What would prepare a senior procurement person for the Boardroom?

We featured the excellent speech from David Tyler, the Sainsbury's Chairman, the other day when we looked at his thoughts on what you need to be effective at Board level. He also talked about the experiences that help to prepare you for life at the top.

Here are his thoughts about what he would look for in terms of desired experience of an ideal CFO candidate. He's done a lot of interviewing in his time, and I suspect this list is rooted in how he questions candidates when they sit across the table from him in those situations! Again, you can read this across to Procurement Director roles pretty directly: here's his list.

  • It helps to go through some tough times as well as good times as you progress – he gave a couple of great personal examples of that. He was a Finance Director at County NatWest when a major scandal broke and he had to face the prospect of telling the Bank of England that his bank was basically bust. That would certainly be a worthwhile “learning experience”!
  • Get exposure to the Board – before you reach those dizzy heights, you should have some experience of working at that level.
  • Do some of the roles within the team (i.e. more junior procurement roles) – you need to understand at least some of the nuts and bolts of the functional role based on your experience
  • Have some experience outside finance (procurement) – that's an interesting one for us, as I suspect many CPOs don't have this. Personally, I would agree with him though.
  • Persuade the CEO (or similar) to change their position on an issue – there's another interesting point. But proving your powers of influencing is vital, and it is an interview question I've used myself, and been subjected to as a candidate, and it is a good one.
  • Learn to influence and negotiate (including outside your key area) – another point focused on influencing and persuading skills .
  • Present to large groups, inside or outside your organisation – a good reason for participating in CIPS activities perhaps, or doing some work on the conference circuit.

All in all, a very useful and thought provoking list. So if you have ambitions to reach the Boardroom, think about how many of these attributes and experiences you can tick off, and how many you still need to work on.

First Voice

  1. Paul Wright:

    Good attributes to look for, and it will lead to board members able to carry out their (purchasing) activities to the benefit of the organisation. However I can’t help but worry that while successful companies like Sainsbury use this approach, board members at other companies are appointed according to other criteria – such as being a political ally of another director, or even a golfing buddy. I would like to think such things are disappearing, but I suspect not quickly enough.

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