Michigan Goes Full Throttle on Procurement Overhaul

Former Ford executive Jeff Wellman has been guiding a retrofit of Michigan’s purchasing process. But just what ideas Wellman is adopting from his former employer remain a mystery.

by / November 12, 2014

Michigan has imported one of Ford Motor Co.’s top procurement officials to help reinvent the state’s purchasing process. But Jeff Wellman isn’t tipping his hand in regard to what private-sector best practices he’s using to streamline procurement in the state.

In an interview with Government Technology, Wellman confirmed the timeline of his retirement from Ford in January until he joined Michigan in April, but didn’t elaborate on what procurement strategies he’s bringing over from his former company. Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) spokesman Caleb Buchs said the information was “proprietary” to Ford.

As to the challenges between procurement in the private sector as compared with Michigan, Wellman said he didn’t see much of a difference.

“At the end of the day, it’s about working together and sharing great ideas among the team,” he said. “What we’re doing here is pulling people together, and the best ideas move forward.”

Wellman was initially hired as a consultant in April, but was elevated to a full-time state position in October.

The DTMB previously tapped Tony Brown, former chief procurement officer of Ford Motor Co., – and Wellman’s old boss – to assess the organization from an enterprise procurement perspective. A number of inefficiencies were discovered, including how and where money was spent, according to Jeff Brownlee, DTMB’s chief procurement officer.

A reform plan was established, and then signed off by Gov. Rick Snyder in April, leading to Wellman’s hiring to execute that strategy. The state is currently identifying specific buying categories, such as cellphone contracts and fuel card programs, and looking to condense and streamline purchasing.

“This is a multi-year project for us, so progress so far is probably what we’ve expected,” Brownlee said.

Michigan DTMB Director David Behen explained that he hired Wellman to bring “best-in-class” procurement practices to Michigan. Behen cited Wellman’s 32 years in the private sector with Ford as a huge asset for the state as it reinvents its purchasing methods.

“He brings a leadership perspective and is wise enough to understand that we can’t bring just a private-sector mentality in here and think we’re going to change everything,” Behen said. “I’m looking for someone who is persuasive, unrelenting and willing to do whatever is needed to get the job done. And I think that’s the thing that made me want to hire him.”

No timetable for the overhaul project was set, although Brownlee indicated that Michigan should start seeing some tangible results by mid-2015.

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.