Is 42 the New 60 in Procurement? New Research Shows CPOs Are Getting Ever Younger

Spend Matters welcomes another guest post from David C. Wyld, C.E. Laborde Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University.

When should you hit your career peak? And if you don’t hit the pinnacle of success by that age, what are your prospects for the future?

Certainly, our perceptions of how age impacts your career prospects have changed over time. In the past, gray around the temples was considered to be an asset in your climb to the top of the corporate ladder. But we now live in an age where billionaires can wear hoodies and even be carded when buying a beer in some cases.

So when should you expect to reach the summit in your climb to corporate success? Today, we have an aging workforce that is working longer and deeper into the former “golden years” of retirement - whether by choice or forced by the fact that their retirement nest eggs have yet to recover from the Great Recession (if these nest eggs even existed in the first place). But while us AARP-card carriers are working into our 60s - and many into our 70s and 80s – it is becoming more and more common for us to report to managers and top executives that could be our children’s peers. Dare I say, even our grandchildren’s.

Recently, some fascinating research has emerged from the United Kingdom on this topic. It spotlights the role that age plays in having a successful procurement career, and the findings may surprise you. Warning, if you purchased your morning coffee with a senior discount, you might be seriously alarmed when you read what follows if you still want to rise to the top of your organization’s - or any company’s - procurement operations!

Wax Digital, a leading eProcurement software vendor based in Cheshire, England, recently issued a report on career progression in the procurement profession in the United Kingdom. The company surveyed CPOs (Chief Procurement Officers) in the largest publicly traded firms in the UK - the companies comprising the FTSE 350 Index. Through a process of interviews with well over a third of the FTSE 350 CPOs and analysis of their respective LinkedIn profiles, the research effort was able to paint a demographic picture of who these executives were and the path that took them to their success.

While this research was based on companies in the FTSE 350 Index (roughly the UK equivalent to the Fortune 500), its results are in line with previous research in the U.S. on career progression in large U.S. firms. The researchers found that top procurement executives were, by and large:

  • Well-educated (with close to a majority having college degrees and many having MBAs),
  • Well-connected on the Web (having an average of 338 LinkedIn connections and belonging to an average of nine groups through the social networking site)
  • Still overwhelmingly male (79% of CPOs were men).

The study also found that CPOs were more than willing to take on new challenges and roles to advance their careers. The study found that the surveyed CPOs had been in their current position for just 2.5 years. To get to that top purchasing job, they had been willing to change jobs (on average once every three years prior to attaining the CPO title) and even companies (over four out of 10 had been recruited from another firm). Indeed, the Wax Digital researchers concluded that their findings showed that “the traditional image of procurement people (staying) in the same role and organization for many years is a thing of the past.”

By far however, the headline coming out of the survey conducted by Wax Digital was in regards to the ages of CPOs today in relation other C-level executives. The firm knew it, as they titled their report “42 IS the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and procurement career progression.” Indeed, their research found that amongst FTSE 350 corporations:

  • The average age when becoming CPO: 42
  • The average age of a CPO: 46
  • The youngest CPO: 35

What do you think of this trend of ever-younger CPOs? What is the situation at your company?

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