TRAVERSE CITY, MI – When it comes to the way they deal with their suppliers, some auto makers are farmers and others are hunters.

Osamu (Simon) Nagata, vice president-purchasing, Toyota Motor Mfg. North America Inc., made the comment at an auto industry conference earlier this year.

Osamu (Simon) Nagata, vice president-purchasing, Toyota Motor Mfg. North America.

It resonated with suppliers that would rather be nurtured and helped to grow, rather than treated like prey, which is how they are made to feel all too often.

During the final day of last week’s Management Briefing Seminars here in Traverse City, Dave Nelson, a former executive at Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Deere & Company who now heads up Delphi Corp.’s purchasing activities, recalled Nagata’s comments (who was a speaker at the session and a fellow panel member) in his presentation and introduced his own version of why supplier relations should improve.

Nelson called the old way of doing business a “rat race.” And the problem with getting caught up in a rat race, he says, is that “even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

Following the panel discussion, Nagata tells Ward’s that after making his comments initially in January, an animal rights group contacted him and asked him to find another word besides “hunter” for his analogy. He says he’s working on it. “Fishermen, maybe?” he asks.