Breaking Through Barriers
Tom Slaight, the 2017 J. Shipman Gold Medal Award winner, first viewed procurement as a “barrier,” then spent most of his career building the influence, strength and visibility of the profession.
Tom Slaight realized early in his career that numbers and data could be powerful allies as he made his way in the business world.
In the 1970s, when rudimentary computer systems required much more work than clicking a mouse, Slaight understood the value of compiling data on production schedules, inventory and materials planning. It was that trust in “the numbers,” coupled with a strong belief in collaboration and people, that propelled the New York native to a successful career dedicated to improving the supply management profession.
Slaight, the 2017 J. Shipman Gold Medal Award winner, readily admits that at one of his first jobs, he considered the purchasing manager position to be a “barrier” but also saw untapped potential. After working for many years building supply chain and manufacturing systems using computer- and data-based MRP systems, Slaight sharpened his supply management focus after joining A.T. Kearney in the early 1990s.
At A.T. Kearney, he worked with a team of consultants devoted to systematically expanding the firm’s work in procurement and supply management. “Raising and enriching the capabilities, influence and reputation of those in supply management has always been my main objective,” Slaight says. “That’s because supply management plays such a large role in the competitive success of a company today.”
But Slaight recalls a time when procurement professionals played a behind-the-scenes role in most companies. And what he observed about procurement early in his career helped shape what he believed the profession could become as the business world shifted. Slaight saw the value of data and technology, even in their beginning stages, because, he says, “I was always interested in figuring out how things worked.”
That interest served him well in the mid-1970s to 1980s at Aurora Products, a toy and hobby subsidiary of Nabisco, where Slaight “collected even the most rudimentary data” to help the company better plan manufacturing schedules and inventory. He realized that once he understood the way the data was filed and stored, he could retrieve it to assist with production planning, a function that was challenging for the company at the time.
“The other managers treated this information like it was magic,” he recalls. “I became the go-to guy. If anyone wanted to know information about schedules or inventory, they were told: ‘Go to Slaight, he will find it out for you.’ And I was only an assistant controller at the time.”