Historically, procurement has been viewed as more of a solid supporting actor of the business world rather than the lead role.
However, given certain seismic shifts unfolding in the political and economic world at the moment, now is arguably the time for procurement to take centre stage in getting UK Plc into shape for the years to come.
So what does it take to stand out and get noticed in the sector, and where do you start?
When we speak to procurement professionals at every level, we encounter a very diverse set of backgrounds, qualifications and interests. Almost all will admit that procurement is something they “fell into”, rather than planned for.
Fabienne Lesbros, chief procurement officer for the Co-operative Group, said in an interview earlier this year, “We (the industry) are in a funny situation where we really need a step change, especially as procurement has the opportunity to make a much bigger impact in business. It’s a paradox!”
Procurement is beginning to come to the fore, as businesses realise it can be far more than just a back office function, and involves sophisticated research, analysis and consultancy skills. Key to its perceived ‘professionalism’ is the increasing strength and visibility of CIPS – the official body for procurement professionals. There are a number of additional professional qualifications that can be taken through CIPS that can add credibility and expertise to help you stand out as a procurement star.
However, many senior professionals enter the profession without specific procurement qualifications. Lesbros’ route into procurement was via the Channel Tunnel project, where she was an analyst for the procurement department, working with both planners and buyers. For CIPS Procurement and Supply Chain Management Professional of the Year 2016 Chris Bell, his route was via a move from Lanarkshire to London to lead the Buyer Engagement team for London 2012. CIPS’ ‘Rising Star’, Young Procurement and Supply Chain Management Professional of the Year, Lucy Morrison came to the industry after six years in the Navy working in supply chain logistics.
Although a career in procurement can stem from almost any background, once in the industry, common qualities for success that emerge are:
- Project management skills
- Natural ability to negotiate
- Commercial acumen
- People/influencing skills
Morrison’s background in the armed forces proved to be an excellent grounding in procurement as she “supported helicopter squadrons in the UK, at sea on ship, and in Afghanistan, which were providing vital support to British troops and allied forces globally.” She explained that “the management of the supply chain and the risks attached in the military built the foundation for my interest in what would be my future procurement career.”
Equally, Bell said of his time at London 2012: “I was able to utilise my existing economic development and people skills to spread wealth through supply chain development and enable smaller businesses to win contracts.”
As the world changes, how should procurement leaders adapt?
While London 2012 shone a spotlight on the UK in a glorious sporting summer, the UK has attracted renewed focus recently due to its decision to leave the EU. There is no doubt that Brexit and its implications for British companies doing business with the rest of the world, will have a significant impact on procurement processes. Lesbros observed that “I have a lot of interaction with business leaders and need to keep abreast of a changing geographic and political landscape. Preparing for Brexit means we need to ensure our supply chain is safe and strong for the future and we remain competitive. Of course, I’m constantly liaising with suppliers.”
Current political uncertainty is making it near-impossible for UK representatives from any industry to predict the future, so it is likely that the single most important factor for those pursuing success in procurement will be the ability to demonstrate resilience and adaptability.
Given the diverse backgrounds from which procurement professionals start their careers, the next few years offer a great opportunity for driven and enthusiastic individuals from all walks of life, to lead procurement into a new era. Those who are committed to learn and develop their existing skills while helping their organisation to secure its supply chain, negotiating favourable terms with suppliers – wherever in the world they are, will be able to secure a starring role for themselves and their industry.
While widespread unpredictability may be intimidating to some, those setting out in the industry today will enjoy the opportunities offered by rapid advances in technology and an increasingly connected and developed world. If they are up to the challenges, success is theirs for the taking.
About the author
Louise Gapp, Partner, Head of Procurement Practice, at Cedar
Louise has over 12 years’ experience in the procurement and supply chain industry and holds an executive personal network spanning multiple categories and industries. Her specialisms include tailored relationship management, bespoke sourcing solutions and matching best of breed talent with like-minded clients. Louise’s integrity has built long standing and trusted relationships with both clients and candidates whom she works closely with as a preferred delivery partner. Louise is passionate about the industry having gained significant achievements across multiple sectors and brings a wealth of knowledge to Cedar.