Global materials management is becoming increasingly important as companies look to leverage more full package production says J. Blade Corwin of executive search firm Seitchik Corwin and Seitchik.

Globalisation and the continuing evolution of sourcing have had a major impact on executive-level hiring trends. For example, we have seen the director of information technology evolve from the data processing manager, and the director of logistics emerge from a melding of information services and distribution positions. And most notably, in recent years we have seen the mild-mannered "Clark Kent" purchasing manager enter the proverbial telephone booth and exit as "Superman" - the director of global materials management!

Obviously, not every company is large enough to warrant someone devoted exclusively to materials management and, frequently, the production manager will also source materials. However, when millions of dollars worth of supplies are going into a company's products, having someone manage this area can be very cost effective.

What exactly is materials management and how does it differ from purchasing? First of all, many large apparel wholesalers and retailers buy finished packages. The raw materials are actually purchased by the sewing contractors. However, the wholesaler/retailer will specify the mills and other suppliers, determine the specifications and quantities of the goods and negotiate the prices. That, in a nutshell, is the function of the materials manager.

At the highest level, materials management is a strategic function. A director in this area needs to have a global perspective and the ability to look ahead to meet his/her company's materials requirements while maximising its negotiating position. This person should understand design and product development processes as well as the production function. Ideally, he/she should also have experience with textile manufacturing to understand the industry's cost structure.

"At the highest level, materials management is a strategic function"

On a more basic level, a materials manager needs to know where to buy particular materials at a specific price. If a designer brings in an expensive garment and says: "We like this fabric, but we need it at $2 per yard less to meet our price points," the materials manager needs to know where to find vendors that can produce similar goods. Conversely, this person should also be scouring the market to bring new developments back to the design team.

Global materials management roles
Based on the research of Seitchik Corwin and Seitchik, the following outlines 10 typical director of global materials management positions, including compensation and background. Note, however, that specific details in these profiles were changed to protect identities, and that these are not actual candidates recruited by Seitchik Corwin and Seitchik.

  • This candidate works for a large branded men's and women's wholesaler that also has a retail arm. Her title is senior director of fabric and her salary is $180,000 - with as much as a 50 per cent bonus potential. This person started in merchandising with another large apparel manufacturer and, over a lengthy career with this company, gained experience in various areas including sourcing and logistics. It was only at her current company, where she has been for four years, that she has focused on fabric sourcing. This individual has a team of designers who develop new fabrics, and it is her responsibility to locate vendors, negotiate prices and quantities and monitor quality. She tries to work with as few vendors as possible to increase her negotiating power.
  • This individual began his career as a trainee/assistant purchasing manager for a $40-million division of a large women's wear manufacturer. At that time, he was involved in the purchase of US-produced piece goods. He gained experience with imported goods while at Liz Claiborne in the mid-1990s. At that time, he also began working with mills to develop fabrics. His current position is director of fabric merchandising for a billion-dollar vertical retailer. He travels approximately 50 per cent of his time to gather trend information, research new resources and to manage existing programs. One important contribution he has made is the implementation of a commercialisation process to rapidly get new materials into the company's matrix. His compensation includes a $190,000 salary, up to 35 per cent bonus potential and stock options.

"There is a growing need in today's industry for materials managers, and there are key attributes that should be analysed when researching potential job candidates"

  • With a master's degree in textile technology, she is more technically oriented than the previous two examples. She also spent the first 15 years of her career working for US textile mills, including a stint at Milliken & Co. Today, this individual is with a large branded men's and women's wholesaler and her salary is $165,000 plus a 20 per cent bonus potential and stock options. Her responsibilities are technically oriented in terms of materials testing and managing quality. She seeks out and evaluates materials vendors, but doesn't negotiate prices. With the goal of moving more production back to the western hemisphere, she is also working with major US fabric mills to develop goods that now can be sourced only in Asia.
  • This executive began working with a US textile converter and then spent 20 years importing goods for another US mill. She travelled to Japan, Korea, Indonesia, China and to other parts of Asia as well as to eastern Europe. This company supplied goods to large and small apparel manufacturers. Today, she is textile sourcing and development manager for several divisions of a large apparel conglomerate. She works with Asian and European mills and is responsible for quality. She has developed ordering and inventory systems that have significantly reduced the time it takes to get materials from the mill to the factory. Her divisions generate approximately $250 million in annual sales, and her salary is $150,000 plus a 35 per cent bonus potential and stock options.
  • This candidate actually got his start as a fabric stylist. He spent 20 years in textile development before joining The Limited Corp in the area of woven fabric sourcing. Because it was his first exposure to offshore production, his first year consisted of constant travel to Asia, the Middle East and western and eastern Europe. His vast technical experience allowed him to quickly establish a vendor matrix. Today, he is director of fabric sourcing and coordination for another vertical retailer. He is currently sourcing goods primarily in Asia. He is particularly involved with the design team, utilising his technical expertise to help them select fabrics. His salary is $175,000 plus discretionary bonus potential.
  • This candidate has a degree in textiles from the Fashion Institute of Technology and currently works in materials research and development for specific product categories for a large vertical retailer. He researches fabric in the United States and overseas including in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Italy and Turkey. However, he doesn't negotiate prices. This person doesn't have the same breadth of experience as the previously described people and his compensation is commensurate: $115,000 plus a 10 per cent bonus opportunity. His first job was with a textile mill, but in sales. From there, he spent 10 years with apparel manufacturing companies in various product manager roles. In these positions, he was exposed to technical design, fabric and production sourcing, and co-ordination of the product development process.
  • This person has a degree in textiles and garment manufacturing from a Taiwanese university. She apprenticed in a Taiwanese textile mill in the late 1970s, and then worked in another Asian mill. In the mid-1980s, she came to the United States as a sales representative for this mill. As her business grew, she saw the opportunity to source goods her customers wanted from mills other than her own. She was eventually purchasing a variety of raw materials from vendors in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Indonesia, China and Turkey. In the mid-1990s, one of her apparel manufacturing customers, a $150-million better women's wear manufacturer, hired her to be the director of fabric development and purchasing. She has set up materials standards and has hands-on involvement in sourcing goods in Europe and Asia while working closely with the design and production teams. Her salary is $140,000 with no bonus plan.
  • This individual is the director of fabric research and development for a prominent mail order retailer. She manages the development of new fabrications through internal production and in conjunction with mills. She sources and certifies materials vendors worldwide including facilities rating, quality auditing and testing. She sources goods in Asia, Turkey, Italy and in other parts of Europe. She has an associate's degree in textile technology and got her start in quality assurance working with a US apparel manufacturer. After 10 years in quality assurance, she became the director of technical services for a US fabric mill before joining a vertical retail operation where she gained exposure to offshore materials sourcing and production. Her salary is $105,000 with no bonus.
  • This person is the materials sourcing manager for a division of a large private label manufacturer. She got her start sourcing production for a medium-sized women's wear importer. Her experience isn't as broad as many of the others, nor is the dollar volume of her responsibility. Her role is less strategic and more hands-on. Regardless, she researches and develops fabrications to continually offer retailers something new. She has relationships with mills in the United States and offshore including China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Italy and Switzerland. She has developed purchasing policies and procedures to ensure consistency and to minimise production delays. Her current salary is $95,000 with a $15,000 bonus potential.
  • This individual, who works for a major athletic apparel manufacturer, is more hands-on involved in materials development and sourcing than in structuring a strategic plan. His current salary is $75,000 with a 15 per cent bonus potential. He is responsible for locating vendors, specifically in Thailand, Singapore and India, while counterparts handle other parts of the world. Analysing new resources and helping mills correct problems, such as pilling, shrinkage, colour fastness, etc, are major parts of his job. His first 10 years in the industry were spent with Lands' End, starting as a quality analyst and ending as materials resource coordinator. In the latter capacity, he travelled to India, eastern and western Europe, Portugal, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of Asia. He negotiated prices and was responsible for quality. This person has a strong technical background, including a master's degree in textile technology.

Career route
This article began by stating that the director of materials management evolved from the purchasing manager, but only one of these people started out in purchasing, per se. Three of these candidates started out in garment sourcing, which leaves six who started out in textiles.

There aren't a lot of people with this skill set. However, there is a growing need in today's industry for such individuals, and there are key attributes that should be analysed when researching potential job candidates. First, he or she needs a technical understanding of textile development and manufacturing. Second, the individual should have a global perspective on materials sourcing and, third, he or she needs a general business background and a thorough understanding of apparel from design through delivery of finished product. All these traits are necessary to develop a global materials management strategy, and if you have these attributes, you will be in demand.

J. Blade Corwin is a partner and co-founder of Seitchik Corwin and Seitchik, a retained executive search firm that specialises in apparel, textiles, home fashions and footwear, both wholesale and retail, with offices in San Francisco, CA, and New York, NY.