Business & Technology Nexus

Dave Stephens on technology and business trends

William Gress and the Brunswick story

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Sometimes serendipity prevails and you get to meet someone really amazing through a twist of fate. Bill Gress at Brunswick definitely qualifies. I met Bill at an SRM conference sponsored by Peoplesoft in Chicago a few years ago. At the last minute, my good friend Greg Tennyson (Procurement VP at Oracle) asked me to stand in for him and I agreed. I presented at the conference just before Bill. After the event we shared a cab ride back to O’Hare.

Bill spoke at the conference about his tenure at Brunswick. Brunswick, for those not familiar with the company, runs a variety of seemingly unconnected enterprises. They make billiards and bowling products (Brunswick), fitness products (Life Fitness), boats (Bayliner), and boating engines (Mercury Marine).

Bill managed indirect procurement, and if memory serves offered to hit key financial targets for his management (including the CEO). Long story short, by doing the basics – standardizing IT equipment choices, re-negotiating contracts, etc, he hit his indirect savings goals on schedule.

He was traveling in Europe when he got the call from his CEO.

CEO: “You hit your number.”
Bill: “Yep.”
CEO: “When can you be back in the office, we need to talk..”
Bill: “I can be back in a week once my meetings have finished here in Europe.”
CEO: “No, seriously, when can you be back?”

Bill met with the CEO and was tasked to take on a portion of Brunswick’s direct materials problem in the same data-driven, nuts and bolts kind of way. He treated Brunswick-made components for products as just a potential source of supply, and actively re-analyzed make vs. buy decisions.

Bill talked about how Brunswick had “blind spots” – things they thought they did well that they really could have done better through buying. His best example was boat seats on their Bayliner. They had made the seats at a Brunswick factory for years. Everyone thought customers loved them, but a little digging and customer surveying showed quite the opposite. Bill helped Brunswick switch from the homegrown 1980’s-technology of plywood upholstered seats to new age formed plastic framed seats using the world’s leading suppliers. Customers loved the new seats, and Brunswick saved money on the switch.

Bill was vital in Brunswick’s efforts to produce their first boat at an MSRP below $10,000. He helped their Life Fitness division find a better source for the metal components so intrinsic to their exercise products.

Bill is a great example of the power of effective procurement practices, and how they can dramatically improve a company’s competitiveness. No doubt Bill did not lead these initiatives solo – he obviously works with a world class team. If you get a chance to meet one of them, or Bill himself, ask for their latest accomplishments. And by all means, email me the scoop!

His company bio is on Brunswick’s website here. Kudos to all he’s done to move Brunswick (& the cause of Procurement) forward.


Written by Dave Stephens

03/1/06 7:56 PM at 7:56 pm

Posted in Historical

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