Ms. Bossi Goes to Washington: An Interview with Jill Bossi, Ex-CPO and Candidate for US Senate, 2014, Part 2

Today we bring you Part Two of Pierre's three-part interview with Jill Bossi. Click here for Part One.

PM:     I wouldn’t worry too much about – your future is very bright given your credentials. But is this kind of what led you to go outside of the party system? The term limit issue and the fact that just if you were going to have to run as a Democrat or a Republican looking as a centrist version, the incumbent parties are not going to be very happy to accommodate people that want to upset the apple cart and have their term limits restricted? Do you think the incumbent parties are only giving lip service to term limits?  Was the term limits issue one of the key deciding factors of making your run as an independent?

JB:      Absolutely. It was a key. Number one for both the Democratic and Republican parties, unless an individual is willing to basically enter into the political career as a long-term employee and work their way up to the political system, there is very little hope of stepping into a significant role relatively quickly. And secondly, just to your point exactly, is that neither the Democratic, nor the Republican Party, are proponents of term limits. They’ve made those proposals on the Hill, but very few of the reigning members sign up to support that kind of legislation, whereas we all recognized that the logic of it, it wouldn’t hurt anybody. There’s no damage to the taxpayers. There’s no damage to the system. There’s no damage to anything from term limits but they won’t pass it. Why is that? Because they’ve become so ingrained in the power plays that go on in Washington and the lobbyists, and dare I say the enormous amounts of corporate money that are being now funneled because of citizens united into campaigns. But we all know from an ethical background in procurement, right. We don’t even take lunches or dinners.

PM:     Absolutely. Procurement professionals take such pride in not doing that that it is so antithetical to what you see in the government right now that you just can’t help but say “Gosh I want to unleash thousands of procurement leaders into the federal government to bring that…” But you’re right, Jill. You’re basically talking about, in making that policy change, shifting from a bureaucracy to a meritocracy.

JB:      Absolutely, Pierre. And I think the professionals that are in the supply management field are ideally suited to serve their country because the issues of ethics are so ingrained in our very profession, because the skill sets of assessing a situation using data and facts from an objective standpoint to decision are also so ingrained in what we do. All of those skills and those abilities are absolutely critical and crucial to a well functioning political system, which we no longer have unfortunately in America. We can’t get anything done because we’re so polarized by the right and the left in terms of what goes on in Washington and that’s just not a successful business practice. We need to get things done!

The other thing that procurement professionals understand and why I believe that we have a very good fit in the political realm is it’s all about win-win, right? It’s all about finding that common ground where both parties can walk away feeling as if they’ve gained something from the negotiation while at the same time both were willing to give in to achieve that goal. That’s what we’re not seeing happening in Washington today. They’re standing on their rigid principles and they’re not looking at the reality of accomplishing something and moving forward to get our country growing again.

I had the benefit of meeting a gentleman who had started an organization in Chicago called The Reshoring Initiative. And he is spot on in terms of his goals for helping companies begin to look at and realize that there is an opportunity to reshore much of the work that went off shore long ago and start to bring back business to the US and that there is a cost benefit to that. Harry Moser is his name. And so as we look at things like that, those are the kinds of issues that Washington needs to be looking at and needs to be dealing with and needs to be communicating with businesses and helping them find ways to bring jobs back to the US.

We all know it’s the economy that drives our success from an American standpoint. We’ve got to be able to have a balanced budget and we haven’t had one in over six years and even longer, almost ten years we’re looking at. That’s ludicrous. We know that as procurement professionals we can’t deal with businesses if they don’t have a budget. How can we help them if they don’t know what they want to spend or how they’re going to send it or whatever? No. One of the first conversations we have as procurement professionals is “What’s your budget for this?” So that we know in going out into the marketplace what they have to work with and we can come back to them and either say “Yeah you can get it for that,” or “You know what? You haven’t budgeted nearly enough to get what it is that you’re looking for.”

PM:     Right. I bet when you were working at the American Red Cross, there were a lot of these kinds of issues because you really had to maximize the ‘bang for the buck’ because of the big opportunity costs of squandering those precious funds and taking it away from the mission critical spending. I saw your speech at Ariba Live and I like your quote “We want to make sure that we’re being great stewards to those dollars so that when you look at us you can say that you knew that your dollar went to something that you value” and that quote seems to ring true here in terms that given the amount that we’re in debt, given how many people are also in need, there just seems to be this kind of common ground that Republicans and Democrats should be able to get behind, which is “let’s maximize the bang for our buck so that we can use it in the right way, balance the budget and give our stakeholders, the American people, value for their tax money while helping with appropriate reshoring and supporting other types of valuable programs.

JB:      Absolutely. And the things that Washington needs to recognize is the fact that business is not the enemy, that they are partners with the American government in success, that globalization is where we are headed and we have to figure out how to get ahead of the curve. America needs to be at the forefront of that movement. We need to be the ones that are leading the way to global solutions and we need businesses to be in partnership with government to figuring that out because we should be the ones that have the primary jobs here. We’re the brain trust that’s still been proven time and time again, that while they may have been manufacturing off shore, the reality is that the creative minds are here in America. But at the same time, it’s interwoven with so many issues that people argue over today. The issues of immigration, we have to be smart about that, or the issues of education. We have to look at our immigration issues and start to recognize that businesses need that brain trust. We’re not raising kids who are strong in science, technology, engineering and math.  We need to home grow our own brain trust because we’re doing a disservice to our children and to our grandchildren and our descendants by not having a strong educational base for them to get those much-needed skills across the board.

Think also about diversity – I was having a conversation last night with a group of voters and somebody asked me about what the American party believes in terms of diversity and the answer is that we have to develop a full range of diversity talking points and policies similar to what we’ve done in corporate supply management, working with groups like NMSDC, WBENC, USPAACC, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and others. There’s so many of other issues that have become hot button issues from a Washington DC political standpoint that really shouldn’t be. They really need to be interwoven into marked goals, into strategic goals to move the country forward. We can do this. As Americans we’re smart enough, we’re strong enough. We’ve got enough perseverance to make things happen, but when we’re stuck in this gridlock that Washington has created where we’re fighting one another over hot button issues that won’t move us forward. Somebody has got to step into that fight and say” “Stop. Enough.” We’ve got to start talking to one another and that’s really why I’m walking into this.

PM:     It’s makes complete sense, and there’s so much opportunity, you’ll probably have to restrain yourself on making procurement analogies. For example, when you look at the two parties, it’s almost like this “winner take all” and “win-lose” kind of perspective versus as you said win-win. But if you look at some of the collaborative sourcing techniques where we say “All right. Let’s open up this market basket and look at all the requirements holistically and have a fact-based discussion on them versus each party having to assume a certain position on the issue that is different than the other party.” Starting with common ground issues and negotiating for success just like a completely foreign concept these days.

JB:      You’re absolutely right, Pierre. And I think it’s not just the procurement profession, it’s not just supply management professionals, but marketing professionals, finance professionals, human resource professionals. The list goes on and on. Medical, dental, all of these people could offer something to the country instead of being a political professional. So many of our politicians have been politicians their entire careers. They don’t know what it’s like to run a business anymore. They don’t know what it’s like to be an employee. They don’t know what it’s like to have a family and balance a budget. They don’t know what it’s like to go to a grocery store or fill your gas tank or pay your mortgage. They’ve forgotten all of those things because they’ve been so immersed in this political bubble that exists in Washington DC because we as the voters have not said “Enough is enough.” And we’ve got to change that and that’s what I’m hoping I can bring to this discussion is that we’ve got to change it because there are so many professionals out there. There are many Mr. and Ms. Smith’s that could go to Washington DC and bring their perspective from Kansas, from California, from Texas, from Illinois, and from all across the country because they do have the knowledge, the experience, the learning, the good stuff to make things happen. That’s the way our founding fathers designed our government. It was about average Americans setting aside and serving their country for a period of time to bring that knowledge of the heartland to Washington DC and that’s what we’ve not really done enough of.

PM:     It’s funny as you’re talking, it makes me think about – I’ve been doing some research on the talent management problem in procurement.  The biggest distinction between the great companies and the great supply management organizations versus those who are really suffering the old school kind of purchasing really starts from a talent standpoint, both top-down at the CPO level, but also bottoms-up in terms of rotating future leaders through procurement [like done in other functions], kind of giving them the skills and then placing them out in the business. There is this ‘virtual churn’ of bringing people in from different parts of the organization, bringing them in from suppliers, bringing them from right out of college, and really rotating them through.  Procurement is not the end destination for under performers (although it might ultimately be a destination for someone who is so passionate about it), but a stop along the way to make a difference in the world via your supply base. It strikes that analogy in government that you have to get the term limit policy change and then change it to a meritocracy to really, as you say, bring in the fresh blood from the private sector and from different places to really make that happen and make that difference.

JB:      Absolutely. As you stated we’ve learned in the more advanced supply management organizations that give me somebody who understands the business whether it be a sales person, a marketing person, an HR person, a finance person. I can train them in what they need to understand about the procurement profession. I can give them the tools necessary, but they come with a much more unique perspective on that particular line of business that I can’t find getting someone straight out of a supply school. I need those experts just as much as I need the experts in the various lines of business. It’s a combination of all of those skills working together that really creates success for the company. It’s not a single discipline, but rather it’s a multi-discipline, multifaceted team that comes together and really recognizes what they need to do. In my campaign I’ve got an individual who’s a doctor and I’m going to look to him and I told him, “I need you to help me understand the healthcare landscape.” I’m not a medical expert. I’m not going to pretend to be. I need him to help me. I’ve got a gentleman who was an educator for his entire career and I’m going to look to him to help me with laying out the educational landscape. I understand something about education because I’ve had four children and I’ve got four grandchildren. I’ve been a mentor for a multitude of college students. So I’ve got some understanding, but I don’t have the deep subject matter knowledge that a lifelong educator would have. I’ve got somebody who’s going to help me with finances, etc. So just like we do in supply management where we look to subject matter experts and we become, if you will, somebody who goes long, but not necessarily deep and we bring in the folks who can go deep for us in the subject matter and make sure that we understand all of the peculiarities and the specifics of a given subject regardless of what that is, whether that’s engineering, whether that’s mechanics, etc.  That’s what we’ve learned from a supply management profession perspective is that we can’t be experts in all of this and the knowledge that we do have does not take us far enough for us to be a success for our company.

PM:     That’s a great point. Regarding this new skill set, one of the new things is the use of social media. I keep thinking you’re going up against the two “gorilla” parties here and how can you really be able to get out this very rational position and all of these things you’re talking about are just very common sense and make a lot of sense. But, without the big budget, do you see the use of social media as something that you can use to get the good word out?

JB:      Absolutely. Social media is going to be critical to our ability to get the word out, to connect with people. Obviously, I’ve got to do fundraising. While I have no illusions, or, if you will, delusions, that I’m going to gain as much money as my opponent. He started the game with over $3.5 million in his war chest. But at the same time, I don’t believe that we need to. I think that’s one of the problems with our political system that they go out and fundraise millions and millions of dollars and pour it into TV ads that mislead the voters. We’ve got to be dealing more with the issues, we’ve got to be dealing more with the facts and the data that will lead us to that and social media’s going to be critical. But if I can get – I’ve said this many times, if I can get a million people to give me each $1 apiece, that’s all I need. Or 100,000 people to give me $100 apiece. I don’t want to be in a position where I am obligated to hear a particular lobbyist and their position. It doesn’t mean I don’t honor business. I do. I want to hear from the various groups, be it the doctors, the insurance agents, the farmers, etc. I think they all have value to bring to the table, but like a good procurement process, we want to be objective and balance all of the points of view and all of the data and all of the facts to come up with a reasonable and logical recommendation, that then has to be a decision made by the Congress, by the House and by the Senate, but not 2,000 page documents of legislation that have got all sorts of pork buried in them. No, we need to have a simple straightforward process. If we’re going to vote on an immigration bill, it needs to be an immigration bill that makes sense and that the average American can read and either agree with or disagree with. But tell me the last time you, as an American, read a piece of legislation. I can tell you that I haven’t because when you just look at them, you get glazed over. I had to pull up the federal election commission rules so I could, as a candidate, begin to understand what I am obligated to. The document with those rules was 244 pages long. You referenced “The FAR,” and it is thousands of pages.

PM:     It’s crazy. We need to get those cartoon artists to go and draw visual depictions of these things that we can really show people and say “Oh my god. What is this Tower of Babel that we have created?” It’s funny when you were talking about before, just in terms of, not to the lack of transparency, but the fact that we need to create a fair, and balanced and transparent process because in supply management, that’s just something you come to expect. That’s just your normal everyday thing. So it must be very interesting for you as you enter this new realm, to just see both the opportunity, but also the daunting challenge in front of you to try and sort it out if you can actually get elected to do this, to tackle this.

JB:      Absolutely. And simplicity is going to be one of the watchwords that I bet you’ll hear me talk about over and over again, and not just from a political campaign perspective, but also from a business perspective. We’ve over complicated everything we do. I think human natures tries to tell us that if it isn’t complicated, it must not be good, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With simplicity of design is what achieves the best results and that includes – if we think about it, the book that sold the most copies all over the world is the Bible. Not even is it a thousand pages. And the Ten Commandments, well, they fit on one page! There are a lot of things that can go to helping a society function and function very effectively that do not have to be so overly complex.

PM:     This reminds me of another point regarding complexity being a proxy for risk. Think about your work history in financial services and also a disaster recovery organization like The Red Cross and how big the supply base and supply chain risks are.  I think about the 2 x 2 Kraljic matrix where the Complexity dimension has basically become a proxy for risk that affects the reward [“impact”] dimension and how we are not showing how complexity and risk affects the impact/reward to use as taxpayers – and that the complexity and bureaucracy and polarization that creates such gridlock is actually the problem – not the solution. That’s a major risk when we can’t actually move the contrary in any one direction anymore. That seems to be pretty risky to me.

JB:      Absolutely, and again, that’s driven by this issue of complexity. We have over complicated everything and from a political perspective, from a personal perspective, from a professional perspective. So if you think about that, in our personal lives -- the way that we get to a spot where we’re more comfortable and content with our lives is not by overcomplicating it. It’s by finding simplicity. That same rule of thumb applies to our professional lives and it applies to our political life. We need to find the simple way. That does not mean it’s simple in thought. It could be a very complex in thought, but if you think about our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, neither of those two pillars of our very government are complex documents. They are documents that the average citizen can read and can understand. While we may need the courts of the land to help us interpret the law as our society changes, it’s still, it’s not complicated to understand what we as Americans have in terms of our – the very ground on which we were planted. It’s all about ‘we the people, of the people, by the people, for the people.’ Thomas Jefferson was so eloquent in his ability to frame the greatest of thoughts in the most crystallizing form that everyone could understand. We’ve got to do honor to that by coming back to that as a nation and as citizens to bring that clarity. That’s what we do every day.

Part Three of Pierre's interview will be available tomorrow.

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