Women in Procurement Wednesday: Sylvie Noel on proving procurement value and recognizing one another in the industry

Sylvie Noel is the Chief Procurement Officer at Covea Group. (LinkedIn photo)

While the concept of “buying” is very common in daily life, it’s much more difficult to understand that concept in the realm of procurement — and how the function adds value to an organization. As the Chief Procurement Officer at the insurance firm Covea Group, Sylvie Noel knows the challenges of proving the value of procurement.

“My daily job and what I’m trying to do with my team is to prove the value — with a big V — of what procurement is,” Noel said. “For me, the best value we can have is to be involved as soon as possible in the goals and the KPIs the business might have. … You have to know really well in advance what you are going to buy and how you are going to buy it.”

Procurement itself is not always recognized for the work it does within an organization, and those who want to work in the field of procurement should not go into it looking for recognition, Noel advised. There is rarely a “thank you” or a pat on the back to say you did something well —  even when we know how procurement provides good results for vendors and customers. You need a very tough mentality and strong character to face that, the Paris-based CPO noted.

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This mentality is especially important as a woman in the role of CPO. Less than one-third of CPOs globally are women, and women often have even more circumstances to cope with in their daily lives when it comes to children, schooling, homes, etc. While women are often used to facing many things at one time in their personal lives and in their professional lives, Noel admits that not having that recognition can be difficult and tiring.

Having spent time as a consultant and the Sales Director at Capgemini, Noel has a true “double competency” in that she has been on both the sell-side and now the buy-side. Those two interesting points of view really help in her day-to-day work as CPO.

That experience also helps in her role as President of ADRA, the Association of Purchasing Directors, a global group of more than 100 CPOs. The success of ADRA stems from the participation of its members, with work done between peers and with an exchange of ideas and advice.

When it comes to trends in procurement today, Noel and I discussed digitization, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also touched on automation, with Noel highlighting three things that cannot be automated by a machine: leadership of people, listening to others and challenging others. After all, “even a machine can’t cope with what is human relations.”

Despite some of the challenges faced by women as CPOs and others in procurement roles, Noel does not discount the fact that her job is a fantastic one.

“It’s very challenging and interesting," she said. "If you want to create and move the lines and be in the loop of a new dynamic and a job in progress, jump into it because procurement will give you that.”

Read more of our "Women in Procurement Wednesday" coverage here.

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