You Be You – I’ll Be Me.

I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime (at least, for some it would be).  I was offered a role with the world’s largest social media company, working in a special business unit within the company, to be a part of a team that is building a suite of products that one day soon are going to be available and truly amazing to all.

I took their offer, and on my first day of employment found myself on a plane headed to Hong Kong to meet with other members of my global team.  It was a real head spinner, and the trip was only a week.  Week number two was spent on campus in Menlo Park, getting acquainted with more of the team and acclimated to the product, the product plans and the current status, partnerships and challenges.  For the next three months, there were meetings, trips, lots of planning and strategy sessions, cross functional discussions with key partnerships, lots of legal documents to review, rewrite and refine, and defining of yet-to-be-created processes.  All good stuff, working alongside some very bright, energetic and talented people.  And then I decided to leave the company.

Why?  Why walk away from something this spectacular?  This could have easily been the pinnacle of my career.  It was the largest employer I’ve ever worked for- in a very desirable work environment- surrounded by intelligent, motivated and enthusiastic coworkers- so what’s wrong with that?

Probably the best way I could phrase my response to these questions would be to answer with something simple- “it wasn’t right for me”.  Here’s the thing- to use an analogy, let’s talk about watches.  Yes, wrist watches.

Brands such as Rolex, Breitling, or Patek Philippe,  are known for their craftsmanship, and they are known throughout the world for making some of the finest and most expensive timepieces on the planet.  If I were in the market, and decided to buy a watch (I have too many watches as it is)- would I buy a Rolex?  A Breitling?  Maybe, or maybe not.  Suppose I did- knowing me, I’d probably not wear it.  It just wouldn’t be me.  Nothing wrong with the watch- it just wouldn’t suit my needs.  It wouldn’t feel right for me personally.   And I’m okay with that.

Same thing is true here as well.  Being a part of a mega company is a great opportunity for the right person.  The work could be rewarding, there’s a spirit of high energy all around, and the perks- chefs cook meals for you throughout the day (free), there’s a fully stocked “microkitchen” in every building with everything imaginable in it (free again), there are even free vending machines that dispense keyboards, mice, smart phone cables, power cords, ear buds, whatever you need- and on the main campus, it’s literally Disney-like in it’s layout and food and services offerings.  A couple of my older kids would probably love to work here.  We even had our own version of a free Uber-like service, where a car would pick you up at your building lobby and take you over to another building on campus whenever needed.  I could go on and on, but you get it.

So what’s my deal?  I‘m a true start-up guy at heart.  I’m underway now with another great opportunity with a small company that’s just starting to get off the ground and needs someone like me, with my experience and background, to help them grow and scale and get to the next levels of success in their particular industry.  I’ve been fortunate to work in several different industries, which, as it turns out, provides me with a great platform to help lots of different companies with their strategy, their partnerships and leverage my own network to help move them towards success.  I love what I do, and I enjoy the sense of reward and camaraderie that comes with working with start-up companies.  I’ve been fortunate in Silicon Valley, to have been a part of several successful teams and companies, all of which are still thriving here in northern California and abroad.  The “social media mega company” was a good experience for me, as it taught me more about myself and my values.  Although it didn’t work out as anticipated, I’m sure great things are ahead for the team I was fortunate to have been a part of – even briefly.  I’m anticipating great things next year as they get closer to launch with their new products (some very cool things in the works).

For me, I’ll continue to cultivate my passion for Operations and Supply Chain excellence, working closely with my new team- and injecting my experiences, my skill set and my personality into our business plans and future goals- we have some lofty ambitions here for the months ahead!

What’s in the Box?

Tis the season to be shipping- thought I’d go ahead and repost a blog from two years ago- as we turn our thoughts towards gift giving (and receiving)- how’s your customer’s “out of the box” experience?

OpsAlign

Question-Mark-out-of-Box-1024x1000How’s your OOBA these days?  “Good question…what is it?”  OOBA is an acronym for “out of box audit”.  It involves a final pass that checks for quality, all components required in the product are present, correct firmware is loaded (if this is part of the product in question), the product has been packaged correctly and everything is in place, accounted for, and ready to provide your customer the best possible experience upon receipt.  Generally, this FQA (Final Quality Audit) is owned by your Quality group, or by Operations, or perhaps even some combination of both teams.  The purpose of this exercise is to help insure that the product works correctly, looks great (not good–great), and everything necessary for a successful customer experience has been done.

People who work in Operations are familiar with this terminology, and probably more so for those who have worked in companies that produce consumer…

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TO TECH, OR NOT TO TECH

shakespeare..THAT IS THE QUESTION.  Where do you stand on using technology as a regular part of your everyday life?  This was the topic that dropped into my mind recently as I found myself in the throws of setting up my wife’s shiny new iPhone 7.  Granted, there is a fair amount of technology all around us that we interact with on a daily basis, without choice, because it has been adopted within our society.  Things like sensors for the traffic and metering lights, or perhaps the computer that controls your vehicle’s critical systems, are taken for granted, but it wasn’t that long ago that there were many fewer of these everyday items in our lives.  Coffee makers have gone high tech, as have refrigerators and other home appliances- heck, even my front door unlocks when I arrive home in the evening, just for me.

With the explosion of the IoT (Internet of Things) growth,  the so-called “connected world” is getting more and more connected every day.  But is this necessarily a good thing?  Is it what you want for your life?  I cannot answer this question for you personally- I can only relate my own experiences and share with you what I’ve come to understand and appreciate on this topic.

I believe the general answer to both of the questions raised above is “yes”.  Yes, advancements in technology that can make us safer on the roads, or in our homes, can help us with our health, educate us by providing us with better and wider knowledge, can assist our aging society with a comfortable, independent and safe living environment, or provide services ranging from in home hospice care to a quick meal (a la Door Dash, a favorite in our home)–are good things that make our lives a little easier and more comfortable and enjoyable (hey, I’m the guy that does the dishes in my home, so a delivered meal is a good thing- trust me).

However, given the advancements in our technological capability today, we must address the question of whether we truly want this in our lives.  Just because something can be done through technology- it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) automatically become something that IS done through technology.  Here’s an example for you to consider.

I work in Silicon Valley in northern CA., and where my office is located, I actually sit in the middle of an area where the Google self-driving cars are regularly tested.  I see them all the time, around me, next to me, in front and behind, cute little white roly-poly bug looking vehicles just puttering along. They have a “driver” present, not driving, but monitoring the car’s behaviors, with a hand on a control of some kind, presumably to wrestle the control away from the tech if necessary.  That’s fine.  And the thought behind the technology that spawns these vehicles is simply to be able to provide transportation to those that might otherwise have limited access to a vehicle or mass transit for various reasons.  That- and that by providing and growing this technology (at least as it has been mentioned to me), the need for “too many vehicles” on the road (think- pollution and over-crowding), or even for vehicle ownership will be lessened or even perhaps one day no longer needed.  But-and here’s the question- is that what I want for my life?  I’m a “car guy”- I love restoring older trucks (I currently drive a 1968 Ford truck when not on my Harley)- you won’t likely ever see me in a roly-poly car- ever.Ever.Ever. I’m okay with driving myself in my truck- eventually I won’t be able to, and I’ll cross that bridge when necessary, but today, I enjoy the driving experience.  But that’s me, not you- I get it.  Even one day when I’m not driving around as much, I’ll still want to have my own truck, my motorcycle, my RV, whatever- it’s a part of who I am.  But such things may not be as important to you.

It’s important to weigh the benefits and costs associated with all technology.  Earlier, I mentioned my wife and her new iPhone 7.  She upgraded (she uses her phone more than her computer now) primarily to get the upgraded camera in the new phone.  My wife loves to take pictures of everything from her pets to her flowers to the fins and rear taillights of classic cars (an ongoing project that will one day become a book)-so having the best camera on her phone, readily available when inspiration hits her- yeah, I get that.  For me, it’s not needed, but for her, it’s a great thing.  Technology by itself is just technology- nothing more.  If it’s important to you and you can improve your life, and receive benefits from the technology (or even just enjoyment), that’s a good thing.  Have at it.  And, if it’s not for you- that’s okay too.  To tech, or not to tech?  That’s an easy question to answer- it all depends on you!

All About the 3PL

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A quick glance within Wikipedia, searching on the acronym “3PL”, will show you this brief description:

“Third-party logistics (abbreviated 3PL, or sometimes TPL) in logistics and supply chain management is a company’s use of third party businesses to outsource elements of the company’s distribution and fulfillment services.”

Recently I went through the process of identifying and selecting a 3PL partner to become our company’s main conduit for the launch of our first round of products here in the U.S. market.  The process was on a shortened time table, particularly given the imminent timing of our launch and the fact that our products were already well into their initial production cycle.

There are many different criteria that can be used when determining which 3PL to engage for your company’s fulfillment operations.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here’s the “stuff” I used to determine our particular selection.  I encourage you to consider the items mentioned below.  Every one of them could be expanded at much greater length, but for the purpose of keeping this article reasonably short, I will be brief.

  1. Start Locally. This works if you happen to be in northern California (definitely options in this part of the world), but hopefully if your business is near any type of metropolitan area, you’ll have some potential choices available to you close at hand.  Why?  Well, for me, with new products, in a new market, with a (relatively) new business venture, I wanted to “hedge the bet a little” for success and keep this part of the operation within reach-literally.  If there’s a problem, I don’t want to necessarily have to jump on a plane for half a day or more to get there “in person” (see my previous post entitled “Face (to Face) Time”.   Start locally if you can- it just makes sense.  Even later on, if the business scales to a point where a global organization is needed (one with multiple sites to service multiple regions), there will still be a need for a local enterprise, just to give you some bandwidth on special projects or segments of your business.  If you can cultivate this first, it can only help you later.
  2. Solicit Input.  Don’t go it alone!  There are lots of smart people around you, lots of opinions and experience that you should draw upon when determining which 3PL to partner with.  I asked for inputs from those around me, and two of my colleagues, both of whom I trust and respect, offered some great working relationships from previous gigs that were helpful in the search process.  Be somewhat selective about where you get your recommendations from- and if you do, this can pay off later on.
  3. State the Obvious.  When speaking with a potential 3PL, you need to be able to articulate exactly what it is you’ll need them to do for you.  They aren’t mind readers, and no two companies have exactly the same needs.  Sit down with them, walk them through your basic business plan, and discuss the particulars around what is needed. If they are sharp, they’ll not only listen, they’ll offer some insights in response that you might be able to benefit from.  Know what it is that needs to happen, and be able to share it with them in a way they can understand.  Also, be prepared to be rejected by the 3PL.  This happened to me as well- I had one company on our short list actually tell me that they weren’t interested in our business until we were closer to an annual revenue of at least a few million in sales.  We’re a start up- with a great product line up- and a large parent company- but not yet in the U.S. market.  Oh well- I guess this particular 3PL just didn’t need the business.
  4. Spend Effort.  Don’t be lazy– this kind of stuff doesn’t just happen on its own.  You’ll have to put forth some effort to really weigh a 3PL’s capabilities, since it isn’t always obvious.  For me, it meant jumping in the car a few times and heading out to various locations throughout the Bay area.  On at least one of those visits, I was able to grab the boss and bring him along for the ride- which can be a good thing- he gets to see the process first hand, and you get a supporter to your efforts.  And when you conduct a site visit, ask yourself if what you are seeing is also how you’d run the place.  If it’s not how you’d do things, that may be a red flag.
  5. Seriously- How Much?  There’s a place for weighing the quoted costs.  It’s okay to be a little price sensitive-after all, it’s not just business, it’s your business- so treat it that way.  Costs are an important component of the decision process.  Don’t pay more than you should, and don’t be so cheap that your customers suffer, either.  There’s a definite balance to be achieved when it comes to costs and “comparison-shopping”.  Be ready to agree to pricing for those things that matter most to your business and your customers.

Hopefully these points can give you some sense of direction when it comes to selecting a 3PL for your business.  In the end, you’ll want to team up with an organization that mirrors your needs with their capabilities, shares your vision, and desires to truly be a part of your success!

 

 

 

Elements of Supplier Quality–Part 1

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.01.03 PMYou can find a great deal of information available on the topic of supplier quality.  I’ve previously written a short piece on the ownership of quality within an organization (“Who Owns Quality?”, August, 2014), but for this short post I’d like to focus specifically on supplier quality.  However, I will likely not cover the topic in the manner you’d expect for someone with twenty years of experience in Silicon Valley.  Why do the same old thing, right?

For example, I could discuss the need for metrics, for a systematic approach to measuring supplier quality through standards and regular performance reviews, scorecards and corrective actions, etc., but for me, as much as there is certainly a place for such discussion, I’d prefer to approach the topic from a different perspective:  simple, common characteristics.  I want to summarize those characteristics that I believe are often present in a great supplier relationship.  As you read through these, think about your own supply chain, your participants in that supply chain, and whether these on my list are consistently present with your current suppliers.

Let’s dive right in–

  1. Great suppliers have integrity.  You’d think this would be obvious, but it isn’t always the case, and you are foolish to assume it to be true.  Dishonesty still still surfaces from time to time in today’s business world, and it’s always been around, all the way back to when the first business deals were done (whenever that was).  Integrity is one of those necessary qualities if you truly want a high level of quality to be present in your supply chain.  We all need suppliers to not only do what they say they will do, but be careful not to over-commit as well.  And, in the rare instance something doesn’t happen as planned or committed, to take ownership for their part in both the problem and the solution.  True integrity means your supplier has given reasonably careful thought to what they can and cannot do for you and communicates exactly this information in a clear and honest fashion, which brings me to my second characteristic.
  2. Great suppliers are great communicators.  They communicate.  Period.  As a customer, you don’t need to spend time tracking down the story, or the status, because they have communicated exactly what is happening with your parts, your service or your shipments.  Not only is the information accurate, it is timely, it is clear and it is intelligent.  A great supplier goes out of their way to make sure you are informed and will do this generally in a proactive fashion.  This sounds like a basic concept, I know, but it’s still surprising to me that there are businesses out there that simply do not communicate well with their customers.
  3. Great suppliers know their limits and focus on what they do best.  My dad taught me this one firsthand.  He owned a small but extremely successful commercial printing business here in Silicon Valley that lasted more than 30 years (not bad for a kid from North Carolina with a young wife and four kids to raise, and nothing more than a high school education–but more on that story another time).  He was always very careful to only accept jobs that he knew his crew and his expertise could handle well.  If he didn’t have the resources, or the ability, he didn’t take the work.  He would always remind me (I worked for him through part of my college and early adult life) how important it was not to try to do something that you were most likely to fail at.  Having said that, he slowly grew the capabilities of his business proportionately to the growth of his customer base and their demands. But he was always very careful to focus on producing the highest quality printed goods possible, so much so that he took pride in delivering much of the work to the customers himself.  It gave him great satisfaction when his customers loved the work he did for them.  And, as he held a high standard of quality with his business, it flourished and did well financially.
  4. Great suppliers share in your vision.  They “get” what you’re trying to achieve.  To be fair, sometimes we do a lousy job of explaining exactly what we’re trying to do.  But assuming that you’re doing your part in the relationship (I hope so), a great supplier understands and shares in your quest.  They want you to succeed, not only for the business aspect of what it does for them financially, but because they believe in what you’re trying to do.  They become a partner, and take a genuine interest in helping you and your team to succeed.
  5. Great suppliers provide you with constructive feedback.  Let’s face it, we screw up sometimes as a customer.  We don’t always know exactly what we want (or more often, how many we need), but a great supplier learns enough about your business to provide feedback and often will grow your knowledge in a useful fashion by what they share with you.  I’ve had the benefit of this type of relationship for much of my own career, and some of the best supply chain relationships have involved working with experts in their respective fields, who took the time to teach and impart useful information so that I could do a better job both for my company as well as for myself professionally.

I’m going to stop with these five for now- there are no doubt many more elements of supplier quality that could be discussed and I’ll touch on a few more in one of my future posts.  Give some thought to your supply chain through the “lens” of these characteristics and ask yourself if your supply chain reflects these consistently.  If not, it may be time for a change.  If so, continue to cultivate your relationships with those suppliers, and for the longer term, you’ll be glad that you have them on your team.

Life is Short

 

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Anthony Keith “Tony” Gwynn died recently.  A professional baseball player, Gwynn was known as “Captain Video” and “Mr. Padre” for his highlight reel performance as a big league hitter with the San Diego Padres.  He could hit the “long ball” and did so quite often.  Tony Gwynn died from complications related to his fight with cancer, cancer of the salivary glands, presumably brought about at least in part by his longtime habit of smokeless “chewing” tobacco usage.  No matter the cause, he died too young.  He was 54 years old and leaves behind his wife, a son and a daughter.  I too am 54 years of age.  Tony Gwynn died too young.

We read about famous people passing away, and if you are like me, you think about perhaps when you saw that person last–maybe it was a television show, or a sports event, or a movie–and you think to yourself “now they are gone”.  We can be affected by the loss of those we idolize, those we admire, those we cheer on, those who bring entertainment and brief joy into our lives.  They don’t know us, but we know them.  And when they depart, we can and often do feel the loss, even if at a distance.

I was on a long road trip when I heard the news that Tony Gwynn had passed away.  It shouldn’t impact me–it doesn’t immediately change anything in my personal life.  But the reminder is there; life is short.

The apparel company and sports brand icon Nike ran a series of marketing efforts around the saying “Life is Short; Play Hard”.  Whether you play hard or not, work hard (or not), it really doesn’t matter…life is still short.  That is true for every one of us.  We are given a finite amount of time on this planet.  When we are young, it seems endless.  But as we age, we see it is not.  The value of the time remaining for each one of us increases day by day, while the time itself decreases.

Make the most of your time.  Even the writer James, in the New Testament of the Bible, once commented that life is like “a vapor” (steam) that “appears for a short time and then vanishes away (James 4:14 is the verse I am paraphrasing here).  The clock is ticking away.  What we do with the time we have is up to us, so live your life to the fullest, use the time wisely and keep your perspective during both good times and bad times.  Life is short, so let’s all make the most of what time we’ve been allotted.