I spent the morning at an Economist Procurement Conference in Chicago (sponsored by SAP) that focused on procurement and Spend Management. Overall, I thought the event was a big hit. It was packed with some of the best content and attendees that I've seen at recent conferences. The event featured such heavy hitters as the most senior Spend Management and procurement executives from companies such as Wal-Mart, Pepsi, MeadWestvaco and Radio Shack. With around 50 senior practitioners in attendance, it was a rather intimate affair, complete with a great networking lunch and discussion.
I particularly enjoyed listening and talking with David Blackwell, Wal-Mart's Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Global Procurement. Responsible for a staff of 1500 spread across the globe, Blackwell’s three year-old group leads Wal-Mart's global procurement of goods in 15 countries. Of particular interest to Blackwell is procurement’s and supply chain management's contribution to environmental sustainability across the globe. For example, by working with one supplier to reduce the amount of packaging for a private label brand of toys, Wal-Mart was able to reduce by 497 the number of total containers shipped around the world in a single year (while also saving $4.2 million in purchasing costs).
Wal-Mart's investment in Spend Management and supply chain systems has enabled the firm to respond quickly to national disasters. Following Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart leveraged its systems to monitor demand patterns, enabling it to move goods around the American South to stores which would need them most, avoiding stock-outs and ensuring supply for those who were impacted by the disaster.
Blackwell's fascinating Wal-Mart procurement anecdotes were only part of the story of the event. I look forward to sharing more about the conference with Spend Matters readers in the coming days.