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Missing Links?

To keep things running smoothly, you just have to mind your own business, right? Wrong. If millennium madness has taught you anything, it should be this: Your business is only as strong as your weakest link.

This story appears in the November 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In the early 1990s, one of Chrysler's hottest products was the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The procurement and supply department decided to determine how reliable its suppliers were and began mapping out all the sources for the Jeep's engine. One of its components was a roller-lifter valve made by Eaton Corp.

But the raw metal castings for this piece came from a small shop near the Eaton factory. The castings company, in turn, got the unique clay it used in its foundry from another supplier. When Chrysler visited that source, it discovered the company had been losing money on its clay and its owner had decided--without telling anyone else--to change his business. Imagine the reaction of the Chrysler executives when he informed them that he was planning to process the clay into kitty litter instead! If Chrysler hadn't been keeping tabs on its suppliers, it could have lost a lot of time and money trying to replace its clay supplier.

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