Kelly Bysouth joined IAC Group, a $4.4 billion auto parts manufacturer based in Michigan, US, in September 2018. She is just 30 days into this new role when we speak – before this, she spent most of her career working her way up to Group VP for Global Procurement and Supply Chain at Adient (spun out of Johnson Controls in 2016), the world leader in automotive seating.
Interviewee: KELLY BYSOUTH, CHIEF SUPPLY CHAIN OFFICER, INTERNATIONAL AUTOMOTIVE COMPONENTS
Bysouth made her name in procurement, but her greatest achievement at Adient was the wholesale centralisation of the supply chain. “Two years ago, Adient didn’t have any centralised supply chain team at all,” she says. “Everything was embedded within individual operations. We had to work out what it made sense to do from a centralised perspective and establish that team, reporting to me. We did leave a lot still within the plants, so it really was a mix of pulling some things up and leaving some as they were.”
The reorganisation did not come without its challenges. Bysouth explains: “One of the hardest things was just the people and the mindset. When you’re going into plants and telling them you’re going to take part of their team away and have them report to you instead, it isn’t always received well. So, I had to spend a lot of time explaining why we were doing it and how it was going to bring value.”
At IAC, she has taken on the role of Chief Supply Chain Officer, where she has broader responsibilities and a seat at the leadership table. She has already put forward a restructuring plan for centralisation. “We plan to execute a very similar playbook here,” she says.
With her experience, Bysouth has learned a few lessons. “The first rule is to ensure that you know what the intended outcomes are and what you are looking to achieve,” she says. “Never centralise something just for the sake of it – you need to change to achieve a certain outcome.” Her advice applies to tasks such as inventory reduction, logistics optimisation, headcount reduction or anything else that requires clear communication.
She also believes that it is crucial to keep talent development and succession planning in mind from the hiring process, and to bring the right people with you as you work towards supply chain maturity.
Bysouth says the value of such initiatives is now recognised at board level and it is no longer difficult to get support for the investment required for their implementation.
She also mentions the effective use of data in the supply chain: “Supply chain management in general really hangs on the data that you have on which to base your decisions, and how effectively you manage that data,” says Bysouth. “That’s one of the big projects we had launched at Adient, to get proper planning software in place, and whether you are talking about inventory data, purchasing data or whatever, in my mind that is one of the greatest hinges of supply chain management right now.”
Her belief is that the best supply chain managers take strategic decisions based on data generated by systems already in place. This means that people no longer need to be employed to analyse findings. When hiring, Bysouth is looking for strategic thinkers – and not for what she refers to as ‘spreadsheet junkies’.
It is a challenge to find good junior staff: “To be really good in supply chain roles, you have to have some ground-level experience in manufacturing to properly understand the processes. If you don’t understand how a part gets made in a plant, you aren’t going to understand the supply chain,” says Bysouth. “People coming out of college today aren’t interested in getting that experience.”
The requirement for operational experience can make it difficult to access a pool of diverse candidates for senior supply chain roles too. “People coming up through the supply chain career path with real-life plant experience often are not female,” says Bysouth. “I am striving to have diverse candidates in every hiring pool, and we are partnering with key universities near the areas where we want to employ people and trying to get the word out that we want diverse candidates.”
Bysouth is a board member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, which is the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the US, and is a vocal advocate for female entrepreneurs. At Adient, her work on supplier diversity programmes received wide recognition and the company now operates an innovative programme to recruit and develop diverse suppliers. Today, Adient is a member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable, a not-for-profit organisation comprising 27 Fortune-level corporations that spend at least $1 billion annually each with minority and women-owned businesses.
She will now bring this passion to IAC and she is excited to grow into a new role while continuing to shake up supply chain innovation: “For me, it’s just really a focus on end-to-end supply chain, and looking at the supply chain holistically versus looking at it under the previous definition of just moving parts from A to B,” says Bysouth. “Now it is all inclusive, embracing that total cost of ownership approach.”