SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Children don't care about supply chain challenges when they want a new toy, which is fine with Peter Gibbons. As executive vice president and chief global supply chain officer at Mattel, he works to stay hidden — so all retail customers see is the right product at the right price on store shelves. "It's not an easy profession, but it's exciting because you're the machine behind the scenes," he says in episode 3 of Beyond Business, a podcast series hosted by professor Gary Cohen at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. Gibbons shares five keys that have guided his career.
1. Raise your hand. Emerging market labor costs, automation, regulation, e-commerce trends, seasonal shopping patterns and environmental impact all add complexity. But Gibbons has climbed the corporate ranks by doing hard things. "People notice when you throw yourself whole-heartedly into things," he says. "You don't just manage the issue. You try to wrestle it to the ground and dominate it and relish the challenge."
2. Keep your promises. Many people offer excuses when things go wrong, but Gibbons prefers solutions. "It's easy in our business sometimes to be able to explain why something is not in stock," he says. "Our job is to always find ways of keeping it in stock — keeping things available at the right cost, the right service, the right quality."
3. Solve the right problems. Staying busy is easy. Gibbons says the trick is working on the right problems at the right time. "It comes down to having the right metrics, the right relationships and the right strategies," he says.
4. Harness the human potential. Gibbons sets ambitious targets for his teams. Then he provides necessary resources and turns them loose to innovate. "I'm a big believer that people are the answer," he says. "They're not the problem." In a previous job at ICI Paints North America, he kept supply chain costs flat for eight years during a period of rapid growth by listening to customers and front-line workers. "We just kept asking people: 'What's next? What else would you do? What else is there?'" he says. "You inspire people's imagination."
5. Celebrate victory. When all the moving parts come together, Gibbons smiles like the children with their new Barbie dolls or Hot Wheels cars. "It's the coolest thing when you walk down the aisle or you go to whichever customer base you supply, and you're product is available," he says.
Listen to his full conversation with Cohen below (33:28), and check out other Beyond Business episodes.