Procurement Leaders event hits the mark

The Procurement Leaders Forum last week was held at The Brewery in London, which disappointingly isn’t a brewery (although it used to be). But that was one of the few negatives about the event.

The awards dinner was attended by about 500 people. I was surprised that it was actually less ‘raucous’ than the CIPS Supply Management awards tend to be – perhaps because the host was a journalist – amusing but not a stand-up type which CIPS-SM tends to have. It also seemed like there were fewer short listed firms there – or fewer people per firm – so the cheers as the short lists were announced were less noisy!

But on the plus side, it was clearly a pretty senior audience, and the idea of having an African drumming group performing, then getting all 500 of us playing along, was genius – and very enjoyable. And as far as I could tell, the selection process was thorough, the winners were very admirable, and there were some real blue-chip names amongst them.

The next day, the Forum started at 8am, which was a bit rough on IQ Navigator, who had the first presentation and a somewhat sleepy audience! They did well under the circumstances, and then we had a real highlight; a fascinating session from Anglo-American, talking about ‘local procurement’. That is not something they’re doing out of the goodness of their hearts; getting permission for their mining activities often means convincing local politicians and residents that they will be a force for good. So being able to show real achievement in terms of developing local suppliers and markets, and buying from them, is a hard headed business strategy.

Coca-Cola Enterprises and Premier Foods also talked about sustainable procurement; interesting stuff, but that I would have liked a chance to quiz the two presenters more closely - I had some unanswered quetsions.  But we'll come back to these issues in our forthcoming series on sustainable procurement.

After a Dutch-German double act from AkzoNobel and BASF, which played impressively to national stereotypes around organisation, thoroughness and process, (and that’s a compliment), there was a panel discussion on Supplier Relationship Management. I didn’t feel this quite ‘took off’ – there was some good content but I like to see a bit of controversy or disagreement between panel members, and that didn’t happen, so we never got that sense of energy or passion coming from the stage. There was a lot of violent agreement between the panel, which didn’t make for exciting viewing.

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One issue PL has is that the speakers tend to be nominated by sponsors or drawn from amongst their membership. That’s not a big problem, but it does mean that the quality is variable. It’s not usually a problem of content – we’re talking serious organisations and high-level people generally – but sometimes the presentation skills are slightly lacking. I won’t get personal, but in the afternoon when we moved to break-out parallel sessions, I attended one where I’m afraid the dullness of presentation conquered the decent material. Having said that, it’s true of every conference I’ve ever attended, including ones I’ve been involved with personally – I confess to responsibility for booking perhaps the most boring speaker ever seen at a CIPS conference...

The exhibition area was successful, according to the sponsors I spoke to; they appreciated the fact that the attendees were senior and blue chip. “We haven’t had loads of people, but the ones we have were interested in us and are serious prospects” was typical. Another sponsor was ‘inundated’ after the roundtable they sponsored created interest in their solution. And I very much liked the venue (The Brewery in Chiswell Street) – practical but with some ‘personality’. Food was good too...

I chaired one of the first PL Forums in 2003 or 2004. There were about 60 attendees and 3 or 4 sponsors. This event had over 300 registered attendees, with not many no-shows, and around 20 sponsors. It’s a huge success story, and with their range of services, Procurement Leaders has been an exciting addition to the procurement eco-system. I know they sometimes worry that Spend Matters might be a competitor; I take that as a huge compliment but frankly, I don’t think they’ve got anything to worry about! I would have a nervous breakdown trying to organise anything on the scale they’re now successfully working at, and I’m more than happy to watch their operation in an admiring and collaborative spirit.

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