An Interview with Tom Derry: ISM’s New CEO (Part 1)

Last week, ISM announced the appointment of Thomas Derry as its new CEO, effective July 30th, 2012. Derry currently serves as VP and COO of a similarly sized organization, the Association for Financial Professionals. According to ISM, "in his role with AFP, Derry is responsible for strategic planning and development, including U.S. and Canadian membership organizations and two wholly owned, for-profit U.K. subsidiaries. He has experience in all organizational functions, including advocacy, finance, human resources, sales, product development, publications, certification, education and training, conference production and marketing. Prior to joining AFP in 2003, Derry was with LexisNexis Group in Dayton, Ohio."

Spend Matters' Peter Smith and Jason Busch had the chance to interview Derry shortly after the news was announced. Peter, incidentally, is a former chairman of the Chartered Institutes of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), in the UK, which is increasingly seen as a "competitor" -- if you can label associations as such -- to ISM on the world stage, outside of the home market for each. In a multi-part interview series, we'll share what we learned from Derry. Our net impression is that he is a worldly thinker who will take a more activist stance for the profession and ISM's membership base in issues pertaining to trade, policy and the like.

Tom Derry, ISM's new CEO

Spend Matters: What interests you most about the role of procurement today, especially in how to improve its stature inside companies -- and how does this map to your interest in joining ISM?

Tom Derry: When I first started talking to ISM, that was one of the things that seemed most apparent to me: the opportunity to raise the stature and visibility of ISM and the global profession. Even as a person who is just getting to know the world of procurement in detail (my current knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep), it's quite apparent that in today's economy, procurement has become more strategic.

Look at Apple. Tim Cook. He made his mark and operations and procurement and is now running the company. The issues he and other procurement-focused executives have to deal with extend far beyond price negotiation and overseeing inventory planning. Consider the question of fair labor practices at Foxconn, for example. Procurement now presents the opportunity to deal with issues that are so central to broader business, trade and industry: technology transfer, fair labor practices, sustainability, conflict minerals, access to raw materials and commodities and much more.

These are topics that touch on the forefront of company and national agendas. The opportunity to be a part of a discussion for such an interesting set of issues, and to play a leadership role in that discussion, was extremely attractive to me. I will represent a board and membership that cannot always speak in public debate for obvious reasons. But the opportunity exists for ISM to represent the voice of procurement and industry in policy discussion.

Spend Matters: Would you be prepared to speak up/against national government policy if you felt that the professional view was different than the Federal one?

Tom Derry: I absolutely think we should be expected to do so as an organization. In my conversations with members of the board in the candidacy process, we discussed the opportunity to raise the level of the corporate voice in policy discussions. I imagine there would be a process in which we take soundings of members and consensus and represent the corporate view as broadly as possible. When we want to take sides we will.

This will be contingent on broad agreement and perhaps also, when it is the case that real lives are overlooked (e.g., when unfair foreign monetary and trade policies cost US jobs). These are things we need to bring to the center of the discussion as part of the profession. But remember, as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit we can't lobby -- but this doesn't mean we can't wield influence and moral suasion. The issues of the companies we represent are real items that are directly relevant for the profession and the function as a whole.

Spend Matters: What are some of the policy issues most likely to surface as important for you and your members (e.g., H1B visas)?

Tom Derry: First let me answer this with stating one consideration upfront: until I have an opportunity to speak to the membership, I will hold off on sharing any views that could be construed as representing ISM or its members. What I will say here are my personal views.

Stay tuned as our conversation with Tom Derry continues into resolving this post's cliffhanger, ISM's continued presence around the world, and other topics..

- Jason Busch and Peter Smith

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