ProcureCon Dispatch: Lessons From CFOs on Becoming a Better CPO

Yesterday at ProcureCon East in Charlotte, NC, Lamar Chesney, a former CFO and CPO – yes, both! – who has worked for a wide variety of companies in his career including Delta Airlines, Marsh McLennan, SunTrust Banks, and The Coca-Cola Company, gave a fascinating talk titled “A CFO’s Perspective: What is Expected From the CPO.”

I’ll share a few highlights and snippets that stood out from his speech in a minute, but it’s worth noting that Lamar is clearly on the top of his lecturing game. The man is engaging, humorous, and commanding at the same time – he pulls you in. If you’ve not seen him speak, seek him out. I promise that it will be worth your time.

During his talk, one thing that stood out to me was the similarity, from both a demographic and skills perspective, of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs), especially when compared with the rest of the business. For example, Lamar noted that the two roles hold similar goals such as “promoting financial stewardship and an understand of and confidence in the company’s business strategy.” In short, procurement executives need to realize that “CFOs are more like you than you think they are.”

According to Lamar, good CFOs bifurcate their network, and good CPOs need to accomplish this as well. Success in both roles requires thinking about the short term, past and future and horizontally. And only the CFO, CEO, and CPO roles in the business must look in all three dimensions like this at the same time. CPOs, like CFOs, must know the business, and the business must know what procurement does. As Lamar puts it so succinctly, as a CPO, “learn not to be disciplined in one particular area … you can’t be valued unless they understand what they hell you do.”

Here are some other pearls from Lamar:

  • “Most CFOs don’t think CPOs appreciate economics like they do … but CPOs think they appreciate economics like CFOs.”
  • “CPOs need multi-functional capability to be successful.”
  • “CFOs think they know how to negotiate … CPOs know they understand the art of negotiation.”

All in all, a great session. And I’m just scratching the surface here on Lamar’s war stories and wisdom.

Last, as an aside, I’m sorry for those who tried to find me yesterday but did not (gotten a bunch of emails already). I was on the ground for just a few hours at the show. I’m incredibly appreciative of ProcureCon for letting me stop by while in transit – and to the nice US Airways gate agent who let me extend my transfer by four hours for free.

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