There’s no doubt that procurement and supply chain are at the heart of some of the most challenging and stimulating issues we face as a society – climate change acceleration, geopolitical manoeuvrings, increased volatility and disruption, rampant inflation, to list just a few.
Neither is there any doubt that the role and influence of business leaders will continue to grow over the coming decade as we grapple with the types of challenges listed above. We are living through an inflection point in history, and in many regions of the world, business leaders are driving decisions and adopting positions before and, sometimes, in place, of our politicians.
It’s a heady mix to digest and manage, so gathering on the shores of Loch Lomond for our annual Ovation CPO retreat – the first in-person version of this event since 2019 – provided an excellent opportunity to explore the challenges confronting us and the growing demands of leaders.
So, put 30 group CPOs together with former prime ministers, scenario planners, geopolitical experts, social entrepreneurs, functional experts, old-fashioned Scottish hospitality and the luxury of time, and real insight can be found. Here’s a few short takeaways:
Where’s your designer?
Scenario planning guru Rafael Ramirez of Oxford University’s Said Business School challenged CPOs on how they should be employing designers to provide the inspiration required when building supply networks that are fit for the current landscape.
He challenged Porter’s approach to value chain management, instead claiming that value is generated from many interrelated and reciprocal activities between parties, each of which requires their own portion of realised value. Key to the realisation of such visions is the ability to design ecosystems of value, something well beyond the capabilities of most traditional purchasing professionals.
So, where’s your designer and how much time are you spending on the design of value-generating supply networks?
Trust is key – and trust has deserted us
Both Tom Fletcher, former UK Ambassador to Lebanon and advisor of British Prime Ministers, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former Prime Minister of Denmark, spoke at times about how trust has been leaking away from all facets of our lives. This trust leakage is apparent in many parts of life – whether we question the reality of what is posted online, of the diagnosis of our doctors, the directions of our teachers or the fairness displayed by our police forces.
In fact, the only place is which trust seems to have been maintained – or even enhanced – is in the workplace. After all, employees are increasingly able to vote with their feet. This puts business in a position of increased responsibility and entirely new territory. CEOs and other business leaders are now expected to take moral action and judgements ahead of politicians on such diverse issues as female reproductive rights to mental health, national sanctions and beyond.
This is a huge additional demand on leaders, and entirely new capabilities must be grown and developed as a result.
Now is our time – use it or lose it
Two-thirds of those who attended reported a significant increase in interest in procurement from their CEO compared with two years ago, with a further 29% reporting a moderate increase. Broaden this to other C-Suite colleagues, and the two-thirds increases to three-quarters.
For sure, this increase in interest provides the platform, but, as the saying goes, we must use the opportunity or lose it.
What does this mean? It means that as procurement leaders, we must deliver the basics as a given – or, in other words, drive sustained and positive impact to the bottom line. But besides that, we must turn data into insight, be strong internal and external partners, drive innovation through supplier collaboration and connect suppliers and other partners with relevant stakeholders based on needs and capabilities.
Procurement has the opportunity to become purpose-driven, data-led value creators in a way that no other business function can. To get there will require strong vision, the power of upwards influence and the ability to bring others along for the ride.
And what a ride it promises to be.