An Interview with Gert van der Heijden – Sourcing, Talent, and Risk

Earlier this year, Peter Smith (of Spend Matters UK/Europe) and I met up with Gert van der Heijden in England. Gert decided to drive (on a ferry, with his car) from Holland to the UK, fulfilling a long-time bucket list item. As a former Deloitte consultant and long-time procurement practitioner, Gert is as tired as we are of airplanes. After meeting over a few drinks and some Indian curry, we formalized our plans for Spend Matters Netherlands and the rest is history – or Dutch to us, as the only way we can understand what Gert is saying is through Google Translate.

Last month I caught up with Gert in his home office during one of the most glorious days of summer one could experience in Holland. Today we continue the discussion, starting first with the topic of sourcing.

Jason: What are top themes around sourcing?

Gert: A lot of companies are discovering more and more indirect procurement. There has been an awakening of sorts about the opportunity. They are finding different ways of solving the issue of buying indirect goods and services. Raw materials and direct sourcing has been a major focus of the past three years, but it has less of an emphasis today – aside from managing volatility – given the new priority for indirect.

Even though The Netherlands is relatively small, it is a very open country to the European market, so we are not constrained by the size of the supply base for indirect. We can get creative (especially the larger companies) when it comes to creating the right competition in a broader supply base. For us, when it comes to improving indirect sourcing, the biggest problem is solving category management, a new topic for us (and something we are behind the US on). We see that really understanding the business is key to focus on customer requirements, specifications, and demand drivers. Talent is key.

Jason: How is the skills profile changing?

Gert: There is a large group of self-employed professionals. The last recession created redundancies. Today, many contractors are solving problems for companies, who are not hiring back full-time employees in procurement as quickly as might have happened in the past. This group of former professionals were unemployed and now they are getting jobs as contractors.

This is not necessarily good for bringing “new blood” into the profession. I believe that the group of graduates coming into the profession is too small. This has to do in part with the image of the function. This is changing because of unemployment rates, though, as graduates take what they can get. However, we still see lots of hiring “from within” rather than a focusing on bringing new talent in from the outside at either the university/graduate levels or from other companies.

Jason: What is the focus of risk management with EU suppliers?

Gert: If you look at risk, financial risk is not as major a concern here as perhaps it should be. Nor is Conflict Minerals, which is a US concern only. The EU has a different set of regulations. Also, our approach is different. Since we are consensus-driven, it is a much more difficult process than the US to get things done, such as recruiting new suppliers (which can help us avoid risky behavior in the first place).

Yet risk management is a bigger theme at this moment. We are aware that the financial risk of suppliers is rising and that a lot of companies have stretched payment terms here. This is difficult for smaller suppliers. Procurement is starting to see the risk. Also, for multinationals, a risk management discipline is coming to us from the US.

We’ll conclude our talk with Gert in the final installment in this series, looking at themes ahead for Spend Matters NL and the Dutch Sourcing Awards for 2014 (which I’ll be participating in and speaking). For the first two installments of our informal interview and chat, please see: 

An Interview with Gert van der Heijden -- On Launching Spend Matters Netherlands 

An Interview with Gert van der Heijden – Dutch Procurement 101


 Gert copy

Gert van der Heijden, enjoying a rare summer sunny day at Spend Matters NL HQ

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