CIPS President Sam Walsh Gets Another Year In The Hot Seat. But Why?

15 years ago last week I was honoured to be appointed President of CIPS – the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply - although in those days it was “purchasing” rather than procurement in the title . It wasn’t unexpected as I had spent five years working on the Board of Management as a member for 2 years, then Vice-Chair, Chair, then Deputy President. But it was an honour and I’m still very proud to have been chosen and to have tried to help the Institute and the profession during my involvement with CIPS.

Last week marked the start of the new CIPS year. After some confusion, we discovered that Sam Walsh is continuing as President for a second year. This is the first time ever that a President has served a two-year term. Walsh didn’t bother with any of that “apprenticeship” either – he just floated straight in as President a year ago.

There are two issues here that trouble me. The first is the wisdom of Walsh as President and the second the process for the decision making and its communication. Let’s start with the second. Frankly, I find it somewhat insulting to CIPS members that there was no communication to tell us that this important decision had been made and that Walsh was going to continue. There are good people amongst the Trustees and sitting on Congress – why didn’t someone suggest that members might like to know who their leader was going to be for the next 12 months? We asked CIPS about this and the answer was that “this is not necessarily something we would formerly announce to the membership as it’s a continuation but there will be a story included in forthcoming member communications”.

Well, it might be a continuation for Walsh, but it is a break with the way this has worked since CIPS first started, and it is significant change in governance of the Institute. We have yet to see any explanation to members as to the logic behind the extended term in office either, and I am curious about the actual benefits of a two-year term.

Apart from anything, it reduces the chances for any individual who gets involved with CIPS ever becoming President. Given the evidence of recent years, it is getting harder and harder for an actual CPO – a genuine CIPS professional, doing a real CPO role - to get to that position. And some working CPOs could not commit the time to the longer period, I suspect.

Does that matter? You can judge whether a top business figure is more useful to CIPS or inspiring to members than a real, current procurement person.  (Although at times I wonder whether most CIPS members give a damn about this sort of issue – their organisations pay their annual subscription and it is a passport to working in procurement, and that’s the level of their interest).

I’m also not convinced a President will “get more done” with a 2-year term. CIPS did previously intimate that a two-year term would “give more time to shape the Presidential term and get better traction”. But there might also be less urgency – the temptation simply to work less hard. Certainly our first Australian President seemed to get more done and was much more visible in his recent year than we’ve seen from Walsh so far.

Then there is the specific case of Walsh himself. It is fair to say he has been pretty much invisible in the UK other than a very good speech at the CIPS dinner. Branch meetings? I don’t think so. I hear he has done a little more in Australia, which is fine, but this will add to the feeling in the UK that CIPS is no longer particularly interested in its original membership base.

As we said here, we thought he should have stood down months ago when the storm broke around the questionable payments in Guinea made by Rio Tinto when he was at the firm. We hope all that is cleared up, of course, but in the meantime I don’t think it does CIPS any favours to have him in the top role.

Basically, I can see no good reason why Walsh should be the first ever President to have a two-year term. This is only my view of course,  and I have a lot of respect for many of the CIPS staff, Trustees and folk in CIPS Congress, but in my opinion this is a poor decision, badly communicated.

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