What Makes a Successful Procurement Leader (Part 2)

In Part 1 yesterday we talked about George Owens, who won the Procurement and Supply Professional of the Year award in Berlin recently at the first CIPS Awards Europe (in association with ProcureCon Europe). His team from Manchester Airports Group (MAG) won two awards on that evening and another at the UK CIPS Awards.

We’re suggesting six factors that have enabled Owens’ success; we featured three yesterday (Understanding the supply chain and different viewpoints, A core business focus, Highly effective stakeholder management skills) and here are three more today.

We believe aspiring CPOs and indeed anyone who wants to succeed in a senior procurement role would find it worthwhile to consider and understand these points:

  • The ability to create a vision and translate that into successful delivery -- Owens is a capable strategist, and he understands how to frame that in a way that senior management can understand, relate to and support. His MAG transformation has required considerable new funding for procurement, so that compelling vision was an essential starting point. But perhaps more importantly, he can translate that into effective delivery of that vision. “He sets the drumbeat”, one of his team told us.

We’ve seen a lot of CPOs who can “do the vision thing” and sound impressive when describing their plans, but if you go back two years later, nothing much has happened. That is not the case with Owens, and we’ll explore just how he achieves that when we look at the MAG programme in more detail. But much of it comes down to effective programme management skills as well as the capability covered in our next point.

  • Inspiring, leading and managing the team -- I’m sure there must be some of his staff somewhere who won’t agree, but in the three organisations I know him from, the majority of his staff are clearly inspired by working for Owens.  Again, there is more we might explore here in depth another day, but we might draw out that ability mentioned above to set a clear sense of direction, as well as more detailed targets, deliverables and so on, then manage people with a blend of genuine empowerment combined with strong performance management. His philosophy includes this - “people need and want to know what are we trying to do, where are we going, and how do I fit into that?”

Owens gets involved with enough support and attention so that personal issues don’t fester, and business issues don’t lead to delivery delays. “George’s style is to have frequent but short and often informal reviews of progress, so he picks up on issues quickly”, we were told.  His natural sociability probably helps, and he’s one of those people who can give tough messages in a way that staff accept positively.

  • A commitment to personal development -- This is in some ways the easiest of the points to emulate, yet many of us struggle with it. I have never met another CPO who puts as much emphasis on improving his own working habits and performance as Owens. He reads “personal development” books, articles, and other content constantly to pick up ideas and actually takes advice on board and changes his own approach because of that. For instance, he manages his emails using a tool he read about somewhere that enables him to delegate, manage priorities, check up on actions … it is very impressive. When he went through a detailed personality assessment in one of his roles, along with other senior peers, he didn’t ignore it (as most of us do) – he studied and acted on it.

Stephen R. Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, is a must read for him and he advocates others do likewise, so we will leave you with this bit of advice from Owens, inspired by that book.

“Be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first. They are the first three of the seven habits. Those habits define an independent self-starter who can respond to situations and take the initiative.  If you buy into that yourself and get your people to buy into it, you can translate it into behaviour in the work environment. Then you’re on the way to an engaged team and procurement success”.


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