Engaging with suppliers

General Motors is taking an important step toward a more cooperative relationship with its primary suppliers under global purchasing boss Grace Lieblein.

The Strategic Supplier Engagement program she has outlined to the 400 largest of GM's 2,700 Tier 1 parts makers provides an earlier look at GM's product and technology plans and better access to the automaker's purchasing brass.

GM knows it cannot dictate terms to suppliers as it did a half century ago when it held half of U.S. auto sales. In today's more collaborative industry, suppliers control key technologies.

Lieblein recognizes that big suppliers decide which of their customers get those technologies first. She wants GM to move up from the bottom half of suppliers' list of preferred clients.

GM has a lot of purchasing history to overcome. It is just two decades removed from the slash-and-burn cost-cutting approach of Jose Ignacio Lopez and his warriors. Bo Andersson's metric-driven approach helped GM achieve global integration of purchasing, but it certainly wasn't warm and fuzzy.

To succeed, GM needs the good will and best innovations from key suppliers. Lieblein will need time and consistency to gain the trust of suppliers. She may need additional initiatives to become the customer of choice, but the Strategic Supplier Engagement program is a good start.