6 Supply Chain Lessons from Henry Ford

November 23, 2016

Written by Alexa Cheater. This guest post first appeared on Kinaxis’ industry blog, The 21st Century Supply Chain.


Henry Ford has become synonymous with revolutionary advances in manufacturing. His utilization of the assembly line for his Model T changed not only the way businesses operated, but consumer demand as well. As an early technology adopter and strong proponent of innovation, Ford was more than a manufacturing master. He was a supply chain pioneer. His company delivered on affordability and availability, designing with the customer need in mind. It’s something every business today tries to emulate.

David Thomas, Director, Global Capacity Planning, Ford Motor Company recently resurrected some of the company founder’s most inspiring quotes during his presentation at Kinexions, the Kinaxis annual user and training conference. While he used them to illustrate Ford’s regional and global changes in recent years, I thought I’d put an even bigger supply chain spin on them. Here are the top six things Henry Ford can teach you about your supply chain.

1. “Businesses that grow by development and improvement do not die.”

Stagnant companies (and their associated supply chains) will forever stay stuck in the past. As seen time and time again in the consumer electronics space, companies that innovate and push new ideas and concepts forward are often more successful than their counterparts focused solely on efficiency and maintaining the status quo. Developing a bimodal supply chain, one that allows for efficiency and innovation simultaneously, is the way forward.

2. “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

Your supply chain is made up of more than just the sum of its parts. The people behind it, including fellow employees, suppliers, contractors, partners and customers, are all part of your success. But it takes everyone being on the same page, working toward the same corporate goals, to get there. Silos, conflicting metrics, lack of visibility and poor communication are all hurdles today’s supply chains have to leap over. Improving collaboration, having a central corporate vision and implementing change management strategies are key.

3. “The short successes that can be gained in a brief time and without difficulty, are not worth much.”

There’s something to be said for the quick, easy win. It can motivate, inspire and drive additional change. But those small wins in and of themselves usually don’t amount to much when it comes to your supply chain. Make sure you also take the time to work toward the bigger picture – how to revolutionize your supply chain, not just implement the next evolution of it. To add in another of Ford’s famous wise words, “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.”

4. “Be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory, if the success of the job requires it.”

Failure at some point is inevitable. The trick in supply chain is to catch it fast. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas, innovate and explore alternative ways of doing things. But at the same time, make sure you fail fast. As painful as it can be to admit your great new plan just isn’t working, cutting your losses early can prevent bigger issues down the road.

5. “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

Profitably managing complex, global supply chains is a tall order, and as most who have worked in the industry for any length of time have learned, unexpected obstacles, challenges and setbacks seem to be around every corner. But born out of those times of strife are some of the most innovate ideas and creative supply chain solutions.

6. “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right!”

It’s all about your mindset and that of your fellow supply chain practitioners. If you don’t believe in the change, you’ll work twice as hard to see it fail. Ensure all stakeholders are on board, eager and invested in your supply chain revolution and you’ll find success a lot easier.

What other supply chain lessons have you learned from Henry Ford? Let us know in the comments area below. logo_icon


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