The CIPS Dinner – was it worth £300?

The Chartered  Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) dinner last week was a slightly odd event for me anyway. I'm hesitating here for a number of reasons but I will try and be constructive rather than critical, although it is tricky as the President only gets one go at this! It’s not a case of learning and doing it differently next time for that individual, although there are aspects that the Institute can change year on year.

There were around 450 people attending, close to 100 connected with or guests of CIPS -  that’s been a big growth over the last few years. CIPS really uses it as its own corporate hospitality event to a large extent these days, in a very business focused way (e.g. few Past Presidents, academics or similar get free invites now, it mainly seems to be people who can put business CIPS way).  There were sponsor tables, quite a few software firms, and tables hosted by firms for their own staff - largely utilities, oil and the Defence industry  (BP, BAE, Boeing etc).

Anyway, the reception was fine although the “champagne drinks reception” technically falls foul of the Trade Descriptions Act - the “South African methode champenoise drinks reception” in practice. It’s OK, I’m not expecting a refund.  Not this time anyway.  I was starving by the time (8.30pm) we filed into the ballroom - the whole event would have benefited from being brought forward 30 minutes at least.

David Noble, the CIPS chief executive then kicked things off as we sat down for dinner by paying a very sincere tribute to Karen van Vuuren who sadly died recently – as we reported,  she was Chair of the Institute Board then Trustees for several years. He didn’t present it as a ‘celebration of her life’ tribute, rather it was a heartfelt and sombre moment.  At the risk of sounding insensitive, it was touching, but it started the evening on a very sad and mournful note. Perhaps her contribution could have been recognised as part of the President's speech or in a different context later in the evening?

In fact, it was the element of celebration that was lacking throughout the event. Now I am not in favour of CIPS simply promoting itself with endless good news stories, and you know I would be critical here if that is what we had heard. But it seemed to go a little too far the other way last week. We could have done with a bit more good news.

Also before dinner, hunger ever increasing at this point, our first Australian CIPS President, Craig Lardner, showed what a powerful, charismatic speaker and individual he is. (All credit to the CIPS Appointments Board for an inspired choice of President, by the way). He absolutely held the audience -  I have never heard such a quiet room for the President’s address.

His theme of ‘paying it forward’ (do someone a good turn) is a good one and there was some nice examples there, although even he had a bit of a go at procurement people - suggesting we bear some responsibility for things like the Bangladesh factory collapse.  He did lift spirits though – well, some spirits – with some well-handled comments about the cricket!

He covered the potential introduction of Chartered Member status, but his line that  ‘people should admit if they were opposing it for selfish reasons’ is risky for the Institute, I believe.  CIPS needs to argue the case but understand that those 'selfish reasons' are totally understandable - most members aren't joining the Institute to make a charitable donation, I would suggest, but for legitimately selfish reasons.

After dinner - almost 11 by now - Cherie Blair’s speech was well delivered but not very engaging  - or maybe I was just getting tired by then.  She had joined us 'from a family function' and a few eyebrows were raised when she started her delivery...  but she got into her stride and focused on issues such as slavery and human rights issues in the supply chain. Again, not exactly cheerful stuff. Whilst she did make some attempt to be CIPS and procurement specific, she basically read the speech, and it all went on a bit too long.

It would just have been good, given it was our Institute annual dinner, to celebrate more of the great things that the profession and the Institute continues to do. A minor point maybe but perhaps indicative - the Swinbank Medal and a couple of other awards that used to be handed out at the dinner have disappeared, so there is no opportunity to thank people who have made a difference to the profession in that context.

The food was generally OK, dessert was very good, drinks are a rip-off as ever, the after dinner casino with fake money strikes me as totally pointless – but that may just be me. So unusually, I left (just) before throwing out time, and wandered back to my hotel fairly sober and a little  downbeat.

It's an expensive evening with tickets over £200 (including VAT), £40 for an extra bottle of plonk, and probably £100 for your hotel or late night car home. I paid myself this year so I felt that directly. Whilst it was very good as always to meet friends and colleagues, when my wife asked me if it was worth it... I struggled.  I don't want the event to become a circus and to some extent the awards evening has taken the shine off the annual dinner. It wasn't a bad evening, but the promise of a little more joy, celebration and positivity about our profession would make me feel more like spending my £300 next time.

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Voices (3)

  1. Effwhit:

    Very well put Peter, I felt the same.

    I would rather have less casino and earlier schedule really talk to people old and new.

    If that were the case I may even book a hotel rather than dash for the last train!

  2. David Atkinson:

    Enjoyed this piece Peter.

    I like attending the dinner more that the Awards as it’s a great opportunity to meeting old colleagues, friends and partners in crime. And being a consultant and training these days, it’s rather nice to feel part of the community, if just for an an evening or two, and both the dinner and the awards do that. However, the dinner hits the spot in a way the Awards don’t in that there’s usually time to chat and network, instead of being locked-down at the table while the awards are handed out, until midnight when we can finally retire to the bar to a good old catch-up.

    The run up is always provides a bit of light stress – am I going to be invited, or should I joint the other Billy No Mates and pay to sit at a mixed table? So I’m on a cycle of two years on and one year off. The choice of Cherie Blair as guest speaker was perplexing and I can’t imagine it would have made any difference whatsoever to ticket sales. Better to have a comedian/comedienne or at least someone from the business community.

    Anyway, until next year….

  3. Phoenix:

    Glad I missed it. Once again our Institute forgets its old purpose as a professional body in favour of its new mission: to make as much cash as possible for no apparent reason.

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