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Journal of Supply Chain Management

"One on One: An Interview with Tom Linton" By Jill Schildhouse, Winter 2007, Vol. 43, No. 1, p. 2

One on One: An Interview with Tom Linton

Journal of Supply Chain Management Copyright © February 2007, by the Institute for Supply Management, Inc.


Jill Schildhouse
Interview by Jill Schildhouse, writer for Inside Supply Management®

Tom Linton is vice president, chief procurement officer of Freescale Semiconductor. In this role, he oversees Freescale's global procurement strategy and key supplier relationships with an emphasis on cost, quality and service. Based in Singapore, Linton is closer to Freescale's major foundry partners and assembly and test operations. Before this position, Linton was chief procurement officer for Agere. Before Agere, Linton spent 20 years at IBM. During this time he built the procurement infrastructure in China, Singapore and Ireland, in addition to holding a number of key positions in supply management, manufacturing and marketing. Linton also co-founded the IBM-initiated startup E2open, a supply chain software company, where he served as vice president and general manager. As a Fortune 500 company, having the right talent in the right positions is crucial to Freescale. As such, having a succession plan in place is an important component to this company's continued growth.

The Journal of Supply Chain Management: What is the most important aspect of developing a sound corporate succession plan?

Tom Linton: The process of how you recruit, develop and bring in the best talent is key. It starts with the people you bring into the company and making sure that culturally there is a process in which to do this. You just don't settle for anything less than the very best.

The Journal: How do you identify high-potential employees?

Linton: I always try to give people as much exposure as possible to me and other executives. Sometimes really good people have to be identified — you can't always just let the process pull them up. I like to give these people very challenging assignments to see how they do with them, and create an environment for them to excel.

The Journal: How do you keep these high-potential employees engaged in their jobs?

Linton: Once you've identified the very best, make sure you identify opportunities for them. Most talented people are ambitious, so you will get turnover if you don't provide opportunities to people. That means they are challenged, like their work, enjoy the environment and are enthusiastic about coming to work every day.

The Journal: When looking to create a succession plan for our industry, what key characteristics do you think supply management professionals of the future will need to possess?

Linton: First, I think the individual must be a global citizen: either from some place where they've got crosscultural and international experience, or have gone overseas and spent time there. The leader 5 years from now will need to have global and international awareness. The world has just gotten too small to expect anything less from a leadership position.

The Journal: Can you name a second characteristic?

Linton: I think it's important to give high-potential employees cross-functional opportunities. Putting people in other organizations helps develop them, retain them, makes them stronger for the company, and allows them to learn early in their career if they really like what they're doing or if they want to do something else. They might be in the supply management organization, but find their heart is in HR or marketing, for example.

The Journal: Is there a third characteristic?

Linton: Experience. You can have head knowledge, you can have several advanced degrees in management, but unless you have actually been put on the field and played a number of positions and actually have gone through some strenuous game-winning types of situations, it really doesn't temper you for the long haul. When the wind changes sharply, or the direction of business goes one way or another, they must have the confidence to make a decision. And that confidence only comes from giving people the right experiences early in their career and developing it appropriately.

The Journal: How do you create a succession plan within your organization?

Linton: At Freescale, we have a talent pipeline. Through HR, I fill out my particulars in a database and my manager reviews that. It then becomes part of a talent pipeline the entire company shares. Essentially, it creates a complete roll-up of the company and identifies people that are ready to do other things, so that one particular function can't keep all the good people!

The Journal: How do you assess less-tangible business traits, such as leadership?

Linton: Freescale has a program called Making Great Leaders, and the entire management team — top to bottom — is engaged in this process. This process helps an individual assess themselves through 3601 feedback. It helps you realize your strengths and weaknesses. If you have a program like this, it has enormous benefits because it motivates people from within rather than tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, "You're going to be a leader today."

The Journal: Who should be driving a company-wide succession plan?

Linton: Leaders have to lead when it comes to succession planning. I think it's very important to talk to other executives about the people that are in important positions on my team and ask their opinions. We don't have full exposure to everybody on our team. We may see them at a staff meeting, operations reviews or one-on-one discussions, but our exposure to them isn't necessarily as good as the client or business partner they might support. So going to the business partner and saying, "How is so-and-so doing? What is your take on his or her performance?" provides great feedback.

The Journal: What is one common mistake that companies make when creating a succession plan?

Linton: Not looking more than one level down. Sometimes the people more likely to take your job don't necessarily have the job that's reporting to you. If you look at superior talent, sometimes it comes from deep down. Fortunately, in my career, I was made a manager very young. This would have been impossible if somebody wasn't looking past a layer or two. So I'm particularly sensitive to look at people who have a few years of experience and have started to accelerate. The next person up might not be in the next position below you — assume nothing when choosing your next leader!

The Journal: What final advice do you have for companies embarking on the road to succession planning?

Linton: Leading is different than managing. When people talk about great leaders, there's an emotional content to leadership that's lacking in management. When choosing a leader of the future, there's an intangible. In our profession, leaders tend to be more cerebral, thoughtful, quiet, steady people and I think those kinds of people don't naturally rise in organizations. If they are the strong, silent type, it's difficult for them to rise. You look at the person who is shouting the loudest, who wants to see you and wants exposure. But the person who is quietly going about their business can be tremendously solid, has a bedrock resolve and I think it's important for us to recognize that.

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