Procurement Principles – What I Learnt from My Father

"Down the Procurement Pub" did not seem appropriate today, as my Father died last weekend. The end came a bit faster than expected, so apologies to various people if I have not been very available this week and there may be a little less new content than usual from me here for a week or two.  It is sad of course, but it has been a fairly unpleasant last six months for him, so we feel that a very peaceful end, at home with family (and brilliant Marie Curie nursing support), is not a bad way to go.

He was brought up in what we would consider a very poor household, but went to Durham University just after the war and became a teacher and then junior school headmaster, living in the North-east for all his 87 years. I have nothing bad to say about him, even very privately, other than blaming him for taking me to see Sunderland at age 6, condemning me to a life of supporting a perennially under-achieving football team. But on the other hand of the sporting equation, he also patiently got me to a moderate standard of competence in many sports, through his persistence rather than my natural talent!

Of course, given we're publishing this here, we have to draw some procurement thoughts from this - so here are three things he taught me:

Principles and a sense of duty - it would be good to think these come naturally to all procurement people, but he certainly instilled values in me by his actions. On holiday in Torquay we once found some loose change - probably a few pounds in today's money - on a bench by a public tennis court. Father spent the entire day trying to locate the owner - the thought of benefiting from something that wasn't his just upset him so much. He wasn't judgemental or illiberal (although Bowie in Ziggy mode did cause a certain amount of "is it a boy or a girl" tut-tutting, and I was told in no uncertain terms to desist after playing my new single - Hot Love by T.Rex - four times straight through on the family record player). But he had a very strong sense of "doing the right thing", and I hope I have lived up to that in my career.

The difference between cost and value - which was a bit of a weakness for him! He didn't like spending money, full stop, and perhaps he did make me realise that value is not the same as cost. We spent holidays in various bed and breakfast places ("all guests must vacate the premises between 10am and 4pm"), caravans and farmhouses - all were low cost, some were great value, some really were not. Buying a huge estate car with a horribly under-powered 1300cc engine was another false economy - one hot August day, with a car full of camping equipment, we struggled on the upslope of the M62 at 20 miles an hour, being hooted at by HGVs, with the heater on full blast to try and stop the engine overheating!  As a 17 year-old, trying to impress girlfriend in a car that double-decker buses burnt off at traffic lights was not easy ...

Work matters to most of us, perhaps more than we realise  - so don't retire too early. He went at 55 after a school amalgamation, offered a great enhanced pension deal. I felt he never found anything else to stimulate him really after his teaching career, although he worked as a volunteer at Durham Cathedral for another 30 years. It felt like a waste of talent. So I'm afraid the procurement world might have another 30 years of me to contend with.

Finally, one memory that came to me as I wrote this - helping him when I was just 7 or 8 work out class exam average marks, with him reading out the marks and me using an abacus to add them up. Whilst it was not so good for the division part of the equation, I could add numbers on the abacus as fast as he could read them out or I could now work a calculator. So perhaps he was also partly responsible for my love of numbers - and don't knock old technology, the abacus was a brilliant tool!

Gordon Smith, RIP, 11.11.1928 - 23.04.2016

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Voices (2)

  1. Lisa Reisman:

    Our heartfelt condolences…a lovely tribute as well.

  2. Pierre Mitchell:

    I really enjoyed reading this tribute. The term ‘value’ is apt because your dad lived a life of value by making it in the service of others. You are carrying that torch of service, and honor him well – except that you’re also doing it ‘at scale’ through your public sector leadership and your online readership. Procurement folks are sometimes uncomfortable with a ‘service’ moniker, but I feel that it ennobles us, and am honored to serve alongside you
    I loved your stories and can relate. My dad was Greek and an immigrant to the US (he studied in London though), and was similarly ‘value oriented’ and always had a Greek proverb to share – of which I unfortunately remember very few. And I have a picture of him like the one above, except with Ouzo in the glass.
    Your Dad was likely very proud of you and vice versa I’m sure. And, he actually has had a big impact on the procurement profession and has unlocked huge monetary gain in the UK and beyond. Why? Because he gave us the gift of Peter Smith! 🙂
    Be well my friend. Celebrate a life well lived. Let’s raise another glass (or two) to Gordon.

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