Journal of Supply Chain Management

"One on One: An Interview with Kent Brittan" By Julie S. Roberts, Summer 2002, Vol. 38, No. 3, p. 2

One on One: An Interview with Kent Brittan

Journal of Supply Chain Management Copyright © August 2002, by the Institute for Supply Management, Inc.


Julie S. Roberts
Interview by Julie S. Roberts, editor of Inside Supply Management®

Kent L. Brittan is vice president, supply man-agement for United Technologies Corporation (UTC), a $28 billion corporation with 152,000 employees worldwide. UTC provides high-technology products and services to the building systems and aerospace industries through its Otis Elevator, Carrier, UTC Fuel Cells, Sikorsky Aircraft, Pratt & Whitney, and Hamilton Sundstrand units. Mr. Brittan joined UTC at its Otis business in 1977 and held several executive positions there including vice president, finance; director, financial planning and analysis; and director, treasury services. Prior to joining UTC, he was assistant controller, South American operations, for Schlumberger Surenco C.A. in Caracas, Venezuela. Mr. Brittan holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and a Master of Business degree from Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.

The Journal of Supply Chain Management: What is your background, and how did you get into supply management?

Kent Brittan: I came to supply management after 20 years in finance at United Technologies Corpora-tion. Before my current position, I was chief finan-cial officer of UTC’s Otis Elevator Company. The financial background is useful to my current posi-tion. Supply management is data-intensive, and the understanding of data collection and analysis that I gained from my finance experience has been extremely valuable.

The Journal: What is your position’s role within the organization? To whom do you report, and what is your role at the strategic level?

Brittan: I report to the CEO of UTC. My role is to set company procurement goals, policy, and strategy; to design an organization to support these; and to find innovative ways to ensure competitive advan-tage in supply management.

The Journal: What challenges are you facing, and are any unique to your industry?

Brittan: The challenge to all companies is to con-tinually lower the total cost of ownership of pur-chased goods and services. Tomorrow’s world will be based upon velocity, where leadtime, quality, and delivery will be as important as price. All com-panies will have to do what the leading automo-tive companies and others have done — create an optimized supply chain. That is to say, a stable group of companies in which suppliers and cus-tomers work together in a harmonic way, where suppliers deliver based on the flow of the produc-tion system. In a supply chain environment where velocity is required, organizations will have to get the supply base down to an efficient level without accumulating defects. Quick leadtimes will be required, and the supply chain structure should allow for joint product development and joint cost reduction effort. The changes required will be great. Supply management organizations will have to do what they’ve always talked about to adjust them-selves to meet the new demands placed upon them.

The Journal: How is purchasing and supply helping to resolve these challenges?

Brittan: We have viewed technology as a major enabler right from the start. We have tools today — ERP, data collection, Internet communication, online bidding, Web-based monitoring and assessment, etc. — that simply didn’t exist a few years back. We have invested heavily in these areas. Not just money, but time and talent, because using the tools properly requires a lot of thought and planning. The learning derived, however, is competitive advantage.

The Journal: What is your vision for purchasing/ supply management at UTC?

Brittan: Like everyone else’s: a synchronous, Web-enabled, manageable supply chain that, through mutual collaboration, outperforms the competitors year-over-year.

The Journal: What have been purchasing/supply management’s biggest successes at UTC?

Brittan: Through our commodity management structure, we have been able to leverage the buying power of UTC through cross-divisional purchasing. Our use of technology has been very instrumental. We’ve successfully used online bidding technology, data collection, and closed-loop procurement tech-nology. We’re also pioneering the concept of remote supplier assessment, through the use of expert and statistically based systems. This is going to be the next breakthrough area for us.

The Journal: What kinds of research would you like to see being done on behalf of purchasing and supply management? What types of information do you seek out?

Brittan: We always like to benchmark ourselves in everything from head count to logistics. We use all the data we can find — from CAPS Research and ISM, and from talking with others in the field and industry as well as visiting other companies. Success in procurement is all about data and learning, or, put another way, about having the best systems and the best people.

The Journal: What are you doing in the area of e-commerce or e-procurement? Are you being encour-aged to use e-business tools?

Brittan: The important thing is to take any good idea that comes along and examine it to see whether it can be adapted and/or made better in your environ-ment. An example of this is remote supplier moni-toring and assessment. Industry expends significant overhead costs today to perform physical audits of their supply base. In most cases, due to resource con-straints and cost control issues, we are rarely able to penetrate but a small percentage of the supply base. By using the concept of correlative technology, a supply chain can be monitored, assessed, and improved (with improved being the operative word) without the resource constraints we faced in the past. This concept can be applied to business processes outside of supply management such as quality, lean manufacturing, environmental health and safety, and even in-house financial audits, though we haven’t done this yet. Using these tools, I can gather data from industry, gather data from our own internal sys-tems, and most importantly, gather data from the var-ious processes at a supplier. These processes can range from shop floor to financial systems. In short, the idea for remote supplier monitoring and assessment is about focusing on the processes/data that can best impact the performance of the business.

The Journal: What skills and capabilities do you seek out in individuals when hiring or recruiting? Do you find there is an adequate talent pool available?

Brittan: A positive mental attitude is what I look for — and that includes a certain intellectual humility or curiosity, a desire to learn, to change and to excel. There are plenty of good people who fit this descrip-tion. What you want to do is to create the right envi-ronment in which they can flourish. The right environment allows people to express themselves, empowering them to make good decisions. This is not easy as many of the top managers may do a good job at managing but may not be skilled in allowing those they manage to make decisions. Performance appraisals can be used to help create this empowering environment. Reviews can include appraisals of atti-tudes about teamwork and openness to new ideas.

The Journal: What do you see in the future for purchasing/supply management at UTC or for the function in general?

Brittan: The future is velocity, as we discussed ear-lier. The skill set of tomorrow’s supply management executive is going to be much broader than before. ERP experience, good quality credentials, lean-manufacturing experience, inventory management skills, etc., are all going to be required. And, of course, possibility thinking.

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