The procurement contribution – CIPS President sparks a lively debate

Last Thursday, a dedicated bunch of CIPS members turned up to hear the current President,  Paula Gildert, speak at the Surrey CIPS Branch meeting, held at Surrey County Council offices in Kingston, west of London. I say dedicated because it was a beautiful early summer evening, and the call of the riverside pub (of which there are several within walking distance of the offices) was never stronger.

But enough turned up to make it a good session, and Gildert’s subject sparked some genuinely sparky discussion, which probably could have gone on longer (and would have if we’d been in the pub I’m sure!)

Her Presidential theme is around the value that procurement can bring beyond just cost reduction. Whilst it is a really important subject for the profession, it doesn’t quite resonate as a “theme” or present opportunities for members to get engaged  in the way David Smith’s theme last year did (how to bring new people into the profession). But it is a critical area, and Gildert speaks well and passionately about it.

The novelty of female CIPS Presidents has thoroughly worn off now, but she probably is presidentially unique in being a physicist by academic backgrounds, then becoming a qualified engineer before moving into procurement in the Pharma industry. Perhaps that breadth of outlook led her into championing these ideas around positioning procurement in areas beyond the profession’s usual remit? She spoke about procurement contributing to productivity, innovation, business growth, and in protecting the business, which covers issues such as corporate social responsibility. All good stuff and very valid.

Anyway, the discussion turned to how procurement executives present themselves in meetings with senior stakeholders. And this is where we had some good-natured argument.  OK, some of it was started by me, I admit.  One comment was along the lines that “in a senior level meeting, we shouldn’t appear to be a procurement person at all – just an effective senior manager”.  (That wasn’t Gildert speaking, by the way).

Now, I know what is meant by that, but here’s  a note of caution. Of course we don’t want to be seen as just the “procurement geek”, with a narrow, process or compliance driven outlook. But we do still need  to come to the table with a clear sense of what skills, knowledge and capabilities we bring as procurement professionals. And that’s true whether the table is populated by senior colleagues, suppliers or both.

If we just turn up as jolly good and nice people, with a decent general business sense, then we’re vulnerable to the simple question – “why are you here”?  Yes, procurement people need to have confidence, good influencing skills, and a good understanding of wider organisational issues. But we should also have our own toolkit, and the knowledge that we have something to offer that our colleagues in the main do not. Indeed, that should give us the confidence to take our place at the table without feeling exposed.

That must be the balance we seek if we’re going to have that broader influence that Gildert talks about. Let’s face it, not all Finance Directors have superb influencing skills, but they can fall back on their very well defined, complex and vitally important professional “body of knowledge”.  Our equivalent may not be quite so strong, so we do need to supplement it with those personal skills. But being confident in what we bring professionally is key, to ensure we are seen as more than simply a nice person or perhaps a useful pair or arms and legs for an over-worked stakeholder.

(We’ll have more on that ideal blend of skills and capabilities as I see it in a future article too.)

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  1. David Atkinson:

    In my opinion, this is an issue of huge significance to the procurement profession.

    Obviously Paula was sharing her viewpoint at a branch event and what she has to say on the subject of stakeholder engagement certainly has merit, but the idea of procurement becoming professional schmoozers rather than technical experts, ultimately, is a cul de sac.

    As you suggest, Peter, the question “why are you here?” becomes inevitable.

    I wrote a piece for Supply Management earlier in the year in response from a similar call from someone else in the pharma sector (see

    I find it irritating that some in our profession wish to downplay their expertise….just to ‘get along’.

    If we’re not careful, what will happen next is that the entry requirements for the profession will be relaxed; and that’s the cul de sac I’m referring to.

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