Eric entered Patrick’s office and looked around. The Procurement Director wasn’t there, but it was clear who owned this space. The pictures on the wall told the story of a competitor. In college, Patrick had been a defensemen on an undefeated hockey team. There was also a framed Business Administration degree.

“You look lost,” a voice said.

Eric turned around and saw a well-dressed man. The Procurement Director had been reviewing documents and closed the drawer of a filing cabinet with a bang. Then he motioned for Eric to sit next to the large metal desk. Patrick strode across the floor and took a seat across from the young engineer. Introductions were made without a handshake.  

“We’re having a problem with a gasket,” Eric began. “There’s a company I’ve been talking to that can help, but how do I get them on the approved vendor list so that I can order from them?”

Patrick smiled and remembered when he was a young buyer just starting his career.

“It’s not that simple,” he began patiently. “For starters, do you know how much these gaskets cost?”

“No,” Eric answered hesitantly. 

“Well, that’s your first problem,” Patrick replied. “What’s the minimum order quantity we would have to buy from this company?”

“I don’t know that either,” Eric answered.

“That’s your second problem then,” Patrick continued. “Look, they probably didn’t teach you this in engineering school, but it doesn’t do a company like ours any good to buy a lot of stock and having it sitting around. It ties up cash and takes up space.”   

Patrick paused the mini-business lesson and remembered the paperwork on his desk.

“Does this company supply anything besides gaskets? I keep getting these notifications about out-of-stock items from Operations. These parts are all made out of rubber or plastic.”

“We just talked about their gasket capabilities,” Eric said. “That’s my big problem right now.”

Patrick felt his patience slipping. Eric saw something flash across the former defenseman’s face.

“Well, MY biggest problem right now is suppliers who charge too much, can’t deliver on-time, and who can’t provide more than one type of product. There’s a cost to carrying a vendor. They didn’t teach you that in engineering school, did they?”

“No, they did not”, Eric answered quietly.

Patrick knew he’d hit the kid hard. He smiled and softened his tone.

“Look, we don’t have that strong of a relationship with our current gasket supplier,” the Procurement Director said. “But the bottom line is that their price is the lowest. And besides, it’s just a rubber gasket. It’s not like it’s a diesel engine or anything.”

Eric looked dazed. Patrick glanced at his watch and stood up to end the meeting.

“I’ve got an 11 o’clock call,” Patrick said matter-of-factly. “If you want me to consider this other company, sharpen your skates and come prepared to play next-time.”

Eric rose slowly, thanked Patrick for this time, and walked dejectedly out of the office. He knew he’d have to tell his boss that things didn’t go well – and he’d still have to solve the leaky gasket problem. 

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