Happy Halloween. Corn mazes, pumpkin spiced coffee, and neighborhood kids in scary but cute costumes singing out ‘trick or treat’ on your front steps. What a fun time of year!
But that’s not for me. My wife handles the kids and the candy and I catch up on the latest black and white horror flick on the classic movie channel. Why? I live on the dark side now.
I am a supply chain professional and I’ve seen horrors that only those in our industry can appreciate. I even get the night sweats dreaming about Zombie suppliers.
So grab a cup of hard cider and settle in around my virtual campfire as I share a few my favorite supply chain horror stories. Think you had it bad? Listen to these.
The very long lead-time
Fresh out of college and working for a military subcontractor of lighting products for the navy mothball fleet, I had the job of organizing the purchase of all of the products we needed for things like searchlights and ship controls.
One important order was running late and several navy officers came in, gold braid included, to check out the situation. The production manager noted that he was missing a simple switch to complete the order.
As my company had not yet discovered MRP, everything was done through a manual system, and that system ran through me.
I had egg on my face when I found the requisition card in the bottom of the file, sadly overlooked. With the assembled brass in my office, I was ‘volunteered’ to call the supplier to get a delivery date to finish this important project.
It turned out that this switch was quite special, and with a 54-week lead-time!
At that point a visit to the brig would have been a welcome respite from the horrified look on the face of my CEO. And yes, it was delivered 54 weeks later … to the day.
Hit by a bus
A quick trip to Italy for some onsite expediting of a second tier supplier seemed just the antidote for a long cold winter. Things were quickly derailed when we learned that our destination airport was on strike and we were diverted to another part of the country.
A long bus ride and a hurried dinner later, we were introduced to the offending supplier to discuss how they could get back on track with their deliveries.
Perhaps it was the late hour, jet lag or the severe language barrier, but things were not going well in our discussions. It was a small company and the owner and chief engineer were quite elderly.
We became worried about succession planning so one member of our party asked what would happen if ‘you guys got hit by a bus,’ a common figure of speech we used when discussing succession.
Our translator, who had a limited grasp of English, explained to the supplier that we had hoped a bus would soon hit him.
That comment did not go over very well … and it took a while for the very emotional supplier to regain his composure. As for those deliveries, they never quite improved.
Me? I caught pneumonia on the way home and someone else expedited those parts for the next week or so.
Only a 5.4 on the Richter scale
It was during a visit to the production floor of a California supplier when I thought I heard a crash out on the local highway. Then — as the floor began to move and people ran out of their office screaming — I realized I was now personally involved in an earthquake, and a decently sized one at that.
While there was no visible damage, many employees were shaken up.
Having a flight to catch later than evening, I completed my business, made one more stop, and rolled up to the airport in San Francisco. The historic fog had rolled in and my flight to Boston was canceled.
A benevolent gate agent then asked if I would be willing to be re-routed to Los Angeles and then take the red eye to Boston. Between the earthquake, the fog, and some lousy food that was taking its toll on me, I was looking forward to getting home, even if it meant flying all night.
The red eye was about to leave when the last passenger came on board. She was seated across from me. She had many bags to stow in the overhead compartment, but kept her cat in the carrier under her seat.
And yes, I am allergic to cats.
The lights went out in the cabin so people could sleep if they chose. As things settled down, my neighbor took a plastic container out of the overhead bin, removed the cat from the carrier, reclined her seat, and placed the cat on her chest. She then began to feed him some pretty funky tuna fish. One bite for the cat and one bite for the passenger…for most of the nauseating and allergy filled 5-hour flight.
I’ll take the earthquake any day.
Do you have a supply chain horror story to share? Send it to [email protected], we may run the best ones in a special "Letters to the Editor" on Halloween!
A practitioner turned educator, Rich Weissman has more than 25 years of experience in all facets of supply chain management. He is past president of the Institute for Supply Management –Greater Boston, and the recipient of the Harry J. Graham Memorial Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Association.