Saturday, January 10, 2009

January 2007: Retirement Q1

In my September 2006 letter, I explained how I was taking an early retirement from Colgate-Palmolive. I wrote about the Voluntary Early Retirement Program which basically was, paraphrasing the Godfather, an offer I couldn’t refuse.

But, as I wrote back in September, I could not simply retire due to a combination of age, taxes and, most importantly, finances. So, I had to look for another job. I did so and was quite fortunate to find a very good and challenging position as VP of Supply Chain, for Sanford Brands NA. This letter is about my first few months in that position. Probably, I will use jargon and phrases many will not know. I will try to explain or provide web references to help.

In my last two months at Colgate, I had my digital camera with me most all of the time. I took photos of people that I worked with be they acquaintance or close friend, from CEO down to the fellow that delivered the mail on our floor. Actually, I did not take the photos. I had photos taken of me and the various people. I printed two copies of the photos. I put one copy into a photo book to remember my days at Colgate and the people I worked with. The second copy I gave to the person with whom I took the photo. I included a short note and provided my e-mail address. Here is a photo with my friend Angel De La Puente, Director of Customer Service and Logistics for Colgate-Palmolive Mexico.

Needless to say, people did exactly what I wanted them to do… they have been staying in touch. But, I have been most delinquent in responding to their e-mails mainly because of having started this new job. It has needless to say been quite busy, the busiest I have ever been. I was starting to feel guilty for not keeping in touch. People are probably thinking, “Gee whiz, he seemed so friendly and personable. Then he leaves and no word.”

It took me until Christmas to realize that I could use my letter format to communicate with one and all. This is one of the reasons I began this letter. So, I set out to pen a special edition of the letter and send to my Colgate friends. I was making good progress on it too. This month has just flown by. We bought and moved into our new home, business demands took off like a rocket too after the first of the year. So, now at the end of January, I decided to write one letter, make it my monthly letter, and bring everyone up to speed on my career move. Here is the update. It is in the point of view of being written to Colgate folks, so I will try to easy on the acronyms.
Letter to my friends at Colgate: For those of you that do not know, I write a page every morning. I have been doing this since June 25, 2002, the day I turned 49. In February 2004, I started picking a theme during the month, editing the daily entries on that theme, and sending an e-letter out to friends and family. I have been doing that every month since

I have meant to write or call each of you since I left Colgate. My last day there was September 30, 2006. It was hectic last few days enjoying the city, saying bye to my New York based friends and colleagues. My first and only week of retirement went very quickly. The weather was great. I took some nice bike rides and did all kinds of house things, getting the house ready to sell. It was not very relaxing. Note that my wife will take exception to my claiming that I “did all kinds of house things, getting the house ready to sell.” It is a matter of perception and I am sure her perception is much closer to reality! The bottom line is that first week and only week of “retirement” was not about sitting around leisurely reading that book I have been meaning to get to.

On that next Friday, October 7th, I packed like half of my clothes, some books, a few instruments, and a bicycle onto my 4Runner and drove eleven hours from my Connecticut home to Detroit. I left the rolling hills of New England for the flatlands of the Midwest. I stopped in Detroit for three reasons. It was a good place to break up a long trip. I had a nice visit with my parents and family there. Lastly, I got the chance to go to the University of Michigan vs. Michigan State University Football Game in Ann Arbor.

During that drive to Detroit, I made several phone calls to friends and family. I talked with Boris Magidenko at about the same time we would have been having breakfast together, which we did whenever both of us were in New York. In the afternoon, I got a phone call from my dotted line Office Group leader at Sanford. He called to brief me on a few things regarding my new position. The most important thing he told me was a good news bad news kind of thing. The good news was that a new Distribution Center (DC) Manager began on Monday, October 3. Cool, one less thing for me to worry about. The bad news was that this new hire had up and quit on Thursday of that same week. Sheesh… what was I getting myself into? What was I driving toward?

Sunday, I left Detroit in the morning and drove three hours to St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana where my daughter Armené is a senior preparing to become an elementary school teacher. We had a nice visit and had some lunch.

Then I drove another two hours to Lake Forest, Illinois, the town we are planning to live in. I went there to look at a house that, though out of the price range, was a possibility in this soft market. Then I went to my in-laws for dinner, as they live in this town for 40+ years. You can understand why moving to Chicago is a good thing and why we are buying a home in Lake Forest.

After dinner I drove south for thirty some miles to Oak Brook where I checked into the Oak Brook Residence Inn where I have been living since October 8th. I had a one bedroom apartment with a living room and kitchenette. It is quite comfortable. First, the relocation company wanted to put me in an apartment. I checked and it was the same size as the Residence Inn rooms. After a short negotiation, the Residence Inn came out $20 a day cheaper. The Residence Inn also provided a free breakfast buffet and cleaned the room and made the bed daily. For me, choosing the Residence Inn over an apartment was a no-brainer.

The next day, October 9, 2006, I began my new job at Sanford Brands, a division of Newell-Rubbermaid. Immediately, the challenges of a new company and a new job displaced almost all sad feelings I was on the verge of having. I was feeling a little bad in leaving Colgate, leaving New York, and especially leaving all the good friends and colleagues I had at Colgate both in New York and in Latin America.

From the first day, well from the second day, I liked to use the phrase, “It is like drinking water from a fire hose” whenever anyone asked me how it was going. It was exactly that. There were so many people to get to know and things to learn. Among the many new people were three fellows. Daren is a colleague who runs manufacturing. Darryl reports to me, heading up Customer Service. Dean is also a direct report. He is in charge of materials management i.e. inventory. Dean, Daren, Darryl, three D names for three guys. I used every permutation of these names when speaking to and e-mailing these guys. It was ridiculous and I was laughing at myself… senile old retired guy!

I realized by the end of the first week of two kind of major things no one bothered to mention in the interview process. First, there five job openings in Logistics, which we call Distribution and Transportation. The Director position was open for five months. The previous director was moved to the SAP team. He was kind of doing both his new and old job. But you know SAP, it consumed 90% of his time. The Manager of Transportation, reporting to the Director retired and that job was open three months. The Warehouse Manager of one of the two DCs was fired five months. The Outbound Managers positions of both DCs were open, one for over a year and the other for six months. This was a Grand Canyon of job openings in one area. To top it off, on my third day the Imports Manager (i.e. Cross Border Sourcing) also resigned. I joked and asked him if it was something that I had said. Six key positions were open. Even my position was open for over a year.

I mentioned above that the warehouse manager was fired. Why fired? Well, in May and June of this year, the warehouse screeched to a grinding halt, glutted with inventory, and unable to ship. Someone over ordered a new imported product by an astronomical number. There was a key decision, in the same time frame, to close another warehouse and consolidate into this one. Both of these issues led to the proverbial ten pounds of coffee and a five pound can. Before anyone knew it, there were four, count them four overflow warehouses. It took an absurd number of VPs and Directors pitching in to limp through the month. December was to be another peak month and we did not want a repeat of mid-year.

On top of these two major items, we were slated to go-live with SAP R/3 and APO on February 1, 2007. Not only this, the problem warehouse I mentioned above was supposed to go-live with SAP WMS on that same date. My preliminary assessment was that the as-is processes were no where near ready nor was the business process re-engineering.
So, what happened in my first quarter? I focused, first, on filling those jobs. My goal was to have them all filled by the end of the year. I failed. January 3, 2007 was the first day on the job for the last position. OK not really a failure.

The first position filled was for the DC that melted down in June. Almost everyone believed that this facility would also falter in December. This became my #2 priority. We found a real solid warehouse man for this position, practically the perfect guy for this position. He began on November 2 and began prepping the facility for the year end volume peak. I worked to set up and implement a process to get better adherence of sales to the sales plan, improve the visibility of pending orders to the DC, and had daily meetings with Sales/Marketing and the DC to ensure everything was in sync and getting done e.g. carrier and equipment availability. We had a spectacular year end there with impressive improvements in cost and service. We had record shipping days and delivered a record shipping month in terms of sales volume.

It felt very good to come in, take over an operation, and make some things happen in short order. It felt even better to finally run my own show. After so many years of not getting it at one company, I began to believe that perhaps I was not capable. No, no. In fact, I was more than ready and capable to take on this kind of responsibility.

It was a great quarter… but this is business, and very much like Colgate, that quarter is over and done. The question is “what can you do for me now.” With a full staff and a warehouse that is a problem no longer, I have some ideas.

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