Scott Kunselman, an engineer for 27 years at Chrysler, is comfortable buying automotive parts.
But toilet paper, energy, advertising and robots?
"That's a little bit new to me," Kunselman told the Free Press in his first in-depth interview since taking the job in April.
Kunselman, 49, was raised by a shop teacher dad in Kittanning, Pa., about 40 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
"I spent a lot of time with my father... in the garage with vehicles," Kunselman said. "He taught me how to weld when I was 11 years old."
Kunselman received an engineering degree because he wanted to develop cars. After Chrysler's 2009 restructuring, he became senior vice president of engineering.
Now, Kunselman is in charge of Chrysler's $41-billion annual purchasing budget that includes everything from navigation screens to suspension parts to the landscape service mowing grass around factories.
"For me, the excitement now is about how I motivate this large group of people to a higher level of success -- whether it is our employees or our suppliers," he said.
Kunselman regrets the circumstances that led to his current job. His predecessor was longtime colleague and friend Dan Knott, who died of cancer in April.
"I view the loss of Dan as a very personal thing," Kunselman said. "We were both engineers. We loved the business, loved cars ... He was the perfect friend to have and a perfect business partner."
"Credibility ... is back"
In the 2000s, Chrysler was known for demanding annual price reductions and overestimating production volumes.
Knott helped the automaker regain trust from most of its suppliers following its 2009 restructuring.
Chrysler achieved its best ever score in this year's supplier survey by Planning Perspectives released in May, but it trailed Toyota and Honda.
"I think the credibility with Chrysler is back," said Jeff Klei, president of Continental North America. "There was a time where you weren't sure if they would hit the volumes that they set, and that is no longer the case."
One of Kunselman's immediate challenges is to help suppliers as Chrysler ramps up production.
Chrysler's year-to-date U.S. sales have increased 32% -- more than twice the industry's pace. As it produces more vehicles, some smaller suppliers may not have enough capacity to keep up. "As we ramp back up, we are quickly finding these pinch points and addressing them," Kunselman said.
Chrysler has a process to keep track of the suppliers that need help. On occasion, Chrysler helps suppliers secure loans, if banks resist making loans.
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