Automotive Supplier Relationships with Steve Kiefer and Dave Andrea

Automotive Supplier Relationships with Steve Kiefer and Dave Andrea

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The 2022 Plante Moran WRI® (Working Relations Index®) Study of North American auto supplier-Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) relationships is a bedrock survey in the industry. But does it really impact the bottom line? And what can OEMs do with the information?

Dave Andrea, principal at Plante Moran and guardian of the WRI, relies on insight gathered across the industry to help answer these questions. And as someone who spent almost forty years at General Motors, Steven Kiefer, chairman of The Kiefer Foundation, provides an unmatched inside look on the internal processes OEMs use for change.

“For the OEMs, [the WRI® is] a fantastic piece of data,” Steve says. It provides an invaluable view of the relationship between automotive OEMs and their supply bases (aka suppliers), which is paramount because if there is any tension, OEMs aren’t efficient, which hinders organizational growth.

Beyond just looking at the WRI® as useful data to look at how to improve, it’s also about proactively using this information within an organization to actually improve by increasing overall organizational effectiveness and leading to more growth. These actions are at the heart of improving supplier relationships. “You can see how much mutual dependency there is between the supplier and the OEM,” Dave says.

On this episode of Finding Gravitas, Dave and Steve share how the power of the 2022 WRI® Study directly impacts the change OEMs seek within their organizations, and what this tells us about the future of supply chain leadership in the automotive industry.

Themes discussed on this episode: 

  • How the WRI® has become a crucial source of data for organizational change
  • How looking at feedback objectively benefits OEMs in the long term
  • How OEMs can apply the right strategy to action the data in the right way
  • The importance of communications and alignment to enterprise success
  • The future of supply chain leadership in an ever-changing industry
  • How new startups and EV culture are shaking up the industry and what to do about it
  • The importance of humility and vision in leadership and the 21 traits as a toolbox

Featured Guests

Dave Andrea

What he does: as Principal at Plante Moran, self-described “accidental analyst” Dave Andrea is a guardian of the WRI®. Dave grew up with a passion for automotive from the get-go, and is still going strong.

On gravitas: “It’s about being aware of other people, being humble to be able to stop and help someone else. But you’ve had to get there first — you’ve had to build up your own credibility base or your own resources or your own network to be able to help someone else, and make that opportunity open up a door for someone else to succeed, just as any one of us has.”

Steven Kiefer

What he does: “Just a kid from Detroit,” Steven Kiefer recently retired from a four-decade career with General Motors. Father of four Steven is chairman of The Kiefer Foundation, which he founded in honor of his second son Mitchell who was killed by a distracted driver. This episode is dedicated to the Foundation, and we ask that you please take the pledge and support it in a way that works for you.

On Gravitas: “It’s all about setting clear vision and making sure you inspire people to do things that they never thought they could do without your leadership.”


Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show

[6:47] WRI® history: Dave and Steve discuss the WRI®’s background, its importance to and impact on OEMs and automotive supplier relationships. “Year to year, internally at each OEM, how can they improve their working relationships to fulfill their strategies?” Dave asks.

[14:12] Taking action: Steve discusses his strategy for getting GM to take the WRI® seriously. “We made sure that everybody got exposure to it. That was the most important thing — especially that first year where the data wasn’t very good.”

[18:25] Best practice: Dave shares his experience with varying OEM reactions, and how these play into overall business strategy. “If you can take a step back and say that it’s not personal — it’s not directed at the individual — you can see how much mutual dependency there is between the supplier and the OEM.”

[22:19] Communication and enterprise issues: “Clear, transparent communications and setting of goals is most important,” Steve says. “Be very open with suppliers on what the cost challenge is, and let them be part of the solution.” But alignment between different business functions is crucial with regard to “[ensuring] that supplier relations are not just on the shoulders of the purchasing organization,” Dave says.

[27:55] Future focus: Dave and Steve share insight about ongoing change in business and supply chain leadership, how to overcome the challenges presented by EVs and startups, and how to incorporate new OEMs. “We grew up very much in this command and control model,” Jan says. “How on earth do you break away from that legacy culture?”

[40:50] On leadership and gravitas: Steve and Dave talk about which of the 21 authentic traits mean the most to them, as well as their own personal definitions of gravitas.

Top quotes

[6:19] Jan: “I couldn’t think of a better person [than Dave], quite frankly, to be the guardian of the WRI® — such an important survey, and I fear that we’ve given it lip service to a certain extent.”

[9:32] Dave: “Many of them compare it to an employee satisfaction survey: You don’t want to give your honest opinion back to your supervisor for fear of your career. It’s no different: You don’t want to give that honest opinion back to your customer who’s absolutely shaping your future.”

[11:15] Steve: “We always say feedback as a gift, and you have to decide what you’re going to do with it. But this is the ultimate unbiased feedback that an OEM can choose to look at and really look into the organization and try to understand how they can improve, because I do think that the success of the OEM is largely dependent on the relationships and the performance of their suppliers.”

[25:58] Steve: “The issue is an enterprise issue, it’s not a purchasing issue. … We saw engineering as the absolute critical partner … manufacturing and some of the other functions [also] had … very important role[s] in the supplier relationship. And over time, I think that improves as well. So it’s clearly about the enterprise, not about one function.”

[39:19] Dave: “We’ve taken the survey — as John Henke had before — to non-automotive sectors, because what we’re talking about here is completely applicable to any manufacturing or other service areas that have large, complex supply chains.”

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