler.

Because Inteva started in a market crisis, being resourceful and responsive is now ingrained in our culture. There’s nothing we can’t do as a team if we put our minds to it, and we’re not going to let our customers down.

Recently, my work has involved a lot of process integration, as a result of Inteva’s 2011 acquisition of the Body Systems business of ArvinMeritor (now Meritor). When that merger took effect, the size of our company doubled overnight.

Since then, we’ve been analyzing many business processes from both sides of the company. For each process, we determine the best practice, then apply it globally.

For example, we’re working on "business opportunity-to-contract"—the process that starts when a customer asks us to quote a piece of business. It includes developing our internal costs, getting quotes from our suppliers, securing internal approval, then making an offer to a customer. We might go through this several times before the customer awards the business.

Supply chain processes inside the four walls are easy to streamline, document, and implement. But business opportunity-to-contract involves operations, sales, engineering, supply chain, and finance, making the challenge much more complex.

I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done since Inteva was born four years ago. We knew we’d be successful, but before we launched we had no idea how many market and industry challenges we would face. Our CEO had confidence all the way through, and he treats his executives as a team. We make decisions with the full engagement of all. That’s a major reason we are successful today.


The Big Questions

What do you do to recharge your batteries?

Boating with my husband on a lake in northern Michigan, where we have a house; power walking; and reading fiction.

What’s your alter-ego dream job?

Coaching college football. I love the sport, the excitement, and the enthusiasm of college-age players.

Do you have a superstition?

I have to leave a house by the same door I came in. It’s the Irish in me.

What’s the biggest career lesson you’ve learned through a disappointment?

If you’re in an environment involving corporate politics, you have to decide to play them or find someplace else to work. It’s impossible to simply rise above them.

What’s on your Bucket List?

Golfing at St. Andrews and Pebble Beach; watching a Final Four NCAA tournament game from floor seats; riding in a hot air balloon over the Loire Valley; and taking a cooking tour through Tuscany.

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