How About Partnership Instead?


    New Detroit Woe: Makers of Parts Won't Cut Prices –

    Wah, the latest complaint from the “Detroit Three” (formerly known as the “Big Three”) is that they are having trouble squeezing and stomping on their suppliers for lower prices. Because so many suppliers were beaten up over time, they have consolidated, have had plants closed, and/or were bought by private equity firms. Seems like a natural response for a part of the industry that has been abused by many OEM's for a long time.

    The WSJ article talks about the trend toward shorter and shorter contracts with suppliers, as opposed to long-term partnership and collaboration.

    Principle #11 of The Toyota Way says:

    Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.

    Toyota treats suppliers much like they treat their employees, challenging them to do better and helping them to achieve it. Toyota provides cross functional teams to help suppliers discover and fix problems so that they can become a stronger, better supplier.

    Does this type of interaction sound like respect? From the WSJ article, describing the negotiating practices of the Detroit Three:

    …says auto makers and large “tier one” parts makers continue to ask Bluewater to accept business under terms that cover just labor and materials, with nothing left over for overhead or profit. “We are constantly getting calls asking, ‘Can you take on this or that business from another supplier?'” says Mr. Lord. “We tell them, ‘Here is our price,' and many times they get offended and say, ‘We won't be doing business with you.' That threat hasn't proven valid.”

    The Curious Cat blog has a nice summary of the Detroit Three's supposed attempts at “partnering” with suppliers, including a recapping of Deming's attempts to push Ford toward partnering with suppliers, not just demand price reductions.

    What Deming tried to re-introduce to Ford [in the 1980s] was a more modern and refined version of what had made Ford great.

    Here's what I mean – During the early days, Ford and his associates were dissatisfied with the price that an auto body manufacturer was demanding.

    They wanted him to get his price down, just as today's Big Three want their suppliers to reduce prices.

    The difference was that Ford and his co-workers didn't just tell the supplier to cut his price.

    They looked at the supplier's product and taught the supplier how to make it more efficiently.

    The supplier's production costs dropped so far that the supplier could not only give Ford the price he wanted, but also make more money for himself.

    When will the Detroit Three ever learn? Instead of whining about “legacy costs,” why not change the way you are doing business??

    Chrysler supposedly made the most progress in this areas, in the 1990's, under the leadership of Thomas Stallkamp. After Stallkamp left with the Daimler merger/acquisition, those partnership practices went away. I saw Stallkamp give a talk once in an academic setting where he seemed near tears that all of his work had been done away with. Sad. Stallkamp is now, ironically enough, working with private equity firms and the supplier base, including one possible attempt by a supplier (Magna) to purchase an OEM (Chrysler).

    I wonder if Magna will use Detroit Three tactics to beat the Chrysler price down??

    Please check out my main blog page at

    The RSS feed content you are reading is copyrighted by the author, Mark Graban.

    , , , on the author's copyright.

    What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

    Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

    Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

    Get New Posts Sent To You

    Select list(s):
    Previous article"Lean accounting is part of the management problem"?
    Next articleNewsflash! Respecting workers = better results!
    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. What really made the ideal of supplier development click for me was an article by Mari Sako, “Supplier development at Honda, Nissan and Toyota,”

      The link opened the article for me, if you have trouble, go to her page at Oxford ( and look in the list of papers.

      The focus of her work has changed in the last few years, and the paper is a couple of years old, but I recommend reading it closely, twice. In fact, maybe I’ll read it again.


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.