Sam Walsh in Supply Management Mag – But CIPS President Needs To Stand Down

It was interesting to see an interview with Sam Walsh, the new CIPS President, in this month’s Supply Management magazine (and it is here online for members). One assumes it was carried out before the recent scandal erupted over a payment made by Rio Tinto, where Walsh was CEO until recently, to an adviser in Guinea where the firm had mining rights. That has led to senior executives being fired by the firm. (See our previous articles here and here).

The Supply Management article does mention this but only in passing. “In any senior role there are challenges along the way, the investigations into the Simnadou Project in Guinea – ongoing as we went to press – being one”.

But Walsh is not asked about the affair, and there is no other mention of anything to do with corporate social responsibility in the piece, which seems a little strange given CIPS’ recent focus on areas such as modern slavery. Perhaps there was a sense that these issues were best avoided given the current situation with Walsh.

In the article, he talks about the need for procurement to be aligned with business strategy, and about total cost of ownership; not exactly revolutionary but all sensible stuff. More interesting is his comment that there is “an opportunity in the US and Canada” for CIPS, which will have ISM (the equivalent US Institute) looking nervously over its shoulders.

He wants more recognition for the profession and according to the article he “plans to do what he can to boost this recognition using speeches, public and private engagements, appearances and media”.

But there’s the problem. As The Australian reported, his one “public” appearance recently, at an accountants’ conference, was surrounded with security precautions more appropriate to Justin Bieber, with the press banned, and Walsh smuggled in and out of the building.  So if this continues, how on earth is he going to manage a CIPS branch meeting on a wet Wednesday in Belfast, Peterborough or Maidstone?

In terms of the payment issue that triggered all this, the plot has thickened in terms of the adviser who received the payment – was he working for the Guinea government and Rio Tinto? Did the government know he was being paid by the firm too? What exactly was his relationship with the President? All is still very murky.

Anyway, back to Walsh. I have talked to quite a few people about this since our last article, including a handful of past CIPS Presidents and Board members, and whilst everyone has a lot of personal sympathy for Walsh (“innocent until proved …” and all that), the general view is that his position as CIPS President is untenable, at least for the moment. If he came out and defended himself that might change matters, but we suspect he has had legal advice not to take that route, in which case there really seems no other option but standing down. He cannot go through the year with this hanging over him, avoiding public events and comment.

As one ex-President said to me, “I can’t believe Walsh would want to do any damage to CIPS, so surely he must see the right thing to do”.  And if and when he is exonerated, he can of course come back to the role, with a lot of interesting new stories to tell us about the challenges of life as a CEO. So we hope he considers his position quickly, and his reputation will only be enhanced in the profession if he does the right thing for CIPS now.

(As always, we are pleased to feature other views here - if you disagree, or indeed if you agree,  please comment here. Or we'd be happy to publish another full article taking a different view if you want to get writing!)

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