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Journal of Supply Chain Management

"One on One: An Interview with Terry Sueltman" By Julie S. Roberts, Summer 2003, Vol. 39, No. 3, p. 2

One on One: An Interview with Terry Sueltman

Journal of Supply Chain Management Copyright © August 2003, by the Institute for Supply Management, Inc.


Julie S. Roberts
Interview by Julie S. Roberts, writer for Inside Supply Management®

Terry Sueltman is vice president, corporate supply management for Sonoco Products headquartered in Hartsville, South Carolina. He is responsible for global strategic sourcing and logistics. He is currently implementing a strategic sourcing process at Sonoco - a $3 billion global manufacturer of industrial and consumer packaging solutions. Prior to joining Sonoco in 2001, Sueltman was with Honeywell International in Phoenix. The Honeywell operation was a winner of Industry Week magazine's "America's Best Plant" award and was recognized by Michigan State University with a "Most Advanced" rating for supply chain processes, and as a "Best Place to Work" for supply chain professionals by Purchasing magazine in 2000. Sueltman began his career with Honeywell after graduating from the University of Illinois with a BS in mathematics. He held positions in information systems, manufacturing, and marketing prior to his supply management assignments.

The Journal of Supply Chain Management: What has been a significant supply management success at Sonoco?

Terry Sueltman: There have been a few major accomplishments such as improving our IT capability and implementing a strategic sourcing process. However, a critical enabler has been our organizational development. We have really strengthened the organization, and this has been recognized by our management team. We've hired additional people to fill in areas where we needed more resources. Whenever we've had a chance to hire, we've recruited the best people we can. We've looked for people who are well educated, with leadership attributes, and who have a few years of experience. We've also worked through some difficult performance issues to make sure that all of our people are capable and performing well. So, developing the talent in our supply management organization has been one of the best things that we've accomplished.

The Journal: What are the factors required for success in recruiting talent?

Sueltman: One factor when recruiting, specifically from universities, is the need to have an ongoing presence there rather than just looking for graduates in the spring. We've selected schools like Arizona State University, with a highly regarded focus on supply chain management, and a regional school, North Carolina State University. I, and others on my staff, try to visit the schools several times a year and will speak at some of their MBA gatherings. North Carolina State has a formal business consortium that we've joined. Their students will also work on projects for us during the school year. We'll take interns from both schools during the summer as well. So, we try to have a presence and activity throughout the year. Secondly, I'd say that we have to have a compelling story for people considering Sonoco. We explain our goals, strategies, and working environment. It's not just a routine job here. We discuss what role the individual plays in our overall strategy of improving our operation to become a world-class supply chain organization. This has been a compelling story for a lot of university graduates wanting to put their education to work. Also, in recruiting, we're sensitive to the whole recruiting experience. When candidates come here, we focus on the correspondence, whom they're going to speak with, where they're going to be, what's going to be presented to them, and how they're treated. We usually bring a lot of people in, and once we have somebody that we're particularly interested in, I will always meet with that candidate. My role is to let them know that we're interested in them, present our overall strategies, and relate what we're doing to create a supportive environment. I will often personally follow up with a note. If we're recruiting somebody already in the workforce, it's not a dissimilar process, although, of course, we don't have the university presence involved. But the recruiting process is something that we've formalized.

The Journal: How did your organization make the transformation to this best practice?

Sueltman: From the start, the goal was really to make supply a world-class operation. If we're going to be world-class, then we have to be good at what we do, and we're going to define what we do by key processes. So I put forth eight key processes that I felt were critical to becoming a world-class operation. The key process was people management and organizational structure. This process addresses depth of talent, strength of leadership, our environment, the reward and recognition system, the recruiting process that we use, the performance management process, and so on. I particularly emphasized this with my staff. We detailed the kind of people that we needed to bring into the organization, including various traits. We want certain skills that could be described as an education in supply chain, experience in negotiating, or global knowledge. We also look for key attributes that encompass personality characteristics - leadership, communication, and confidence. We're not just looking for smart people, but we want people who can interface with others, who are driven to get things done, who are strategic, and who are good team members as well as team leaders.

The Journal: What obstacles might be encountered when developing this strength?

Sueltman: This whole area of compensation of highly talented people can be an obstacle. In the supply chain world, there is a scarcity of really high-talent individuals, even in a troubled economy. We are blessed with a cooperative and consultative HR organization, but I know people can get in situations where grades, jobs, and salaries are rigidly defined. You might hear, "We can't pay that much because that's going to conflict with engineering pay." Instead, you have to say, "What are we trying to do here? What kind of people are we trying to hire? What does the market pay for this talent?" Another obstacle might be getting the organization, aside from compensation, on the same wavelength as far as what skill sets, education, and attributes we're entitled to have. Companies can have this outdated mindset about the kind of people that you want to bring into a supply organization. One mindset could be that we want to hire somebody to do the job at hand and we might not be too concerned about whether the person is promotable or flexible. Are we hiring people who in five years would be good candidates to be department managers? That was my vision - to bring in people who can grow with us. Another obstacle to overcome if you're trying to attract people is making sure that you have the right kind of a job. I've heard managers say, "I'd really like to get an MBA, but nobody will take the job." That may be because the job or environment isn't really designed to use their skills. The current job does not warrant the level of talent. It's too tactical or too transactional.

The Journal: How can supply managers overcome these obstacles?

Sueltman: First, define the kind of people that you want. Have high expectations. Do you want people who are promotable? Do you want people who have capabilities to do other things - even outside of supply management? Then, once you define those things, you have to recruit and pay for them. Benchmarking is another means of overcoming obstacles. If your company admires GE, IBM, or Honeywell or sees the kind of people that their customers have, it becomes a more persuasive argument in hiring and recruiting that caliber of people for your own company. Another way to overcome the recruiting obstacle is to create a longer-term business plan. I put together a three-year productivity improvement plan that shows how we could save the company more money, but explains that as an investment, we've got to get more people and hire the best talent. The business proposition is that the investment will be X, but the payback will be 5X. The investment doesn't seem so unreasonable when compared against the opportunity, as opposed to focusing on a historic expense budget level.

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