Mary Blair

Senior Vice President, Supply Chain, Accuride

Why did you choose a career in supply chain?

Supply Chain wasn’t my first career path. Originally, I was a law enforcement major and a certified police officer.  But something was missing.  I wanted to work in a business environment that allowed me to connect the dots in many countries and cultures.  So becoming a supply chain leader was the right fit for me.  It’s like policing performance internally and externally and doing that on an international scale.  Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work for leaders who encouraged me, were great mentors and believed in my skills and drive.  For example, after one of them helped me become a professional fellow in chemical purchasing, my supply chain career really started to take off.  Both Bob Socia and John Stiles at General Motors were instrumental in my leadership development and presented me with multiple opportunities to grow in numerous supply chain disciplines with global responsibility.  It challenged me.  Without question, supply chain can be a dynamic, challenging and very rewarding career.  I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

What are the main responsibilities in your role?

Accuride is a $1.2 billion global supplier of wheels and wheel end components with 15 operations in eight countries in North America, Europe and Asia. My role is to lead the effective operation and continuous improvement of its performance on a worldwide basis.  That means that I have daily accountability for seven disciplines: everything from order entry to the distribution of the products.  Accuride’s CEO Rick Dauch, to whom I report, fully supports a clear line of visibility that creates a very dynamic global supply chain organization.  Rick gave me the opportunity to establish a singular, consistent vision of supply chain across our three businesses that encompassed multiple disciplines and constitutes a truly integrated supply chain organization managed with common processes.  With the support of our business unit Presidents, Scott Hazlett, Greg Risch and John Schneider, we created one global supply chain discipline and team that provides effective functional support to each of their business units globally.  Our team exists to help ensure that they’re successful in supporting our customers’ needs.

What are your three biggest challenges on a daily basis?

First, full visibility into multiple systems and the relevant data.

Second, integrating multiple country, facility, supplier and customer cultures into the Accuride culture.  That’s a daily challenge.  Achieving that integration can be resource and time consuming.  Success requires us to manage the nuances with sensitivity, yes, but around a shared sense of direction and purpose at every step.  That’s a necessity.  Get it right, and it can be very rewarding.

Third, transparent communication with our supply chain partner.  They have their own priorities for their businesses and operations, but they have to align and intersect closely with ours.  Collaboration around resources is the key to our mutual success, together with absolutely transparent communication, data and shared goals and results.

With regards to your session, what has been the biggest challenge facing supply chain performance today?

As global suppliers in multiple countries and regions, the current geopolitical environment we are now all operating in puts us all to the test.  It’s fluid and dynamic, to say the least!  To win in today’s environment, you have to have strong collaborative partners capable of operating globally that share your competitive spirit and support your strategic vision. They’re an extension of you in every market you serve, and have to be operationally, politically, culturally adept and dialed in.

How do you see the role collaboration will play in improving global supply chain performance in the future?

Collaboration can enhance our performance on multiple levels.  Suppliers and business partners have to be prepared to embrace it as the world markets become tightly interlinked.  That means being truly committed to embracing and developing collaborative strategies and being prepared to execute them flawlessly.  It will determine your degree of global success.     

With the digitalization of the supply chain, how do you think it affects collaboration?

The pace of development in supply chain automation and digitization is astounding.  There is no question that next-generation supply chain practices will benefit from the greater efficiencies in planning and performance possible through increased utilization of automation, artificial intelligence and the internet of things across the board.  As all of us proceed through the digitalization of information, collaboration and integration becomes even more important. 

There’s a lot of visibility and attention around “Last Mile” strategies and the robotics and automation to support it in logistics.  But automation is happening in every functional discipline of supply chain. 

The collaboration needed to achieve strong customer on-time delivery performance is a great example.  To achieve OTD success, suppliers and their customers must have closely linked and aligned systems, data sharing and communication.  That’s trust through automation. The more seamless they can be, the higher the rate of predictable delivery-to-promise-date performance.  That’s true whether you’re talking about retail e-commerce or manufacturing.  Whether EDI or VMI, it’s all about limiting inventory and collaboratively linking your data, systems and processes to support efficient flow.  That’s a fact.  Yet, a recent study in this area claimed that collaboration didn’t have a significant relationship to on-time delivery performance.  Why?  Is digital information being communicated correctly?  Do customers understand what their suppliers are seeing?  Do suppliers understand how their customers are tracking and rating them based on the digital information in their systems for supplier performance metrics?  In my world, digitalization of the supply chain supports collaboration and performance reliability. 

So, this leads to a great next session and additional scholarly research!