Sam Walsh of Rio Tinto – The Next CIPS President

So Sam Walsh, the just-retired CEO of mining giant Rio Tinto, is to be the next CIPS President. Congratulations to him, and to CIPS for capturing such a high-profile individual for that role. We had our suspicions that he was being groomed since 2013, when he was the recipient of the CIPS “Award for CEO Procurement Champion”, a new award specially created which was pretty clearly subtitled the “Please Be Our President” Award.

We have mixed feelings about this new strategy of having business leaders with some procurement background as CIPS President. Babs Omotowa was the first two years ago, and frankly he made little impact on me as a member. I’m not typical, but is it inspirational for our younger members to see someone who has been, or still is, a CEO in that CIPS role? Or do members feel that they are so much in a different world, they can’t relate to them? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question.

It’s a long time since Walsh actually did a procurement job, although l I fully accept he has been a strong supporter of the profession and has already worked with CIPS in a number of ways.  But let’s be honest here, he was paid $9.1 million in 2015, so he probably doesn’t care too much how I feel. Actually does that make him the most affluent President ever? There’s a good question for discussion in the bar after the next CIPS dinner!

However, whatever the members think, from a CIPS point of view, he will certainly be a positive factor when it comes to winning corporate business. That is such a big part of the Institute’s strategy and earnings these days, and being able to use his connections or just drop his name when it comes to large corporate training and certification projects will undoubtedly be useful. (Incidentally, the CIPS annual report for last year is now available here on the Charity Commission website – we may well comment on that soon). But he will also add some credibility to good causes such as the very worthwhile CIPS campaign against modern slavery.

The good news as a selfish UK member is that Walsh lives in London, not Australia, we understand, and he has just retired from Rio Tinto, so he should have ample time available to fulfil his Presidential duties, although a man of his stature will no doubt have offers of non-exec roles and similar flooding in. Indeed, looking at his Wikipedia page, his life looks pretty crowded already; B20 Anti-Corruption Taskforce (co-chair), chair of Australia-India CEO Forum, trustee of the Royal Opera House …

That does raise one other point. When I was appointed CIPS President back in 2003 (I am younger than Walsh, I should point out quickly…), it was the pinnacle of my professional career, without a doubt. I suspect Richard Masser, David Smith and many others would agree. This is no criticism of him in any sense, but for Sam Walsh, it cannot feel the same.  I’m sure he appreciates it, but after so many other awards, honours and rewards, it cannot mean the same to him as it did to Richard, David, Kim, Jane, Shirley, Les, Craig, Bola and many others, including me.

Anyway, we wish him all the very best for his year, and in a few months’ time perhaps we will get the chance to interview him here as well.

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