There was a little bit of grumbling that Monday's traditional hospitality reception was pushed indoors by warnings of a major thunderstorm, which someone quickly dubbed the Perfect Storm.
But some of the first-day chatter between sessions and over lunch was about the latest study of supplier relations. Planning Perspectives Inc. of Birmingham, Mich., released study results that show suppliers would rather do business with Toyota, Honda and Nissan than General Motors, Ford and the Chrysler group.
That's because the traditional Big 3 are still losing ground to the three biggest Japanese automakers in the drive to improve supplier relations.
The reaction in Traverse City? As one supplier exec put it: ``Who needs a study to figure that out?''
It does seem as if the festering relationships between the Big 3 and their suppliers has been a theme, sub-plot or backdrop to the Management Briefing Seminars for years and years. And what the Big 3 might do - or ought to do -- to change their ways has been a perplexing topic of countless panels and speeches. No one expects the emphasis on cost advantage and price concessions to change any time soon. And that's part of the problem.
Automakers talked about treating suppliers as partners, not vendors, 30 years ago in the wake of the first OPEC oil embargo. Car makers needed help improving the fuel economy of their cars. That meant getting suppliers to invest heavily in tooling to support new programs.
All this at a time when many suppliers were losing money. In exchange, automakers held out the promise of longer contracts.
Chester Devenow, who was CEO of Toledo-based Sheller-Globe, knew better. Part of Sheller-Globe was injection molding. And even though Devenow liked doing business with the Big 3, he understood the concept of self interest.
When asked if he was impressed by Big 3 promises, he smiled. That's because 30 years ago Sheller-Globe had an option that might appeal to suppliers today.
``We have an injection molding line that makes steering wheels,'' Devenow said. ``Over night, I can convert it to make toilet seats.''