Rick Hughes, ex CPO of Procter and Gamble – Procurement Provocateur

Rick HuhesRick Hughes is the ex CPO of  Procter and Gamble, and you realise the scale of that when you speak to him. I personally held a couple of what seemed to be pretty substantial CPO roles myself, but our total combined third-party spend in the NatWest Group and the Department of Social Security was significantly less than P&G spends annually in just the Marketing Services category! Anyway, he retired last year from his role as CPO and Vice President of  P&G, one of the very biggest jobs in the global procurement world.

Hughes spent over 30 years with P&G, and we caught up with him recently to ask him our “procurement provocateur” questions, and also to speak about his new role, working with procurement solutions firm GEP.

When did you decide procurement was for you?

Not sure I chose it or it chose me! I was in the US Army for 6 years, and went to the Federal Procurement School – it sounded interesting as an option, and I also did an MBA in that time. I worked in the logistics area amongst others, enjoyed it but didn’t necessarily think I would stay in that field for ever. When I left the Army in 1982 I had various interviews, some in procurement as I knew something about that, but also for sales jobs. When I met P&G, the firm and the interviewer impressed me with their approach and professionalism, so I took the procurement job with them.

At various times, I did consider moves out of procurement. In fact, I spent two years in sales - that was an interesting diversion but I preferred procurement. I also thought about a move into marketing, to get onto the general management track, but decided it just was not as stimulating as procurement. I was also interested in Law - in fact I took qualifications at law school and I have done some legal practice on the side from now and then. But you can do procurement for your whole career, and every day will be different. There is so much challenge and variation, it kept me interested for more than 30 years

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

I was inspired by A.G. Lafley, who has served twice as the Chairman & CEO of Procter & Gamble. Then there are other senior people inside P&G and in the procurement profession who helped me develop my approach to procurement. For instance, Gene Richter and then John Paterson at IBM, who helped the wider procurement function gain credibility and profile through the impact they had within their own firm. Some have been inspiring even if they worked for competitors, like Don Klock at Colgate Palmolive!

How did you become a successful procurement professional?

Early in my career at P&G I was told I needed to focus on gaining and demonstrating my real procurement expertise. Apparently some people saw me as all “flash and no substance,” and thought I “talked a good game!”

So getting those core skills was good advice. For any new person coming to procurement it is important to make sure you have the right technical skills – that you know how to how to analyse industries, understand markets, execute supplier relationship management and so on. I think that was my number one priority – and I also had to understand quickly the P&G way of working in procurement and commercial matters.

The other experiences I had in sales and legal have helped me to see the bigger picture; the law helped when I worked in the chemicals part of the business and got involved in major research and development and intellectual property negotiations, for instance. But I have always found procurement the most interesting area, and been excited by its global nature and the dynamics of different markets and suppliers.

 What advice would you give a young procurement professional?

As I said in terms of my own experience, I'm a strong believer that procurement professionals really need to get a strong core of professional competence. That is what gives them credibility and enables delivery of the business results that come from the central procurement process. Now as they get more experienced and more senior, then the behavioural and inter-personal skills become more important. But as a young professional, you have to know how to apply your skills and knowledge to the procurement role and make it into a real value proposition, so that strong base is essential.

Another bit of advice is to trust your bosses when you are given career guidance. That worked for me - early on I was working in marketing and media buying and I wanted to take over the travel spend area. I was advised by a senior executive in procurement not to do that that. He thought I would be at top management’s beck and call, constantly handling problems with their frequent flyer points! That turned out to be great advice and travel ended up reporting to me anyway not too long after that.

Tune in for Part 2 tomorrow.

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