Meeting supply chain challenges

Calibrating a collaborative approach to supply chain management.

Photo of warehouse worker wearing an N95 mask

Isabel Murguia works within Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning division. She’s been with the company for 12 years, and has been the VP of supply chain operations since 2019. Throughout, she’s specialized in supply chain management, keeping product lines functioning and contributing to Hexagon’s ability to craft winning inventory and manufacturing solutions. She’s drawn on the international business training she received at university in Guadalajara, Mexico, and has risen from supply chain coordinator to order and supply chain management to her current position. She also brings her supply chain expertise to two of Hexagon | NovAtel’s manufacturing facilities in the U.S.

During her tenure, Murguia has herself honed a leadership ethos for a team that now includes eight direct reports and a total of 85 colleagues. “Leadership,” she believes, “begins with self-leadership…setting examples and removing the obstacles.” With her teams, she promulgates being supportive, knowing when to get out of the way and applying what might be her secret sauce: “candor with empathy.” Working with customers, she embraces collaboration, extending it to understanding their own supply chains so Hexagon can offer better service at the moment they need it.

All this reinforces a brand commitment to streamlining bureaucracy and removing waste from processes.

Velocity: What led you to supply chain management?

My background is in international business so that kind of relates. I’ve always been interested in dealing with suppliers or even with customers. Through my career, I seem to navigate on both spectrums, and I think we’re all part of a big supply chain right now.

I started in Guadalajara, in Mexico. That’s a big manufacturing hub for electronics. That’s what I had available, what I knew, and I really liked it in the sense of getting to see more than one manufacturer. When you are in supply chain, you need to understand your suppliers and what they do and how they do it. You learn other areas and other countries. Now, with COVID, we can see how connected we are.

Velocity: A brand promise at Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning division is assuring position that is “precise, accurate, reliable, available and authentic.” What’s the supply chain’s role in that?

A big one. A big part of what we offer to our customers is the reliability and the trust that they will get the parts when they want them. Our customers are used to us delivering when we say we are going to. Many years ago, we used to have nearly three weeks lead time, and now we deliver within two days. And that’s because of supply chain, because—and I’m including the production side—there has to be a constant flow of material to be able to support that. We have done that now for many years, so customers are used to that. Superb service, on-time delivery, high-quality products—they don’t have to worry about that.

Supply chain execution

Velocity: The company focuses on GNSS and INS, global correction services, anti-jamming and advanced algorithms. How does your supply chain work support or enhance that technologies approach?

We work hand in hand with the designers. We work to align the technologies and sometimes it is, “Go find me a new supplier that can support this design.” We’re going to be delivering this to the customer, so that means we also have to have a supplier that is reliable.

A structured, proactive and flexible supply chain is essential. We use our supply chain robustness and business continuity as a competitive advantage. Our service to the defense industry is an excellent example, as we deliver our AJ GAJT [GPS anti-jamming] products with shorter lead times and in higher volumes than what our customers typically experience somewhere else. In this industry and in others, we have won business because we could ramp up more quickly than what was offered within the market.

Velocity: Can you say more about your supply chain philosophy?

A large part of why we can sustain this level of service within the supply chain is a combination of our risk management and lean manufacturing approach along with our strong partnerships. First, we have a structured, proactive supply chain management process. We’re constantly improving and enhancing our business continuity activities. Second is our best-in-class lean manufacturing culture. It gives us the flexibility and continuous improvement needed to cope with the challenges to meet ever-changing demand. It also ensures we are constantly learning and incorporating better measures or actions that provide the high level of responsiveness and support our customers expect and know they can get from us. And third, there’s the long-term partnerships with our customers and suppliers; more now than ever, the supply chain is all about building resiliency. This is only created through the transparency and effective supply chain solutions we constantly develop with our suppliers and offer to our customers.

Velocity: How have your views about a “lean” supply chain evolved over time?

In previous years, when you talked about “lean,” everybody thought “just in time.” But you have to have certain plant inventory; you cannot plan as if nothing is going to happen. We haven’t always gotten into the “very lean” concept. That’s not our industry; that’s not how we support the customer. 

“Lean” is also about culture and improvement and removing waste and bureaucracy. Our focus was more on the empowerment of people for continuous improvement. For me, empowerment means to see things through the eyes of the customer to make sure you are adding value and being responsible. That creates balance. Looking after your customer, you are not going to try to be very lean and put risk in your deliveries. Especially this year, when things are getting tough in the supply chain and with limited information, you always try to get insights and put them into action.

Velocity: How have you fared during the recent global supply chain disruptions?

Last year, there were at least three fires at different manufacturing plants in Asia. We thought, “This is a first, not only one plant, but three different plant fires.” All of them electronics, but different kinds. This year, it’s semiconductors, capacity issues. Electronics hasn’t gone away. 

We felt some of that, but our processes were able to absorb that shock, and the partnerships we have with our suppliers have helped us.

Velocity: As you move forward across industries and beyond COVID, how will you and your colleagues refine your work?

Well, we’re doing it [laughs]. We keep improving on our processes. We’re going beyond our regular suppliers, going a little bit more in-depth on understanding their critical sub-suppliers. That I think is the biggest learning, and one of the biggest benefits is you get a little bit more access. It’s expanding how much more we go into the supply chain and ensure transparency and communication.

We like to create partnerships with our suppliers, because you have to be able to develop those close partnerships to get you through these difficult times. Otherwise, the relationship is put to the test. We’re very selective on who we choose to be a partner. It has to be a good fit.

One thing we offer to our customers is to do their supply chain for them. We were doing that already for some of
them. We basically place the orders for them, and understand the whole system. I think now more customers will see the advantage of that. I think that will expand the scope of the supply chain.

People power

Velocity: In an in-house article you commented, “I’m proud of the people I get to work with and the environment that allows everybody to collaborate and bring their best.” As a manager, how do you encourage that?

By example and removing obstacles. I think everybody understands that. I’m in meetings not only with my direct reports, but with the people in the plant. They have “kudos” for continuous improvement. And when they have an idea and sometimes it doesn’t work, I try to make the connections for them to work with somebody else in engineering, or they can go without me. That’s part of the culture I have seen since I started in the company.

Velocity: You’ve said “leadership begins with self-leadership. It’s hard to insist on traits we don’t embody.”

When you want people to be open and collaborate, you need to showcase that. Right now, it’s a bit difficult
with virtual. But when we talk with other departments, you show you care about a problem and they can see you—“Okay, we need to discuss.” That brings the communication up front. When things get tough, I think you need to go back to the basics. What is in the process? It’s not pointing fingers. It’s making sure what is working and what is not, and them seeing you and talking and listening and all that. For me, that’s when you can inspire.

Velocity: Are there any qualities in yourself that help foster that?

I’m very open. I’m very direct. What I say is “candor with empathy.” You need to say it like it is, but you have to have empathy and compassion and understanding when you say it. You don’t fix people; you fix processes. It helps that people know they can approach me, and that I try to encourage them to know each other.

Velocity: You’ve also said, “My proudest moments are anytime we work together to bring a new product/service into the hands of our customers exactly when they need it.”

Oh, yes! Especially when the customer lets us in beyond just, “Hey, this is my purchase order.” I like when they let me, and let my team, understand how they work, how their manufacturing works, when they need it, and we are able to give them more than just, “Here’s a problem.” We learn more about them and it gives us more latitude to work with them.

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