Working with the CFO – how can procurement succeed?

There is an emerging consensus (including a report from Accenture) that CFOs are extending their tentacles (still firmly grasping their calculators and spreadsheets of course) into other non-finance areas of the organisation; including procurement. So we need to understand what drives this strange and exotic species, in order to work with them better to the advantage of our organisations.

Recent discussion has included at Procurement Leaders and a very good piece at Purchasing Insight here - around how senior  procurement folk can work successfully with the Finance function and the CFO. There's also a report available from Zycus (written by Andrew Bartolini of Ardent Partners) called "The CFO and the CPO: One World, Two Worldviews".  (I'll be giving my views of this shortly).

Jason at Spend Matters US also published posts last week (here and here) around how procurement can align most successfully with Finance; they're well worth reading. I don't want to duplicate that here, but I'll give a little personal experience and one thought to take away.

In my time as a practitioner, I reported to a main Board Procurement Director at Mars; into Finance (via the Global CPO) for most of my time at Dun & Bradstreet; to the CFO and then (briefly) the COO at NatWest; and into a main board DG-Resources (who ran Finance and some other areas) at the DSS (UK government department). Thinking back to my experience, there was a considerable difference between the different Finance people we reported into.  Not so much perhaps in what they ultimately wanted from procurement, which was much as you would have expected; savings / competitive advantage / service to the business areas would bring nods of recognition from any of them.

But in personal style the CFOs were very different.  Some wanted a lot of detail, and the chance to actually get involved - at least in our more strategic work.  Others just wanted a simple monthly report showing we were (or weren't) hitting targets and KPIs. Some liked a good chat over a beer; others communicated very formally.

So I guess my point is that you shouldn't assume that all CFOs are the same. As a procurement leader, whether working directly for Finance or not,  you need to be mindful of both your strategic alignment to the organisation's objectives; and your strategic alignment to your CFOs personal style, goals and ways of working.

And a final story on that note. Richard Delbridge at NatWest, a hugely respected CFO, and just a great guy to work for, was the 'archetypal' CFO. Good on detail, a penetrating, analytical brain, structured, punctual, not an extrovert but very strong minded. His office was immaculate, and he expected accurate and structured reporting from me.

I worked briefly (as a consultant) for another CFO a little while ago.  Their office - without an iota of exaggeration - looked like it had been ransacked by a tribe of baboons. It took some minutes to clear the space to sit down for a meeting, shoving aside piles of paperwork, old coffee cups and the occasional item of clothing. Whilst this individual appeared to be doing a more than adequate job, a CPO in that environment required a somewhat different 'upwards management' approach to that which worked with Mr. Delbridge!

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