Learning Supply Chain in the Procurement Trenches
When he learned that he had a summer internship at Honeywell’s Imaging and Mobility Division in Skaneateles Falls, N.Y., Patrick Chevier knew he would be at least somewhat involved in global supply chain operations. But he had no idea how valuable, interesting and satisfying that three-month experience would turn out. Nor did he realize how well his first two years of classes had prepared him to make real and immediate contributions in the procurement department.
“I got to experience just about everything you could ask for in a summer internship,” says Patrick, an Interdisciplinary Engineering & Management (iE&M) major pursuing the global supply chain management track.
From late May through early August, Patrick was on the job at the Honeywell division (formerly Hand Held Products), a manufacturer of data collection and management solutions for in-premise mobile and transaction processing. Patrick’s initial responsibilities included buying parts, representing procurement at interdepartmental meetings, and serving as point man working with a Mexican supplier to resolve a problem with stray orders. But soon his focus turned to one major project: helping the division reduce unnecessary inventory.
“They were carrying excessive amounts of inventory,” he recalls. “So they wanted me to calculate how many days of inventory they actually needed in the warehouse, then work with suppliers to formulate agreements on how much both they and Honeywell would carry.” Much of the excess inventory consisted of molded plastic housings for mobile computers that wasted space, as well as money, because they were awkwardly packaged and didn’t stack well. He strived to apply the just-in-time approach in which “ideally as you’re pulling the last item off the shelf, the new one’s coming in.”
To make safety stock calculations, Patrick applied models he had learned in class from Professor Farzad Mahmoodi. Honeywell managers had become aware of these models in October 2007 while participating in a customized four-day executive seminar presented by Clarkson faculty that covered supply chain topics ranging from inventory management to flexibility to evaluating various supply chain configurations.
Another tool Patrick brought from Clarkson coursework was his ability to use the SAP software system. “In SAP you could see the dollars in inventory trailing off, along with the amount,” he recalls, “and yet our service level stayed up.” It was gratifying, he says, to observe his positive impact on the warehouse operation. And it was beneficial to see SAP perform within a corporate setting. “At Clarkson I had learned the basics of SAP, which helped me pick up applications quickly at Honeywell, where everything they do relies on that system.”
On the other hand, says Patrick, he also learned important lessons that went beyond his classes and books as he observed day-to-day operations. “I learned it’s not always about numbers, even though textbooks show how you can model almost anything using statistics and math. Sometimes you have to look at other factors, like the reliability of a supplier or what big sales might be coming up. The guys that know how the chain really works can tweak the numbers for better results.” As well, by watching the procurement manager on the job, Patrick improved his own communication abilities: “He made a lot of presentations and he really helped me learn how to better convey information to those who need it.”
One of the most satisfying aspects of the internship occurred during a meeting between a team of business and engineering executives from a French company supplying microprocessors and a comparable executive management team from Honeywell. “I could comfortably converse with the professionals on both the engineering and business sides,” says Patrick, crediting the unique preparation of his Interdisciplinary Engineering & Management major. “Being able to communicate and work with both sides was a huge asset.”
Patrick’s internship experience convinced him that he is on the right track in an exciting field. But before launching that career after graduation in 2010, he will probably continue at Clarkson to earn his MBA with a concentration in Global Supply Chain Management.