Procurement Education and Skills – Interview with Dr Jo Meehan (Part 1)

As a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Liverpool MBA at the University of Liverpool, Dr Jo Meehan is one of the UK’s most influential procurement academics. She also wrote a series of insightful guest articles for us a short time ago, so it was a pleasure to speak to her recently and talk about a number of procurement issues. Today, we’ll cover some of her areas of interest and thoughts on procurement education and we’ll come back to some further discussion of procurement strategy and approaches.

Her own career in the profession started as a Purchasing Manager with ICI. She decided to do a Ph.D., looking at power in buyer-seller relationships. “I felt there were issues beyond just size and market characteristics – what happens for instance when very big buyers deal with very big suppliers?”

That took her into a deep interest in how people make decisions in business, and how they rationalise them, issues which she says “are more complex than market dynamics”. Buyers generally don’t understand markets well; they get the sellers’ view of the market, usually just from the few suppliers they already use. So her work has taken her into looking at how buyers really make decisions; power is part of it but she is also deeply interested in questions of relationships, “choice and consequence”. (More on that in part 2).

Meehan has also worked and researched extensively in the public sector, including work recently connected with procurement consortia in the Social Housing sector. Health and social care are other sectors of interest and  collaboration has been another research area for her; she also supervises PhD students who are working in these areas at Liverpool and other leading universities.

As Director of the Liverpool MBA programme, now rated in the global “top 100” by The Economist, she has brought procurement and supply chain management into the syllabus. There is also a specialist MSc in Supply Chain and Operations Management at the University of Liverpool, and procurement is included in the undergraduate Business Management course too. But particularly at Masters level, she feels the UK is falling behind other countries. Like many UK Universities, a high proportion of her students are from overseas. Whilst this is good for the economy and the global ambition of the programmes, Meehan says that it is also a concern for the future economic success of the country if UK organisations fail to develop commercial and manufacturing talent – “in a sense we are educating the competition”!

In terms of professional development, she believes that the CIPS qualification is worthwhile and “gets people talking the right language”, but it should not be the end of the investment in skills. Too many organisations think that once their people have MCIPS, nothing more is really needed – they are fully trained procurement experts. MCIPS is too often the end of the investment, “whereas sales people get constant attention through their careers”.

But there is no magic solution to the skills question, she says. Continuous professional development is key, but it cannot just be academic learning; “successful professionals have to be business savvy, not just procurement savvy”.  Whilst she wants to raise the bar for procurement performance, the answer is also around maturity; “judgement and experience are key, you don’t get to be good at procurement just from a training  course”.

She also takes a robust line with procurement folk who say they want to be involved earlier (pre-contract) and later (contract and supplier management) in the end-to-end procurement process. She is not arguing against that of course, and we can all agree that is a good goal for the procurement profession. However, she points out that we need to have “skills and tools that the engineer or other budget holder doesn’t have” if we are going to add value – vague talk of “risk” is not enough. If you were involved earlier in the process, then what exactly would you do, is her question; one which we suspect would put many procurement people on the spot!

(Look out for part 2 tomorrow).

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  1. Gemma Sandy:

    Looking forward to part 2 of this today. Great read.

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