Knott: Chrysler’s answer to supplier cynicism

WINDSOR, Ontario -- Suppliers have good reason to be cynical about claims of partnership and open communications from automakers. Chrysler’s one-time purchasing boss, John Campi, said all the right things at first -- but ended up suing suppliers left, right and center.

So Dan Knott, Chrysler’s new purchasing boss, is working extra-hard to show he means it this time.

Yesterday, Knott took his message to Canadian suppliers at a conference here. He spoke about the need to work together and how he has changed Chrysler’s purchasing practices. He mentioned his monthly webinars for suppliers, arranged through Covisint. As he likes to say, “If I have strong relations with suppliers, they'll give me their A team.”

He gave the entire room his e-mail address and later told how he had reprimanded a subordinate who didn’t respond to e-mails from suppliers within 24 hours.

But it was his offhand remarks and responses to questions that showed there’s action behind his words.

A supplier wanted an introduction to purchasing executives at Fiat, which is jointly developing new vehicles with Chrysler.

“My staff has a daily phone call to Fiat,” he replied. “We've had suppliers ask for an introduction and we've done that. If you want a contact, contact us and we'll help. And maybe we'll create a Covisint webinar.”

Another asked whether it was possible to expand the number of suppliers on the monthly webinar. Seems his company could only get one executive on the line at a time.

Sure, said Knott. Then he looked over and saw an assistant shaking his head. The current hookup is limited to a set number of incoming lines.

Not good enough, Knott said on the spot. “We'll look into getting more lines and get back to you.”

I think he means it.