Simon Brimble is vice president of global purchasing for Delphi Powertrain and Delphi EMEA, with responsbility for global commercial aspects of all purchased goods and services. His organisation deals with all supplier quality and development activities, new purchased part readiness and purchasing support for individual business lines.

Brimble began his career as a skilled tool and die maker in 1981. He joined Delphi in 1992 as a manufacturing engineer at the former Energy & Engine Management Systems (EEMS) division in Southampton, UK. He held a number of positions in manufacturing and manufacturing engineering before joining purchasing in 1995, when he was named metallic buyer for the Southampton facility.

Brimble transferred to Powertrain in 2006 when he was named product line purchasing manager responsible for the common rail diesel pump, initially in the UK and later relocating to Barcelona, Spain. In 2010, Brimble was named director of global supply management for Delphi Diesel Systems headquarters based in Paris. He assumed his current role at the beginning of 2012.

JA: What are the key areas for the moment at Delphi Powertrain?

SB: “Delphi sees green, safe and connected as growth areas. As a company, we not only want to protect the occupants in the vehicle, we want to avoid the collision.

“We want to help the vehicle manufacturers offer more competitive cars by being ahead of the curve with connectivity and, particularly relevant for my division, we want to help them reduce emissions.

“At Delphi Powertrain, we are very focussed on using design to achieve this through affordable but effective engine management systems. Key for us at the moment is helping vehicle manufacturers meet Euro 6 and other pressing/future emissions standards for passenger cars and heavy vehicles without compromising fuel economy, reliability or cost.

JA: What is the role of your suppliers in helping you achieve that?

SB: “Suppliers are critical. It isn’t possible for any company, however big, to be a world-leading specialist in all the specialist disciplines it needs to be the best in its field. One of our key strategies is to have the right suppliers to help us develop and manufacture the right technologies.

“We like suppliers who are already talking to us about their next generation products, just as we talk to the vehicle manufacturers about our next-generation technologies.

JA: That suggests a long-term partnership with suppliers. How do you reconcile that with the current industry-wide cost pressures?

SB: “Partnership is the right word. It’s quite an entrepreneurial relationship where the supplier has to understand how to work with us to help us both be successful. The companies that are best at this become core suppliers.

“Delphi’s Powertrain business has around 600 suppliers globally of which around 110 are core suppliers. These companies bring us their latest technology and if it is right for us, we will work together to bring it to market.

“In exchange for this, we can often offer them much greater volumes than they could otherwise achieve and opportunities to integrate their technologies with our own technologies to make them more competitive.

“We place around 40% of our purchase spend with these core suppliers. It’s a model that works really well for us so the plan is to increase that to 60%-70%.”

JA: Do you have any issues with suppliers?

SB: “We have a very good agreement with all our category-approved suppliers now and we work very closely, particularly with core suppliers, to make sure the relationship works. Our suppliers need to understand the scale of the opportunities they have with Delphi and that in return they need to be supportive of my business.

“That means they have to be completely committed to our customers. It is absolutely unforgivable for us to be sent a bad part. We need a mentality that is zero defect-focused. We want our suppliers to prioritise us in a crisis – we work very hard at it. Delphi’s vision is to be our customers’ best supplier.

“I want to be our suppliers’ best customer, but I expect a lot in return. That’s the only way we will be able to grow our businesses together.

JA: Does that take a lot of management time?

SB: Every month we have four billion parts received – we can’t have lots and lots and lots of suppliers. I spend US$700m just on machine components. So that’s another reason why we are very keen to work closely with a relatively small number of very good companies. I talk to nearly every one of my core suppliers on a regular basis – that relationship is key. They also work closely with our engineering and manufacturing teams.

JA: Do you think enough potential suppliers understand that relationship?

SB: Some do, but most don’t. It’s always exciting for me to talk to a potential new supplier who is clearly thinking collaboratively to develop the opportunities we have together. Being smaller doesn’t mean they can’t be world class. Being regional doesn’t mean they can’t meet the needs of our global customers.

“Finding new suppliers in the UK has proved a particular challenge. Our heavy duty business there, one of the world leaders in its field, exports close to 100% of its production but only 14% of its bought-in value is locally sourced. It should be much more.

JA: What’s the problem with UK suppliers?

SB: “There just isn’t a culture of very high precision, volume manufacturing in the UK or the commitment to make the big investments in new, high-capital processes with long pay-back times. This isn’t a universal criticism – we have many outstanding, world-class suppliers in the UK – but we would like to meet more with similar commitment and vision.

JA: How will the challenges of a declining European market affect that your crucial relationships with suppliers?

SB: “Core suppliers will become even more important while we will continue to reduce the number of other suppliers. Close relationships are key to getting the right technology for both product and manufacturing. I want access to their best technologies and their best people, ahead of our competitors, and I want them to prioritise Delphi in a crisis.

“Some of our suppliers have ten year contracts. When market conditions become challenging, we will work together with our core suppliers and other stakeholders to find solutions.

“The long-term relationships we have with our best suppliers have to survive and remain positive on both sides. We’ve proved collaboration is a highly effective strategy in good times and bad, so we intend to develop it further.

JA: Is there a key area of growth for Delphi Powertrain?

SB: “Heavy duty has grown ten-fold in the past ten years. We are also strong in light duty diesel engine management systems and are growing in direct injection gasoline systems.

“We have particularly good opportunities in developing markets, for which we are developing bespoke technologies to meet their requirements.

“From our suppliers’ perspective, as I said earlier, we intend to grow the value of business we place with our core suppliers. That’s a great opportunity for companies with the right approach.”