Jon Hughes – an interview to mark the retirement of our favourite procurement guru

Jon Hughes announced his retirement as Chairman of Future Purchasing recently. After a career as one of the true thought leaders in procurement, including winning the CIPS Swinbank Medal a few years ago, I caught up with him for a fascinating hour and a quarter phone call the other day.

So Jon, what are you most proud of in your 30 years plus in procurement?

Firstly, being involved in the 80s and 90s in defining rigorous processes for what we now see as the core of procurement -  areas such as Category Management and SRM (supplier relationship management). That just hadn’t been considered and systemised in the way that a number of us did then, working with firms like Reckitt and Coleman and SmithKlineBeecham. And I still see some of our material being presented as original work by consulting firms and others even now - I can recognise our typos!

Then, I like to think I've contributed generally to the IP of the profession over the years with my writing, speaking and advisory work. I've always tried to get away from simplistic thinking and options and help people get under the surface and into deeper ideas.

What about regrets?

I've spent a huge amount of time work and time into helping to develop functional procurement improvement and excellence. I wish I'd done more in the executive development area. Why hasn't procurement been able to influence top management more strongly? When I have got into that level, it has usually been successful - even revelatory at times for the top team. But it doesn't happen enough, we need to shape their thinking more.

And on a similar note, I regret not doing more to develop procurement at MBA level. We have some universities offering procurement related MBAs, but not the top ones, we still don't have LBS, Harvard, Insead teaching procurement. The momentum seems to have gone on the business school side - we need to change the fundamental thinking of business leaders, help them get their minds around key business issues, understand how suppliers should align to the business. And the thinking in the public sector seems also to have regressed - where is the debate around integration of suppliers into programmes and achieving policy goals?

Which organisations have bee the most stimulating to work with?

I've been lucky to work a lot in FMCG - Reckitts, Diageo, Nestle - there's a real energy there and its always interesting working with the marketing community. Then there is Pharma - the link between procurement processes, suppliers and the whole research process is fascinating, whether  it’s been large firms like GSK and Novo Nordisk or smaller firms such as Lundbeck.

The third area is actually the public sector - the work I did with Professor Andrew Cox in health trusts was fascinating and innovative, we felt. The tensions in the sector between supply and demand, the complexity of the systems - there's still a need I perceive there, some big work needs to be done in health.

Which individuals have had a major impact on your thinking?

I was incredibly lucky to work with Ken Bowers, who was probably the first procurement consultant operating in the UK at the end of the 1970s.  He was very much my mentor, and I dedicated my book, "Transform Your Supply Chain", to him.

I've also been fortunate to work with some great, forward thinking CPOs - Mark Ralf, John Dixon, Robin Kammish and others. I also have huge respect for Professors Lamming and Cox even if I didn't always agree with everything they said! I've also met good people in the public sector - if I was continuing, I would want to put effort into that area. I think a few key individuals could still make a huge difference to public procurement.

Look out for part 2 of our interview coming soon. And Jon is continuing as "Innovation Sponsor" with Future Purchasing, and is developing his consortium race-horse owners business, Owners for Owners.

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  1. Ed Cross:

    Absolutely agree Peter with your comments, Jon is a true thought leader in procurement and his insight and infliuence will be missed.

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