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Posted December 16, 2014

Purchasing problems at the Pole

A holiday tale from that jolly old elf, Frank Hurtte

Frank HurtteWhen my daughter was young, I loved telling her stories. After a while, I got tired of the classic princes kisses frog and lives happily ever after kind of tale. If I had to make them up, why not make the sales guy the hero. For the next several years, my daughter heard a collection of tales where bad guys in business suits were fed to hungry dragons and purchasing types turned into frogs. This year we are determined to spin such a tale. Trust me, there will be a happy ending.

Talk about seasonal surges, Santa’s North Pole Enterprises experiences the largest single seasonal surge in any venture, anywhere. It calls for dedication, it demands expertise and it demands for some really fancy footwork during the last days of December. As President and CEO, Kris Kringle has seen some changes. Quoting him directly: “Back in the old days, most of the goodies we delivered to the good boys and girls were made of wood. We simply chopped down a few trees, brought in the elves and got busy. Our only problem came with dull knives and handling all the wood chips.” But things have changed.

The assortment of requests from today’s children runs the gamut of modern manufacturing technology. Christmas requests include everything from cute little dolls and toy soldiers, which are mostly hand crafted, to elaborate plastic works and electronics. The parts and pieces to make all of these grand presents come from literally all over the world. Kris and his Santa Enterprise team learned the value of working with distributors back when grandma and grandpa were kids. For decades, Santa Enterprises would select the very best distributor salespeople and magically pull them to the North Pole Headquarters to work on plans for making the big day go smoothly. That is until last year.

Allow us to relate the story.

Kris and Mrs. Kringle were taking a few days off in January. To protect his privacy, we won’t disclose the exact location. Instead let’s just say, there are warm beaches and the natives often ask, “Would you like another taco, Senor Santa?” Anyway, Kris and the missus are out on the beach when a slick talking guy with a shark skin suit and a B-school background approaches. After a few minutes, Kris is hearing the power of aggressive purchasing and getting an earful of cost savings data.

Quick as a wink, and without looking into a couple of decades of old naughty and nice lists, Kris decides to bring in a new style of vendor management. Once onboard at the North Pole, the new elf in charge of purchasing launches into massive cost analysis and sets up a new plan for buying supplies. Using a moto called “Hey, we’re helping Santa,” the North Pole goes on a cost cutting spree. Reverse auctions uncover a whole new rash of untested suppliers with low price and flimsy service. Banners wave at every North Pole workshop, each one carrying a bigger savings claim. But, the workers were noticing a change.

The elves at the woodshop got wood that wouldn’t carve. The doll shop reported cute little dollies with no eyes and two left hands. They held meetings, the big shot elf in purchasing spouted larger savings and the new suppliers promised they would get better. For a while even Kris was nodding along with all the propaganda.

Then the cold winds of winter started whipping through the North Pole. The countdown to Christmas Eve had hit 20 days. Santa Enterprises was in a pinch. The shipments from the new batch of suppliers were running a “little late.” Looking over the situation, Kris realized a little late would have him delivering toys sometime in mid-January. Christmas Eve really could turn into a “Silent Night.” The Santa reputation for delivering the goodies to nice girls and boys would be gone, gone, gone; price savings or not.

Kris was hot. And, when a jolly guy like him is upset, people pay close attention.

Kris Kringle’s Executive Meeting

Kris called a meeting with his top elves. These were the folks, assuming elves count as folks, who have had centuries of experience filling Santa Enterprises’ magic bags to the brim for all the nice girls and boys. And, as Kris thought back, this team had never missed a single Christmas. Through massive snow storms, candy cane shortages and even the great reindeer food shortage of 1954, they always came through; never, ever missing a single good little boy or girl.

Even though he was madder than a wet reindeer, Kris sent a politely worded invitation to the new elfin expert down in procurement, a certain Elf Pricedrop.

Please be aware Santa Enterprises hadn’t held a meeting in December for eons. Kris believed in Santa. Under his magically jolly leadership style, the top elf in every workshop was empowered to make their own decisions. These elves believed in Santa too. This is the busiest of seasons, so no one was taking this gathering of top elves lightly.

The meeting was scheduled for 8:15 North Pole Time. And as the various elf types started entering the big conference room, the mood was different from normal. And, while the room was dressed in tinsel, garland and glistening lights, the atmosphere seemed a lot less than cheery and bright. Even Elf Buddy, the jokester of the group, wore a solemn look. The ever present plate of warm cookies, milk and hot cocoa sat on a side table, but not even Elf Mary, who leads up Mrs. Kringle’s kitchen, nibbled on one.

At promptly 8:14, Kris Kringle and his faithful companion Rudolf entered the room. Even Kris’ entrance seemed off the norm. Generally, Kris arrived at the meetings early. The Kringle approach called for elfin small talk, sharing a hot cup of cocoa and the bright light of Christmas time anticipation. One elf was fond of saying, Kris’ magical presence filled the room like a barrel full of Ho, Ho, Hos. But not this time.

As the big old-time grandfather clock struck 8:15, Kris stood up and began to address the group. He said, “After nearly two thousand years of operation, we face the biggest crisis ever faced by Santa Enterprises. We are critically short on parts, a couple of our toy making machines are completely broken, and we are less than two weeks from Christmas Eve. We stand to single-handedly ruin Christmas for tens of thousands of good girls and boys.”

Instead of punctuating each sentence with a “Ho, Ho, Ho,” all the elves could detect a strange crack and a touch of a tear forming just above Kris’s big bushy white beard. But, Kris continued onward, “Our list of the Nice Boys and Girls is massive. These kids have been on their very best behavior and all of them expect Santa to deliver their packages on time. You are my most trusted elves. Together we have solved some mighty big problems. We can’t let this Christmas season go down as the year Santa didn’t show up. I am opening the floor for suggestions. What can we do?”

Almost immediately, the new elf from procurement, Elf Pricedrop, jumped from his chair, stood up, primped his fancy tie and adjusted his finely tailored jacket. “We’ve made a lot of major improvements in the way we do things. We are doing business with some of the top suppliers on the planet. My team's work has streamlined the way we handle our orders. We’ve saved Santa a bundle. Why aren’t the rest of you holding up your end of the bargain?” he complained.

Based on the look of the rest of the top elves, Elf Pricedrop’s words were going over like a North Pole snowball to the face. Kris Kringle asked for more feedback.

Elf Evergreen, whose record at the Major Toy Shop was legendary, said, “Our toy train machine has been broken or running at half speed since the end of October. We’ve called our new supplier a dozen times and the best they can do is email us an updated user’s manual. The shipment of wheels for the toy cars was supposed to be here two weeks ago. The vendor says they are working on getting us some, but not until two days after Christmas. And the new Internet-based guy you procurement types have sending us red paint for the fire trucks isn’t answering emails or the phone.”

Elf Mary Sugardrop from Mrs. Kringle’s kitchen joined the discussion. “The candy making has ground to a halt because the sugar plums that give everything a unique Christmas-time flavor has a strong hint of spinach. We wouldn’t even send this stuff out to the naughty list.”

Elf Pricedrop stiffened in his chair as one by one the elves doing the real work listed issues with his new crop of low-cost and efficient suppliers. Finally, he said, “Every new system has a few bugs to work out. We have saved so much money on this we can afford experts to fix things and life will be good…” But before he could finish, Kris waived his magical hand. Silence. Then the big guy spoke:

“We don’t have time to fix things. We can’t postpone Christmas. When Christmas Eve rolls around, it will be now or never. And, we’re not going to disappoint anyone. Not while I still have a single ounce of life left in this formerly jolly body. Failure is not an option. Anybody else got an idea?”

The only elf yet to talk was Elf Alabaster Snowball. Unlike the other elves present, his work didn’t revolve around making toys. His department maintained the famous Naughty and Nice list. He was both the most stern and jolliest of all the elves. Good girls and boys brought out the jolly side. And, well let’s just say, the naughty list put him in a pretty nasty state of mind. When he spoke, the other elves listened. Here’s what he said:

“I’ve been reading a lot about knowledge-based distributors. I kind of stumbled onto them because I like to keep an eye on that Frank Hurtte guy. You know, according to our records, he has been on the good side of the naughty and nice list for over 50 years. And, if you skip over that little pouting spree back in 1962, he would have an almost perfect record. According to him, solution-based distributors have some magic of their own.”

Elf Pricedrop protested, “I believe in the old motto, eliminate the middleman and save. We’ve worked hard…” Once more Kris Kringle stopped him dead in his tracks. “I believe in Santa. You can stuff those old B-school sayings in a sock full of lumpy coal. We’ve got to save Christmas; how do we get these guys to help? Get Frank Hurtte on the line…”

A note from the author: I told you I always turned out to be the hero of the story. I can imagine some of you were shocked to learn that I have been on the nice list for a half century. What can I say, Santa and I go way back. Join us next week when we introduce the real heroes of the story – Distributors just like you! Maybe Santa Enterprises will bring you something nice, regardless of your behavior.

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