Interview with Malcolm Harrison, CIPS New CEO (Part 1 – Commercial)

Malcolm Harrison took over as CEO for CIPS (the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply) in the summer, and he promised an interview with us to talk about his first “100 days” or so. He kept his word, and last week we caught up for a chat.

So … how’s it all going after four months or so?   

It’s great fun! Look, it wasn’t a case of coming into an environment where “something must be done”. The organisation functions pretty smoothly, and we were lucky to have Gerry Walsh as the interim CEO – he has addressed things that needed addressing, improved structure, process and compliance where needed. Really, no big surprises, and Gerry and I had informal discussions before I took over, so I knew what was happening. He was very good in terms of involving me in any decisions that would have longer-term impact after I started, for instance he made only a short-term commitment to the office in London.

I didn’t know CIPS had a London office! That’s exciting! 

Nearly all of the pre-eminent UK-based professional bodies have some sort of presence in London. It’s principally as a location to hold meetings in “their own environment” with customers, partners and so on. CIPS has had a small share of an office in London since early 2018, just a one-year deal for serviced office space at Euston. The concept feels right, though neither the configuration nor the location have worked as well as Gerry had hoped. We will find a better option, though we are not intending to suddenly locate staff in London.

Has anything surprised you in a positive sense?

I did understand the importance of the qualifications and education side of CIPS, but I have been impressed at quite how strong it is - the global standard, the way the exams flow from that and so on. Now we’re engaged in a major programme to update the syllabus and the examination structure. We will start to introduce computer-based examinations, though this will be a gradual process and some areas will remain paper-based – at least in the short term. We must continue to evolve and to embrace digital ways of working – and computer-based examinations is one good example of this. We have to ensure that we maintain the standards of our qualifications and make them more accessible.

I’ve always thought the qualification is CIPS’ big “competitive advantage”.

Yes, there is some excellent content there, but we perhaps don’t always make the most of it.  For instance, it includes excellent material now not just in the traditional areas such as sourcing but also on topics such as contract management and ethics.  Another real strength is our network of volunteers who are passionate about procurement and who are strong supporters of CIPS.

Will we see any changes as we move into the “Harrison era”?  

I do feel that we may not have the balance quite right in terms of our commercial activities and the core purpose of supporting the profession and our members. I have some sympathy with the view I’ve heard that “CIPS has got too commercial”. But putting it in context, when David Noble took over as CEO, while the Institute was not in desperate straits, the finances were certainly not as strong as anyone would have wished. David did a superb job in putting that right, and the focus on revenue was appropriate then. We must always keep a good control over our finances - so that we have the ability to invest in moving the profession forward, enhancing capability, continuously improving, embracing new concepts, supporting our members through knowledge and thought leadership. We need a balanced approach and fundamentally we exist for the benefit of the profession, rather than to maximise profit – that’s true both now and looking to the future.

It’s good to hear you say that - I don’t want to get into my views today, but I’ve felt that Spend Matters as an example could have done more with CIPS, but we were seen as a competitor, more by your partners than the Institute itself maybe, but that wasn’t very sensible and did not help CIPS members get access to the best content, for instance.  

I think there is a case for collaborating with others more than we have done and we still need to be selective to ensure we choose the right partners.  And some of this is also linked to the perception of what we do. Some members may have got the idea that we have become more interested in working with corporates than we are with the individual. I don’t think that is true actually, but we need to position what we do more accurately. I’m clear that our aim is to help the individuals in our profession to be better equipped to do their jobs. One way of delivering this aim is through supporting and working with corporates – and public sector bodies – because that is where our members work. If we want to help our members, and access them, then we need to influence their organisations and senior executives generally. But improving the capabilities of the profession, and of our members, lies at the heart of what we do.

That’s very well put – I think explanation of that approach would go down well with members.

Join us tomorrow for part 2 of our interview with CIPS CEO, Malcolm Harrison.  

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