I know I'll probably get lots of nasty phone calls from purchasing agents, but I'm going to say it anyway: Purchasing agents will be obsolete in another 10 years - at least the job of the purchasing agent as we've known it for the past half century. Purchasing agents send out requests for quote, then choose a supplier based on the lowest bid. This is the way they buy office supplies, wire and cable, and tooling and molding.
A purchasing agent's job is to keep molders honest by going out for bid to five of your competitors on a job you're running.
Oh sure, some of it is beginning to change, but obviously that change isn't coming soon enough or fast enough to satisfy the plastic processing industry. From what many people in the trenches tell me, original equipment manufacturers talk a good game when it comes to change, but few are willing to alter the way they do business.
It's really all about power. Many purchasing departments, especially within the hallowed walls of some large OEMs, continue to be little kingdoms. The firm doles out limited amounts of power to the purchasing agents, who forever after refuse to it let go.
That makes partnerships difficult to achieve. One custom molder told me recently that he has customers come to his plant saying they want to form a partnership with him. ``They sit down for an afternoon and talk, then they leave, and it's business as usual: They push and you back off; they squeeze and you kneel. People just really don't want to give up the authority they have.''
Another molder told me, ``Customers will come in and say they're not here to discuss price, they're here to discuss business philosophy,'' he said. ``So we talk about partnering, then they give you seven sample parts and tell you to mail in the quote.''
Business partners in the 21st century will be those who've gotten beyond buying price. Which means that the purchasing agent will be obsolete.
One OEM purchasing agent had a more positive outlook on the future of his job. ``We may reduce the need for purchasing agents,'' he said, ``but we'll still need someone to maintain the quality of the relationship.''
He said the job will shift to one of managing relationships rather than looking at numbers.
One benefit to all this will be fewer unscrupulous purchasing agents asking for money under the table, and molders, hungry for the work, caving into them.
When OEMs begin seeing suppliers as partners in a relationship in which each succeeds because of the success of the other, then both truly will be partners.