Norbert Ore: The Creative Touch

When Norbert Ore looks back at his career, he recalls with special satisfaction a phase that started in 2001, when a job switch took him from Chesapeake Corp. to Georgia-Pacific (GP) LLC, Atlanta.

His new position, the one he still holds today, was group director, strategic sourcing and procurement.

Even for a supply chain veteran like Ore, Georgia-Pacific, a major producer of consumer and forest products, was a new world.

Because its spend is 10 times as large as Chesapeake’s, GP has a much easier time getting price concessions from vendors.

That can make a procurement executive lazy. “There’s a temptation to rely just on leverage,” Ore says.

But in his many years working for companies that were not large buyers, Ore learned the importance of creativity in sourcing.

To gain better prices, buyers develop solid, long-term relationships, and look for ways to help suppliers get more efficient at what they do. Or else, “you try to get concessions with regard to product development,” he says. “You’re more focused on trying to help the supplier create value.”

At GP, Ore takes a blended approach.

“The true challenge is not to rely on leverage, but to use both leverage and creativity together,” he says. “That gives you the strongest of all combinations.”

His strategy has paid off. Ore’s first project at GP, helping to integrate recently acquired Fort James Corp. into the enterprise, yielded $100 million in supply chain savings.

Reporting to GP’s chief procurement officer, Ore wears three hats: he’s in charge of procurement for the company’s chemicals unit, for procurement of chemicals across the whole company, and for GP’s Procurement Excellence activities.

Like any firm with a global supply chain, GP must stay nimble to meet the challenge of a world economy that’s always in flux.

Although companies can buy materials and services from multiple sources around the globe, U.S. companies compete with emerging markets in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.

“Whether we’re buying from China, Europe, or another country, we need to be well aware of the supply-demand balance in those markets, because it can have a large effect on our business,” Ore says. If demand spikes in one corner of the globe, companies elsewhere might suddenly face shortages.

Luckily, Ore says, buyers now can use the Internet to help keep up with rapid changes in the marketplace. “A buyer can find a tremendous amount of information in a short time,” he says. That gives buyers the kinds of advantages that sellers have had all along.

Along with the challenges posed by the global economy, Ore also deals with a challenge much closer to home: giving sufficient autonomy to his diverse team at GP. Or, as he calls it, “keeping my mouth shut.”

“I am surrounded by bright and capable people who are on the front of the knowledge curve in supply chain activities,” Ore explains. “During my career, I have solved many of the problems they face. My challenge is to avoid giving them the answers.”

Instead, Ore solicits input from team members, asks questions to stretch their thinking, and encourages them to develop their own solutions—even if they’re not the same solutions he would have reached on his own.

“When they make a decision,” he says, “they’re much more committed to it than when it’s my decision.”

The Big Questions

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

I have played tennis competitively for 35 years; it’s very relaxing. I’ve always had an interest in photography, and I love to serve as the unpaid photographer at family events. I’ve been active for many years in the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). And, as part of my work as chair of ISM’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, I recently helped the People’s Republic of China develop a business survey to measure the growth of its economy.

Ideal dinner companion?

Thomas Jefferson.

What’s in your briefcase?

Pens, Blackberry charger, required and elective reading materials, a Sudoku book, and a camera.

First Web site you look at in the morning?

Yahoo! Finance. I scan today’s headlines and the results of yesterday’s financial news.

Business motto?

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