'Working at DeLorean was the most exciting time in my career'

Rebecca Ellinor Tyler is former editor of Supply Management
8 April 2015

That’s the view of Barrie Wills, who went from CPO to acting CEO of the automotive company, interviewed in the April edition of SM.

How many people can say that from the age of 36 they went from being purchasing director of a new automotive company to acting CEO (admittedly of a business in receivership) in fewer than five years?

“Great for the CV,” jokes Barrie Wills, who is now retired. Wills was hired by John Zachary DeLorean in 1978 to help turn his dream of creating a new sports car into reality. And despite the less-than-purely-positive lasting legacy of the man and his machine, Wills describes it as: “The most exciting four and a half years of my 50-year automotive career.”

Following the deaths of two key people in the firm’s history – founder John DeLorean and then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – Wills has written about his time at the company that created the car that was later to be immortalised as a time machine in the movie Back to the Future. Ahead of the publication of his book, John Z, the DeLorean and Me, I spoke to Wills about his time there (see interview, p28).

It included some great examples of a young and ambitious purchasing team producing some excellent work. Among illustrations of this was a simultaneous engineering approach (not attempted before in the UK or US automotive industries), which required purchasers and engineers to be “knitted together at the waist” to meet the project’s demanding deadlines. It saw a significant price drop negotiated with a supplier even after the contract had been signed; competing vendors collaborating to achieve capacity requirements; and the use of technology to cut around 70 per cent lead time off the industry norm for body panels. All achievements a procurement and supply team today could be rightly proud of.

Wills believes that, with a few design updates, they helped build a car that could still be on the market today. And I got to ride in one of the 6,500 still on the road today thanks to the generosity of Chris Hawes who lent us his car for the photo shoot. Oh yes, and there was even a flux capacitor “fluxing” over my shoulder as we drove through The Midlands...

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