The CPO – a novel about procurement (part 2 of our review)

Back to “The CPO”, the procurement novel written by five AT Kearney consultants. We outlined the story last week in part 1, so today I’ll give you the negatives around the book – in my view of course.

My immediate thinking was that the plot was weak. But on reflection, I don't think that is the biggest issue. It was never going to be particularly complicated or thrilling given the overall aim and subject matter. What was most disappointing on reflection was the characterisation and the missed opportunity for at least a bit more human interest, lightness or colour to support the more serious procurement content.

Maybe it was the writing by committee, and the fact that some of the authors may not have English as their first language.  But my goodness, it is all a bit dry. Not the slightest hint of a joke or a moment of levity.  And our hero, Thomas Sutter, the eponymous CPO who moves from Germany to the US to run procurement for a large consumer goods firm, must be the most boring lead character in a "novel" ever.

His only real "character" beyond work is that he likes running. That’s it. His wife is a career woman but her personality never emerges and her struggle to adapt to life in a new country is never really explored -  at one point she seems to go from the point of divorcing him, back to adoring wife, with no intermediate steps.

A young, female, Italian category management is introduced – is this going to be a love triangle? Good heavens, no. She’s without discernible character herself other than being impressively analytical, and appears to be just a plot device to emphasise the importance of identifying internal talent to help the CPO drive change.

The most interesting character is John, a friend of Sutter’s father who has a slightly mysterious background and shows Sutter how to get his new job on track. He acts as a mentor, inspires the team with personal appearances and gets the hero to work out how he can succeed. Obi-Wan  Kenobi you might say, or Dumbledore.  I couldn't decide whether he was a messiah figure, or a veiled suggestion that all new CPOs need a wise consultant (from AT Kearney maybe) to advise them and get them through the hard times.

Back to Sutter, the most boring man in the world.  I really ended up disliking him, to be honest. But he did at least appear to be highly structured and organised. So how come when he showed up as CPO of Heartland, he seemed to arrive with no plan of action or any idea of how he was going to make his transformation programme work?

The answer of course is that we need that failure to create dramatic tension - there wouldn't be a book if he got it right immediately. But I think he could have been a much more flawed, interesting character, with more obvious shortcomings (and please, just a touch of levity now and again). He just didn't come across as someone who would have such a dodgy first few months, even in a new role in a new country and company.

And another gripe - how on earth did he get his boss to sign off the most expensive internal procurement conference in the history of the profession? A week in paradise basically...

Now, all that comes across as a bit of hatchet job of a review. But actually, I really rather enjoyed the book, and I would give it a pretty good 7/10 review. So in part 3, I'll give the other side of the coin - the good aspects of the book and why I do recommend that it is worth reading for any serious procurement professional.

Voices (2)

  1. Peter Kobryn:

    I have this book in my “to read” pile at home after having seen you mention it earlier in the year……won’t quite be taking it on holiday with me, my interest and devotion to the cause doesn’t quite stretch that far !

  2. Bill Atthetill:

    “….at one point she seems to go from the point of divorcing him, back to adoring wife, with no intermediate steps…”

    This is perfectly normal behaviour Peter.

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