Supply Chain Matters has provided a series of ongoing commentaries involving fairly recent multiple industry aspects involving escalating pressures being placed on suppliers. Our commentaries have reflected on reports regarding global retailer Wal-Mart ‘s latest efforts of cost cutting and certain Consumer Product Goods producers being driven to bullying or extreme cost-cutting measures. Today, The Wall Street Journal provides a report indicating how one global automotive manufacturer is now trying to reverse course of previous supplier squeeze actions to foster needed collaboration.

This report, GM Wants Long-Term Parts Contracts (paid subscription or complimentary metered view) describes efforts by General Motor’s newest Chief Procurement Officer Steve Keifer to influence extended component parts supplier contracts that extend as much as a decade, in order to support two new vehicle product development programs and subsequent market volume output requirements.  According to the WSJ report: “locking suppliers into longer-term contracts and looping into vehicle designs earlier in the process, the auto maker can expect suppliers to share more innovations and better processes that help save money.”

For some of our readers, that statement would appear to be forward-thinking but keep in-mind that the U.S. automotive industry has had a long history of supplier bullying that has been difficult to change for some manufacturers. While Keifer is described as a GM veteran, he only recently assumed the CPO role at the end of 2014, after serving an executive role at Tier one supplier Delphi Automotive. The report thus hints that this new CPO has brought more of a supplier sensitivity to his role.

That approach is apparently being influenced and supported by GM’s new CEO, Mary Barra, who herself has a manufacturing and product development leadership background. According to the WSJ, Barra has recently implemented a strategy “aimed at improving relationships with suppliers that believed the automaker was overly optimistic in its planning assumptions or too forceful in cost-cutting mandates.”

The report points to the ongoing technology-driven revolution occurring across the automotive industry, and the need to bring even more technology to market at a quicker competitive pace. However, the new CPO has the challenge of undoing decades of poor supplier relationships that curtailed deeper collaboration on areas of innovation. The spur such innovation, GM is reportedly open to consideration of new suppliers from regions such as the U.S. Silicon Valley or Israel.

On this blog we have pointed out the drawbacks of how a short-term business outcomes perspective driven to cost reduction mandates can permeate across the many levels of the value-chain. While such efforts may lead to short-term accolades and performance bonuses, they undermine efforts directed at longer-term needs for product, process and customer fulfillment innovation.  Suppliers themselves need to have heightened sensitivities to the business pressures of key customers, and try to provide a helping hand perspective on short and longer term supplier relationship alternatives.

In the case of this week’s WSJ report concerning General Motors, a changed senior management perspective, driven by both the realities of long-term industry competitiveness through innovation, and a leadership grounding in the importance of suppliers for contributing to such innovation has helped to initiate a changing perspective. That will help in overall change management.

We trust there will be more of the above positive actions rather than the others we have highlighted of-late.

Bob Ferrari