The CPO – a novel about procurement – our review (part 1)

We mentioned this book a few weeks ago when it was first published. A novel, no less, written by five A.T. Kearney consultants, Christian Schuh, Michael F. Strohmer , Stephen Easton, Armin Scharlach , and Peter Scharbert  about procurement - to be precise, about a CPO. That is probably a first, although some readers may know of "The Goal" by Eli Goldratt, which was a business best seller, and clearly a influence on this  -  “The CPO – Transforming Procurement in the Real World”.

The Goal also had a novelistic format, yet with serious business content, all around the theory of constraints and systems management  - so a production planning and operations management primer really, but with some supply chain implications, and well worth a read.

Anyway, I held off reviewing “The CPO” because I had the idea of a Spend Matters book club. But, I must confess, I wasn't exactly killed in the rush when I asked for expressions of interest. Thanks to the handful of you who did respond, and perhaps you will comment on my review here.

So, let's get into The CPO. And I'm really conflicted here. I absolutely applaud the idea of a novel, and trying to make procurement more vibrant, real life and interesting. It is also innovative in that after every chapter, we get a couple of pages of the story done as a graphic novel – good quality comic book type pictures. I rather liked that, and it was a chance for the artist to bring the story alive. And, and well as the pictures, as we'll explain in part 3 of the review, there is much else positive here. However, tomorrow in part 2 we’ll get into some of the less positive aspects. But for today, we’ll outline the story.

Thomas Sutter is a German in his late thirties, with an American father, working in Germany as a senior procurement executive (he appears to be two levels below CPO) in a large automotive firm. He is talent spotted on a flight by the CEO of Heartland, a huge consumer goods firm (something like Kraft, I guess). The CEO asks Sutter to move to the US and become their procurement head (CPO). That in itself seemed like a big step up frankly for him and a little incredible. But let’s suspend disbelief for a moment.

He then goes through various problems in the role, many of them connected with the behavioural and people aspects of driving a significant procurement change programme. He has doubters within his own team, and some internal stakeholders are negative to the point of mounting guerrilla opposition to what he’s trying to do.

But eventually he triumphs, with some help from team members and outsiders, and in part through taking everyone away (team and key stakeholders) to a conference at a beautiful resort - I cannot imagine many firms sanctioning that,given how much it would cost.  And, without spoiling the ending for you, I didn’t believe the very final triumph for a moment.

Of course this is the classic story arc from Beowulf, the Iliad, Star Wars, Harry Potter... hero starts out well, gets into big trouble, faces his or her inner and outer demons, ultimately triumphs, often with supernatural help or input from “the wise one”.  So the story was always going to be predictable and let's face it, the authors weren't trying to win literature prizes. But in part 2, I’ll get out my hatchet and tell you what I really didn’t like very much...

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