GE Appliances vice president of distribution Marcia Brey
GE Appliances GE Appliances vice president of distribution Marcia Brey

Equipped with two master's degrees in engineering and over 25 years’ experience, Marcia Brey is passionate about the inner workings of distribution and logistics—especially when it comes to appliances. Aiming to improve customers and consumers' experiences by weighing a single metric of "On Time and In Full" (OTIF), Brey’s everyday work may have more in common with home builders' goals than one might think.

Brey talks with BUILDER, sharing strategies, insight into GE’s growth and digital transformation, and how she came to be the first female GE Appliances vice president of logistics.

How did you get your start in distribution and logistics?

Over 20 years ago, I started in a quality role as a master black belt for distribution working with GE’s lighting, electrical distribution, and appliances business. That’s where I found my passion for distribution—being at the hub that connects the commercial team and supply chain and managing large-scale logistics. It challenged my tactical and strategic thinking from ensuring Mrs. Jones receives her washer in Texas to considering the external environment such as extreme weather to bridges collapsing and how we needed to build out our supply chain to be able to deliver to our customers. Logistics is both tactical, one-by-one problem solving, and longer-term strategic problem solving. I really enjoy both.

What’s the first step you take when evaluating distribution efficiency?

The first step is to consider customer productivity and their needs. We would love every customer to order from us the exact same way, but that’s not realistic. Customers need us to create flexible options that balance supply chain excellence while being responsible stewards of cost.

What tips can you share for builders who regularly face supply/material delays?

At GE Appliances, we realized during the pandemic that we had to build a better system to deal with the disruptions that have now become our new normal. We had to improve the robustness of our supply chain. We no longer could have just one path in our supply chain to flow finished good products from our factories to our customers and consumers. We realized we had to create multiple options so if there was a problem with one route, we had options B and C (and sometime D, E, and F) to still move product using the now multiple nodes throughout our supply chain to flow finished goods through our 17 distribution centers. Our goal is to be “zero distance” from our customers in the United States, which means having the right infrastructure to support the right amount of inventory at the right time for our builders when they need it.

Builders also need to think about their digital strategy and investments. In our case, appliances are typically one of the last products delivered to a jobsite. That means we must accept the reality that schedule changes will happen, so our processes must accommodate those changes. To deliver with that kind of flexibility, we must be able to analyze huge amounts of data with artificial intelligence (AI) tools daily to ensure the right products reach the customer when they need them.

GE Appliances deliver to a multifamily project in Gallatin, Tennessee.
GE Appliances GE Appliances deliver to a multifamily project in Gallatin, Tennessee.

Do you have any go-to advice to quickly improve logistics?

My go-to strategy is the "Gemba" approach, which means "go and see." When there is a problem, I’m a big believer in boots on the ground. Go talk to people and lay your eyes on what’s happening. I've built my whole career around the belief that there's always a better way. If there's not an option to solve the problem in front of you, it likely means you either haven't asked enough questions or asked the right people. You must keep pushing to find actions you can take to improve the situation. That’s the belief my team and I live by.

Leveraging data and AI systems for proactive issue identification and problem-solving is crucial in the long term. Our key metric, OTIF, helps us evaluate our performance from the customer's perspective and identify areas for improvement. Our focus is always on problem-solving, and we strive for perfection while acknowledging the reality of daily challenges. We support our problem solvers, whether they're on the ground, in technology, or in supply chain resources.

What should builders know about the FLOW initiative?

The U.S. Department of Transportation FLOW (Freight Logistics Optimization Works) initiative improves visibility of total freight movement through key supply chain nodes across the United States indicating system health. FLOW also provides networking opportunities for supply chain companies to discuss freight movement concerns and to collaborate on solutions that avoid interruption in the flow of critical components and consumer goods. It aims to reveal supply chain trends, from ports to infrastructure within the United States. As a manufacturer and logistics company, data and collaboration help us anticipate potential problems faster.

How has FLOW improved supply chain challenges for the United States?

FLOW is still growing, and I encourage more U.S. companies join to strengthen its data pool. For instance, when the Baltimore bridge collapsed, FLOW members could quickly see port activity changes, enabling swift response. FLOW provides crucial awareness and a centralized data source to identify trends, which is key in managing supply chain challenges.

How is it to lead all facets of delivering GE Appliances products throughout the United States?

I absolutely love it. We're the face and voice of the customer within the supply chain, focused on problem-solving. If we can't address an issue directly ourselves, we reach back into GE Appliances to assemble the right team for resolution. We maintain a zero-distance, entrepreneurial mindset, constantly reimagining logistics for our customers and our company. We see the entire system guiding the journey of information and product flow, which is particularly exciting for new growth areas and new customers.

To further sustainability, GE Appliances deploys electric freight vehicles in Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee on heavily used routes between its U.S. plants and logistics centers.
GE Appliances To further sustainability, GE Appliances deploys electric freight vehicles in Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee on heavily used routes between its U.S. plants and logistics centers.

In what ways has GE Appliances evolved its logistics department in recent years?

Over the past three-and-a-half years, our logistics department has expanded from distribution to include fulfillment and order management. We've realigned our teams under the chief customer officer, with a common goal of improving how the customer feels using the OTIF metric. We've created a system that aligns with customer segments, recognizing that solutions for one segment may not work for others. As we've doubled our business in seven years, we've also grown our infrastructure and partnerships to ensure supply chain resilience.

As distribution centers expand to areas like Greenville, South Carolina, why is there a need to renovate or open new GE Appliances distribution centers?

It boils down to growth. We’ve doubled our business in the last seven years and, with that growth, comes the need to ensure we can quickly deliver to 90% of the United States in one day with the products they want. We also need a cost-effective way to ensure we can flow products to support that growth, so we have invested in new or updated distribution centers across the country as part of our company’s overall $2 billion of investment in technology, new products, and improved infrastructure.

Is there anything you’d like to share about yourself or GE Appliances with readers?

It's exciting to develop future leaders in logistics and supply chain, especially as we see growing numbers of women enter the field. That diversity of thinking will make us a better company. I’ve been very fortunate in my career with a lot of support from male and female mentors. We still have work to do in terms of gender and diversity equity, but I've seen significant changes in acceptance and flexibility. For example, when my kids were little and I was in a distribution role, I was able to balance my career and parenting due to supportive leadership. As we continue to evolve, we need to encourage creative work solutions that foster inclusion.