Supply Chain Now Episode 505

“Ultimately our goal is to make sure that our goods can move around as efficiently and transparently as possible, but also at the lowest cost and the least risk exposure.”

– Steve Britt, Senior Manager for Customs at Fiat Chrysler automobiles


In a digitally connected world, international trade seems no more complicated or intimidating than any other part of business. At the same time, formal education in the area is lacking, which opens the door for career professionals like Steve Britt, FCA Customs Leader, to share his expertise in practice and in a formal educational setting.

In this conversation, Steve tells Supply Chain Now Host Scott Luton:

· The challenges, opportunities, nuances, and details that have to be worked through to operationalize legislation like the USMCA trade agreement

· Working as part of a team to handle imports and exports, and learning to ‘respect the border’

· The current gap in business and even supply chain higher education around customs

Intro/Outro (00:05):

It’s time for supply chain. Now broadcasting live from the supply chain capital of the country. Atlanta, Georgia heard around the world supply chain. Now spotlights the best in all things, supply chain, the people, the technologies, the best practices and the critical issues of the day. And now here are your hosts.

Scott Luton (00:28):

Hey, good afternoon, Scott Luton supply chain. Now welcome to today’s show today’s show. It continues our collaboration in partnership with AIG the automotive industry action group, especially with programming related to the 2020 AIAG supply chain summit. So stay tuned as we work really hard to increase your supply chain Accu. And this shows the show right here is going to continue those efforts. So quick programming for bringing our special guests here today. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from. All right. So with no further ado, let’s bring in our featured guests. We’re going to be talking with Stephen Brit, senior manager for customs at Fiat Chrysler automobiles, Steve. Good afternoon. Hey, doing great, Scott. Thank you. Well, welcome. I’m looking forward to learning a lot more about what you do and, and, uh, kind of from the FCA perspective, but let’s start a little bit with tell us where you’re from and maybe touch on your, your, uh, fandom for all things Detroit.

Steve Britt (01:30):

And let’s talk about a Eureka moment from your upbringing. So first off, where are you from Steve? Yeah, sure. Thank you. So I’m from a small town called Lapeer, Michigan little over an hour, hour and a half North of Detroit. So grew up there, um, local to this area, went to school, you know, Oakland university here and now work in Auburn Hills. So a lot of my life’s been in this radius of say 60 miles or so love it growing up, you know, a lot of different things, a lot of sports, a lot of activities, a lot of academics and, and to the point of Eureka moments kind of hard to narrow it down. But, but I think in a really early age, I kind of figured out that no one’s going to give me anything I don’t ask for. And when I come forward with, with a solution or a proposal, whether it’s getting my parents to raise my allowance or, or getting the place changed around in, in football or getting my job changed even today, right. I find when, when I really put some thought into it and come with solutions, then we can have a conversation instead of questions instead of complaining. So that’s really my, my moment I learned. And, and then I still use all the time, love that, you know, as my partner in crime likes to say, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you ask for. And those can be words to live by, for sure. Well, before we dive into what you do in industry and whatnot, let’s, let’s, I want to go back minute. You’re

Scott Luton (03:00):

Talking about lots of sports. Did you play a lot of sports?

Steve Britt (03:04):

Yeah, I mean, as a kid, I played all the, all the sports I could. Right. So, and then like in high school and stuff, I played football and basketball and track and uh, so, you know, trying to stay busy once upon a time.

Scott Luton (03:18):

Okay. Well, quite an athlete. And then academically, you’re talking about, um, you mentioned that a couple of times, what was your favorite subject in school?

Steve Britt (03:26):

I think it was probably social studies, right? Learning about people and cultures and, and, you know, social studies slash history, both the current and past perspectives of all the different areas around the world.

Scott Luton (03:40):

Love that. I, George social studies too. And one final note, uh, Oakland university, your, your Alma mater. I believe we’ve seen them in the, in the incident, belays basketball tourney a couple of times,

Steve Britt (03:51):

Years, right? Yeah, that’s correct. They’ve been there a few times. So they’re scrappy team

Scott Luton (03:57):

Love it. We all need a lot of scrappiness here these days. Um, alright, so let’s get to work. Let’s talk about what FCA Fiat Chrysler automobiles, you know, what the company does, everybody’s heard of those major brands. Right. But talk a little about the company and let’s talk more about your role.

Steve Britt (04:13):

Yeah. I mean, we’re, we’re an automotive OEM, right? So what we do is we build cars and trucks and, uh, reach out to customers to try and try and have real engagement in, in connection, you know, through our brands, Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep of course, Ram truck, uh, and mole power. So huge support, huge following. And then of course our other brands to fee on alpha Romeo, et cetera. Um, so really cool place. We we’re, we’re a big organization, but, but kinda like Oakland, right? Where a scrappy group who, you know, that, that really goes to work and really focused on craftsmanship and quality and, and building vehicles.

Scott Luton (04:56):

So obviously your base, as you’ve talked about in the Detroit area, what, what part of the operations of the enterprise space they’re in that area?

Steve Britt (05:03):

Yeah, so our, our North American headquarters as an Auburn Hills, just North of Detroit and we’re in a facility that can do everything from a concept drawn on a napkin all the way through producing an actual vehicle. Um, so a little bit of everything’s there and then my role as part of supply chain management, we’re based out of that facility as well.

Scott Luton (05:25):

Let’s talk more about your role. We certainly love we’re big supply chain nerds here at supply chain. Now, as you might guess, Steve, uh, let’s talk about your role. So as senior manager for customs at FCA, what, what do you do, where do you spend your time each day?

Steve Britt (05:38):

So, I mean, you talk about supply chain nerds. Now you’re really talking about customs people as we’re we’re supply chain people, but highly technical. So I mean, what I’m responsible for is the management of importing and exporting compliance operations. You know, ultimately our goal is to make sure that our goods can move around as efficiently and transparently as possible, but also at the lowest cost at the least risk, risk exposure. Right? So we’re working towards compliance. There’s a whole strategic aspect of what we do to kind of minimize our duty exposure, mitigate our risks, make sure we’re doing things right. That’s the number one thing. And then on the back end, maximize our opportunities through all the various programs that exist in trade to help us generate refunds or savings or things like that.

Scott Luton (06:28):

Well, you know, I think a big part of the discussion at the supply chain summit that AIG is hosting will be the U S MCA and perhaps how that makes the transit of goods and services, at least in North America across these three wonderful trading partners, a lot easier. Right?

Steve Britt (06:45):

Yeah. It’s, uh, it’s interesting in, in USM CA as a program supports cross border trade in North America, it’s, it’s huge. And in that consistency and stability, it brings even in replacing NAFTA where the industry operated for 25 years is, is important. Um, but it is a vastly complex program. And depending on your industry, uh, really depends on, on what the magnitude of your impact is. So we’re talking, AIAG, we’re talking automotive industry where we’re highly impacted by USM CA with the new rules, with the new qualification standard. So a lot of education, a lot of outreach, a lot of learning curve for the entire industry. So we, as an OEM are working and learning internally and adjusting. We’re also working with the supply base and pointing them to people like AIG, who can provide real resources and training to help learn about the complexities of the program.

Scott Luton (07:41):

I really wish good, good legislation could come very succinctly, but it’s all in the details, right. Massively. Um, but it’s interesting. We, you know, we’ve had, um, both Mexican and Canadian diplomats on, on previous shows with us to talk about some of those details and, and some of the impact UCMC U S MCA is going to have. And one of them made a good point and NAFTA was built well before, you know, things like digital freight existed, you know, and didn’t really govern elements like that. So real, really looking forward to seeing kind of how us MCA unfolds and how companies and, and professionals and leaders like yourself, kind of figure out all the details and, and uncover hopefully all the goodness that, uh, the trade deal brings to all three countries, because it’s, uh, it’s kind of a unique market. You know, they have three countries and the relationships they have and, and the span, the sheer expanse of, of the market here. And we’ve gotta leverage that for everybody’s benefit. Right,

Steve Britt (08:40):

Right. Exactly. A that’s the goal, right. To, to really drive even more of these things. Um, so it’s a big challenge operationally to, to work through all the nuance and details, but it is a big opportunity, not just for our organization, but the region continuing to build lean on a lot of things.

Scott Luton (08:59):

Great point. All right. So one final question about your role before we kind of go global a bit is what’s, what’s the one favorite aspect of your role that you love the most?

Steve Britt (09:09):

One’s tough. I I’m, I’ll narrow it down to two. Okay. One is, it’s a different job every day, right? We don’t know what’s gonna come out or what’s new or what we need to look at or what today’s challenges are. So that’s exciting. And, and the reason it’s exciting is really my favorite things. My team, I’m surrounded by a high density of talent. I’ve got really good folks who I can rely on that lets me sleep at night with all the craziness we’re facing in international trade. Um, but that’s my favorite thing is, is working with those folks, whether in-person or remote, like we have been a really good team, really good environment to work in it and at a good organization that supports us

Scott Luton (09:50):

Love it. And I love that how you put it too high density of talent, where you happen to be an engineer from Oakland, you know, well-spoken alright. So let’s talk about, let’s go global here. So, you know, in, in a historically challenging year, like 20, 20, there’s been no shortage of challenges and, and developments across industry to, to pay attention and study and learn from, and make decisions with. But you know, what’s one thing in particular here, at least lately that you’ve been tracking from a global supply chain standpoint.

Steve Britt (10:23):

Yeah. I think the trade agreements we talked about are a big part of it, but I think they fit and it’s not just trade agreements, right? It’s protectionism, it’s trade Wars, it’s Brexit, it’s all these things we’re seeing across the globe. But to me that all builds into supply chain resiliency, right. And the design and network, and that’s been exacerbated more than anything this year with COVID and the impact and regions to regions and the shutdown. So as we all analyze our supply chains and where our risk is and, and our weaknesses, and now customs, my group comes in to crossing freight in and out, how do we get things escorted? How do we get them imported? Um, it really all ties together, but I think that’s the area everybody’s looking at from a cost, from a risk, from a timing perspective right now,

Scott Luton (11:12):

Let me ask it. And I’ll, hopefully this isn’t a curve ball, but there are so many folks out there that even in supply chain. Now I spend a little time for a small family owned manufacturer near the beginning of my career, where we brought things in from Canada. And it always made my job a bit harder and, and, and, you know, open up my eyes because that was a blind spot for me. Um, and, and to, to a large degree, it still is. And even in this interconnected world, what’s, you know, for, for someone that may not be, uh, in tune or not having much experience in importing and exporting or the whole customs world, what’s one thing that might surprise some of our listeners.

Steve Britt (11:49):

You know, I think it’s the, the overwhelming volume. So most people are aware of customs because something got stuck in customs or they’re crossing a border and they’re nervous and they’re showing their passport and whatever. Right. But, but the vast majority of customs, the partnership between industry and us customs and border protection itself to really facilitate trade, legitimate trade, right. All the programs you can be part of to make sure that things run smoothly. And, you know, I’m lucky, like I said, my team, we do a good job of that, and it’s kind of a gift and a curse because it makes it so easy to move things internationally. That on the flip side, you, you have to educate people to really respect the border. And yeah, we can ship to Canada and we can ship to Mexico and we can do these things very effectively, but we still have to follow a process. We still have to have documents. We still have to do the right things. And we do a good job, uh, 99% of the stuff. And it’s always the, the management by exception, right? So that’s the biggest thing is, is the volume, the overwhelming majority of it. If, if you reach out in your organization and find your experts, you’ll find they know a lot, and there’s a lot of strategic things they can do to make, make all of that work a lot smoother.

Scott Luton (13:07):

Mm well put, well, share this little anecdote with you that you might get a kick out of. Uh, we’ve got a serious here at supply chain now called logistics with purpose. And it’s all about really highlighting the logistics and supply chain behind a lot of nonprofits or companies that are doing really good job giving back and giving forward as we call it. And we were featuring a coffee entrepreneur, uh, based in South Georgia here near our neck of the woods. And he was recalling some of his earliest days. And there was one at a certain point in this company’s history, there was a point where he was making his biggest coffee purchase from South America, ever coffee beans. Right. And he had a little bit of a blind spot when it comes to logistics and customs and whatnot. So he placed it. It was, it was, uh, bring being brought in through Miami.

Scott Luton (13:54):

And he had planned on just jumping in his truck and driving down to Miami and picking it up himself and free and easy, simple rocking. He learned the most expensive customs and supply chain lesson as he put it from those days. And from those those learnings. And, uh, he looks back and said, that must have been the biggest, but the most expensive coffee being purchased in his company history. But that’s in that really illustrates. And I appreciate you answering my earlier question in so many of us have a blind spot when it comes to truly international trade and all that goes in to, to him being able to handle that sheer amount of volume that you just spoke to.

Steve Britt (14:30):

Yeah. It’s uh, in company to company where it fits where an organization like mine fits is different, uh, you know, spiritually, we’re close to tech. So in some organizations you’re, you’re with tax. And, and that makes a lot of sense on the compliance side operationally though, you know, some of the tactical there’s actually shipments moving, leads us closer to supply chain. And then in some organizations, that’s part of finance, et cetera. So that’s one reason. Um, I think even the education program in the world, right? There’s not a lot of, of courses. And I can tell you, I teach a course at a university. We started a few years ago in global supply chain in the first day. I always ask my students which are graduate. And upper-level undergrads. Have you guys learned about customs in your other global supply chain classes? And it’s generally a resounding no, there’s a lot of opportunity there to, I think, to expose it. Uh, the current trade environment we’ve existed in with a lot of these things being in the news. It’s the first time in my whole career. When I tell someone, Hey, I do customs, I manage customs, whatever. Then they actually ask questions. They don’t just like slowly back away at the party and go find someone else. So it’s quite the opportunity.

Scott Luton (15:47):

Um, it seems like it, um, it reminds me of George Stan’s in Seinfeld where he always went, he always took every opportunity to call himself an importer exporter in [inaudible] industry. Yes. Yes. I’m very glad.

Steve Britt (16:00):

That’s the other thing people always say like, Oh, see, you’re an importer and then export. Yeah,

Scott Luton (16:07):

Love it. Um, all right. So before we start to wrap up with some of your thoughts on AIG, so you teach, which I love that there’s so much give back and give forward in that profession. What’s give us some good news. You know, I’ll tell you from my involvement, we’ve got, um, interns, I hate that word, but so we call them the associates and we’ve learned so much from their talent, uh, and just their point of view, but give us some good news as you interact with, with current next generation, you know, w what are some of the observations that you, you, you take

Steve Britt (16:43):

From your teaching? I think the world is a lot smaller to know future generations. And when I talk to students or our interns or our co-ops, or, you know, they, they’ve grown up in a digitally connected world and, and everyone understands that realistically, you can start an international corporation from your basement. You can be on Etsy, selling stuff all over the world, or, or a million other ways. Right? So, so this concept of international trade and customs, as I speak to them, isn’t that foreign they’re, they’re excited by it. And they have questions about it, and then the shift to digital content. And what does that mean right? With, with intellectual property and everything else that exists, right. Content creation and, and all these things that you know, you and I talked about briefly earlier, right? So, um, there’s a lot of talent, you know, there’s a lot of great ideas. Um, people really are willing to work and learn and, and have excitement. So every chance I get, I, I love to teach and, and work with the students and things, but, but selfishly, I like it because I learn a lot from them. It’s, it’s a great activity.

Scott Luton (17:55):

Love that, love that when one of our, um, employees that that’s earlier in his journey, um, when he, when he first in his first few months with us, I was overexplaining, uh, in my, in my mind, at least a bit of a complex technology platform in my mind. And I’ll never forget. He turns to me after I’ve been overexplaining for probably 10 minutes and he looks and says, Scott, I’m a digital native, I’ll figure this out really quick. So I’m good. And it was just such a great lesson learn, but I agree with you, we learned so much from, from this, uh, this next, the current generations, the next generation and whatnot. Um, all right. So let’s talk about AIG. Clearly, we’re big fans of the automotive industry action group. And we liked around here, some words that we live by is deeds, not words, right. And you got action in the name and that’s, that’s really epitomizes what AIG does, but in your view, on, in your involvement, your participation, what, what do you really value about the AIAG community?

Steve Britt (18:54):

Yeah, I think there’s two big things. One is the networking, right? There’s a lot of like-minded, but different individuals involved in, and you can learn from partners of all different sizes and shapes and, um, you know, backgrounds to come together and work through common industry issues. The, the other thing is kind of the, the, the drive towards standardization, be that in training opportunities, be it in how we create labels on parts, et cetera. So that’s a huge benefit because I know as an OEM, when I’m working with a supplier, they’re also working with two or three or five other OEMs too, and where we can consolidate and have similar standards, it allows them to be that much more efficient, which means they get me my answer quicker, just like they get everybody else, their answer, which is ultimately what we want. So I think AAG is a great conduit to those types of things. The, the trainings, the events, the education, the supply chain summit, the customs town hall, which is the day before it, um, those are great industry events with a pretty low barrier to entry, right, for the value perspective. So big fan of it, uh, we’re really involved me and my organization, and one AA AIG does so big fan love to champion their costs.

Scott Luton (20:14):

Love it, and appreciate your support. You know, AIG is a nonprofit I believe, and correct corrections on organizations to help support its operations and all the good work it does across not just automotive, but many factoring supply chain, all these kind of cross sectional, uh, sectors and parts of industry. Um, alright, so toughest question of the day. I’m sure folks are gonna want to connect and learn from you a bit. So how can folks connect with you and Fiat Chrysler automobiles?

Steve Britt (20:42):

Yeah, I mean, the, the easiest way for me personally, is I’m on LinkedIn, right? As Steve, easy to find, um, for the organization, you can go test, drive our cars at any of your local dealers. Um, obviously we have all our websites, all our major brands. We have FCA for the overall organization, but, uh, really easy to find our products and, and check out what we’re doing.

Scott Luton (21:08):

Love it, love it. Uh, Steve, a pleasure to connect with you and Dodge is one of your brands, right? Correct. You mentioned that, uh, I recall one of my favorite vehicles I’ve ever owned was a Dodge Avenger probably about 20 years ago. Uh, loved that car. And, uh, but so many people can connect with the brands you mentioned. So really appreciate what you do. Thanks for taking time with us to share some of your perspective.

Steve Britt (21:31):

All right. Great, Scott, thank you. Thank you to supply chain now for what you do and helping educate everyone out, out on the industry and what’s going on.

Scott Luton (21:40):

Thanks so much, Steve. So to our audience, we’ve been chatting with Steven Britt, senior manager for customs at Fiat Chrysler automobiles, and clearly an engaged AIAG member. Thanks so much, Steve, uh, to our audience. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this conversation as much as I have real down to earth. I mean, customer, I love how customs experts can bring it down to earth like that supply chain nerds came really, you know, give it to you for the people, so to speak. But, uh, if you enjoyed this episode, check us out wherever you get your podcasts from, we challenge you, just like we challenge our team. Hey, do good give forward and be the change that’s needed. And on that note, we’ll see, next time here on Supply Chain Now.

Would you rather watch the show in action?  Watch as Scott welcome Steve Britt to Supply Chain Now through our YouTube channel.

Steve Britt has worked in numerous roles within Supply Chain and Manufacturing functions in the Automotive and Alternative Energy industries.  His specialty is in International Trade and Logistics, driving the strategic use of trade programs to drive value to the supply chain by reducing costs, mitigating risks, and maximizing refund opportunities.  He is a Licensed US Customs Broker who holds an MBA, as well as a B.S. in Economics and B.A. in Communications from Oakland University.  In addition, Steve currently teaches a course on Customs Compliance & Risk Management at Wayne State University.

Scott W. Luton is the founder & CEO of Supply Chain Now. He has worked extensively in the end-to-end Supply Chain industry for more than 15 years, appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Dice and Quality Progress Magazine. Scott was named a 2019 Pro to Know in Supply Chain by Supply & Demand Executive and a 2019 “Top 15 Supply Chain & Logistics Experts to Follow” by RateLinx. He founded the 2019 Atlanta Supply Chain Awards and also served on the 2018 Georgia Logistics Summit Executive Committee. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and holds the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential. A Veteran of the United States Air Force, Scott volunteers on the Business Pillar for VETLANTA and has served on the boards for APICS Atlanta and the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. Follow Scott Luton on Twitter at @ScottWLuton and learn more about Supply Chain Now here:


Upcoming Events & Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Subscribe to Supply Chain Now and ALL Supply Chain Now Programming Here:
Leave a review for Supply Chain Now:
Connect with Scott on LinkedIn:
Connect with Steve on LinkedIn:
Supply Chain Now Ranked #3 Supply Chain YouTube Channel:
Download the Q3 2020 U.S. Bank Freight Payment Index:
WEBINAR: The Connected IoT Supply Chain:

Check Out News From Our Sponsors

U.S. Bank:
Vector Global Logistics: