Jon Hughes – more from the interview with our favourite procurement guru

Here is part 2 of our interview with Jon Hughes, retiring Chairman of Future Purchasing and one of the leading thinkers in procurement over the last 30 years. Part 1 was here.

What has been the biggest advance for procurement in the last 30 years?

Getting the fundamentals right - category management, SRM, project management. Codification of the core procurement competences. now, at worst, we know this can lead to inflexible and bureaucratic behaviours but getting this core in place has been a  step forward for organisations and procurement generally.

OK, that's the good news - where have matters not improved where we might have expected them to do so?

The depressing thing is that the majority still haven't got it! Procurement and our processes have to be modular, flexible  and fit for purpose - w still see people taking mega-hammers to crack minor nuts! Others hide behind process.

Then we have supplier relationship management . What I've called the 'yeti' of procurement –much talked about, rarely seen! Contract and supplier management is a huge missed opportunity generally. Even where it does get some focus, that tends to be as a response to a cock-up in an organisation, that then generates some action, rather than being a structured process.

And what has personally bugged you over the years?

I noticed you said that "Jon doesn't suffer fools gladly" in your last piece! Probably some truth in that... So three things. First, I still feel CIPS missed a big opportunity when you and I bid to take over the Corporate Membership programme some ten years ago - I don't think Procurement Leaders would be where they are now if we'd started working with CIPS to get large organisations on board  at the time.

Secondly there have been various consultants over the years (editor's note - names redacted for legal reasons...) who have been more concerned about their own interests rather than the procurement community. They’ve taken actions that then splintered that community. I believe in synergy whether it is consultants, Institutes, professionals - fighting won't help the community. That also applies to CIPS and ISM.

Finally, when Professor Marc Day and I wrote our report on public procurement a couple of years ago , we had a meeting with a very senior government procurement person who just attacked us on every level (editor's note - pre Bill Crothers I would point out). There was no attempt to understand or debate the points e were making. That sort of closed mind and closed thinking really annoys me.

What advice would you give a young person entering - or thinking of entering the profession?

I'd say don't waste your time working for "old guard" procurement individuals or organisations that don't get it, or don't care about procurement.

And I believe in skills and accreditation but procurement can't retain power in the way the medieval craft guilds worked - access to knowledge will get easier and easier, and our stakeholders want "fast and friendly" service and action. So understanding how procurement can use social media and technology will be key. Young entrants to procurement have that advantage of growing up with it - they should use it.

Then I'd advise them to work in an area of real innovation and challenge early in their career. That could be forward thinking private sector firms but it could be the public sector - there are certainly interesting areas like commissioning, and huge projects there. I'd say get qualified, not just CIPS but consider other options, MBAs or even legal or accounting qualifications. Some of the best people I've worked with came into procurement via anther function or discipline.

Finally, what about the debate over the name "procurement"?

Well, I've tended to think it was a distraction, but I'm beginning to wonder if we do need to re-define what we do! We mustn't let procurement default to the lowest level of tactical activity - we should be asking the fundamental questions- such as “what are suppliers there to do”? Perhaps we need a great branding person to help us with this!

Thanks so much to Jon. He is continuing as "Innovation Sponsor" with Future Purchasing, and is developing his consortium race-horse owners business, Owners for Owners.   

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Voices (3)

  1. Mark Perera:

    Jon, best of luck with ‘Owners for Owners’ and thanks for your contribution to the procurement function over the years, you’ll be missed – but not forgotten 😉



    On the CIPS / Procurement Leaders mention;

    Lots of people to thank for the success of Procurement Leaders, top of list comes the amazing team which Alex, Richard and myself have been blessed to work with over the last 9+ years. And secondly global business community for helping us co-create the Procurement Leaders Network.

    CIPS is a good organisation, but needs to find it values again as a chartered institute. In my mind it has lost its a way. But to its defence it has a very broad community to service. I hope Procurement Leaders has and will continue to help CIPS focus on activities that provide their membership the best and most valuable services and support.

  2. Declan Kearney:

    Thanks Peter & Jon for your thoughts. All in, you point to the merits of a commercial (in my opinion cross-functional) Supplier Management-centric approach to procurement. From my Supplier Management perspective, companies need to recognise when procurement may not be best positioned to lead (perhaps a strategic CPO is in situ but the procurement team may not have the requisite skills) and hence defer leadership to alternative functions. Best of luck Jon in your future pursuits.

  3. RJ:

    I worked with Jon nearly 20 years ago and he’s been a true thought leader on procurement issues for decades – innovative but practical and pragmatic at the same time. I sense, however, his frustration at how few people and organisations have actually managed to put his thoughts into practice and wish him well in his new endeavour. He will definitely be missed.

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