Steve Schad: Navigating a Career in Supply Chain Management

As a college student studying business management, Steve Schad thought a lot about links, but not the ones in the supply chain.

“I thought I’d be on the PGA tour,” says this avid golfer. “But that didn’t work out.”

What did work out was a 30-year career in supply chain management and operations. And for a man whose career has propelled him around the world, what better place to end up than at a company that helps drivers navigate all over the map? Schad is vice president of supply chain operations at TomTom Inc., a leading vendor of personal navigation systems and software.

Schad has been managing electronics since his first job at Digital Equipment Corp., where he started out expediting parts to locations that urgently needed them.

“I would source the parts, procure them, then deliver them,” he says. “I often drove around with parts in my car trunk.”

At TomTom Inc., the unit of Amsterdam-based TomTom NV that covers the United States and Canada, Schad is responsible for supply chain, order administration, customer support, and information technology.

“I manage the operations process end to end,” he says.

Schad’s biggest supply chain challenge is bringing in just the right volume of product from factories.

“We’re currently in a hot, growing market,” he says. “So I’m constantly balancing inventory with supply. I’m responsible for forecasting and managing materials from the Far East to the customer’s hands.”

With Schad managing inbound transportation, TomTom ships product to a warehouse in Texas operated by a third-party logistics provider. The 3PL packages the basic navigation units with peripherals such as power adapters and printed instructions.

Schad’s team then handles retailer orders and outbound transportation. “We manage shipments to the point where the retailer receives and signs for it,” he says.

He’s also in charge of the returned merchandise authorization process and reverse logistics, as well as the sale of refurbished units into the secondary market.

Schad points to one large source of pride in his job: This year, J.D. Power and Associates’ Certified Call Center Program recognized TomTom’s call center operation for excellence in customer satisfaction.

Throughout his career, Schad has dealt with hurricanes, cargo that disappeared when a ship sank, and a variety of other crises. In a past job, a memorable crisis arose as he worked to keep a commitment to deliver a popular product to customers on a Monday morning after the hardware arrived at the distribution center completely devoid of software.

“I had to rally the troops—the people who worked for me and even people from other organizations—to drive to the warehouse and set up an assembly line on picnic tables,” Schad recalls.

A group worked over the weekend to upload the software into every unit’s memory. “We shipped Sunday night, and met the promised commitment on Monday,” he says.

That story aptly illustrates one of Schad’s favorite mottos: “We can do this.” When faced with a challenge, the easy way out is to say it just can’t be overcome, he explains. But staying ahead in a competitive market demands a more positive response.

“I have to be the leader for my team in saying, ‘we can,’ even when I don’t know how,” Schad says. “I don’t always have all the answers, but it’s a spirit I try to live by.”

The Big Questions

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

I’m family-oriented and love working around the house. I also play golf, although not as much as I’d like.

Ideal dinner companion?

My father, who passed away in December.

What’s in your briefcase?

My passport, business cards, calculator, work papers, family photos, and index cards.

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

To travel around the world as part of an organization that helps underprivileged people.

Your idea of a successful day?

First, when our customer service organization has a good day, because that means our customers are happy. Second, when I get an end-of-day report that all deliveries are made, which means our other customers—the retailers—got their product on time.

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