Finding the Right Category Manager

A thought crossed my mind after reading a short missive by Procurement Leaders' Paul Teague about what makes an ideal category manager. Paul starts his note by suggesting that an ideal background for category management often includes "extensive knowledge and even experience within the category; a deep understanding of the market the category represents, especially including the supply base; a handle on where technology, pricing, and other business trends in the category are heading; analytical skills; project-management skill."

Yet he then notes a suggestion by Justin Hughes stating that rather than try to achieve this blended nirvana – after all, we all know the quintessential sourcing and procurement professional is unlikely to have all of these attributes, especially early enough in their careers – we focus on hiring "category team managers" with the requisite skills "to find people with the ability to coordinate the activities of an ad hoc team of other professionals from a variety of backgrounds and sources." While this is a useful suggestion, I think it reeks too much of a consulting world viewpoint vs. the real procurement world.

Procurement consultants, whether they're working on more narrow procurement transformation efforts involving category strategy, sourcing, contracting and talent development or broader efforts such as make vs. buy decisions, inevitably succeed based on their ability to work within an organization and create a combination of embedded expertise and DNA. But when it comes to a "leave behind" in the form of an expert to manage a specific category on an ongoing basis, it is likely that true experts, often from the business, for example a marketing or IT leader, will have better results at implementation, influence and marshaling. Generic management skills with a cursory knowledge of the category – regardless of broader sourcing expertise – simply won't cut it.

Except, perhaps, for the most basic indirect categories such as office supplies and industrial MRO. But if you're still focusing much of your overall new initiatives on those, you've got a bigger problem than category management coming up short!

- Jason Busch

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First Voice

  1. Justin Hughes:

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for picking up on this – there is a danger that we can allow a ‘consulting’ view of the world to creep in from time to time. However, when I worked in industry prior to consulting, I was asked to manage a category that was deeply technical, with SMEs who had spent years (and several doctorates) becoming specialists in their areas. I could never hope to match them for technical knowledge but what I could do was learn enough about the category and the levers to know how to manage my areas and call on them when I needed specialist input. Whilst I agree that if you have a ‘marketing or IT leader’ running a category who is also a procurement expert this is clearly preferable – however, in my experience, this is not always realistic for technical categories where the SMEs have spent years becoming experts but aren’t and never will be procurement specialists.

    Hope this helps – would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Kind regards,


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