Coupa’s new CPO — his first few weeks in the seat

Spend Matters' London office spent some time (virtually) last week talking with Coupa’s new CPO, Michael van Keulen, as he joins the business spend management giant at a pivotal time for procurement. He talked to us about his background in finance, his transition to procurement and what he expects his first steps will be as he steers procurement at Coupa through the uncharted waters of the months, and years, ahead.

As a finance-turned-procurement executive, he has 20 years of insight into what both parties need to bring to the table in any organization to break down the traditional silos and deliver much-needed value in this time of the coronavirus crisis. Michael has a clear picture of what this value looks like, having been an early adopter of e-sourcing, having set up the business case to implement Coupa at a global $4 billion apparel retailer, and having led procurement transformation programs in both the U.S. and Europe to deliver business value.

As Coupa Chairman and CEO Rob Bernshteyn told us:

"Over the past decade, I've seen first-hand the measurable value that procurement leaders like Michael are bringing to their organizations around the world. With the uncertainty facing business and our economy today, the role of procurement is more important than ever. It is their focus on managing costs, identifying supply chain vulnerabilities, and getting the most value out of every contract that will enable their organizations to weather this storm. I look forward to seeing them seize this moment to lead."

We asked Michael about his initial priorities:

“One thing I have learned is that many companies still struggle to understand where their spend lies, and where their valuable resources are being spent,” Michael van Keulen tells us, “especially those that don’t have a platform like Coupa. So when I ask other practitioners about their total addressable spend, or their spend-under-management, often I find they are still struggling with answers to those questions …”

“So having said that, my first task at Coupa, given that we have gone through massive growth, made acquisitions and focused on customer success as part of our core values, is to fully understand the spend and leverage that visibility to deliver business value.”

“The fundamental questions that any CPO should be asking is: How big is the checkbook? What am I buying? What are our contracts? When do they expire? And who are my stakeholders? You need to fully understand your stakeholders, because you are there to drive a better outcome for them. And you need full visibility of everything that’s being worked on right now, with all contracts in one system and all suppliers in compliance.”

He goes on to talk about his other procurement priorities, which include aligning with the C-suite, yet differentiating between responsibilities, engaging with the business to articulate his value proposition, and collaborating with finance in their own language — for which his background serves him well. He understands how finance sees spend, how that differs from procurement’s view, and what procurement needs to do to align those two pictures.

The sooner we have clear alignment with finance about savings, cost avoidance, risk and sustainability, he intimates, the sooner we will break down the traditional points of friction.

Aside his immediate priorities, we also asked him about his view of procurement as we deal with the coronavirus crisis. He is positive and genuinely foresees a brighter future for the procurement profession:

“I believe we will see a lot more collaboration after we emerge at the other end of this crisis, and procurement will be seen as a competitive advantage. I believe procurement is the one leading us through this, it’s something that we’ve been training for, for years. In economic good times, companies have a tendency to focus on just top-line growth, but all that has changed; now everybody’s eyes are on procurement, and if we have facilitated a platform that gives us full visibility, we should be ready.”

Read the full Spend Matters Europe interview about Michael’s role at Coupa, his priorities as CPO and his vision for the future here.

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