As a former farmer with some 10 years’ experience, Nestlé CPO Patricia Stroup is all too aware of the threats that can impact Nestlé. “I grew up on a farm and I had a farm for 10 years as my first job out of college. My after-school job during high school was milking cows,” she says.
“Geopolitical crises, supply chain disruption, inflation – all of those, of course, are a problem. But they all come, to me, under the category of risk. So, how we manage risk is what keeps me up at night… We try to be robust as a procurement organisation because, as a commodities company, risk is a part of our everyday life: we can have a crop failure, we can have a delivery failure, we can have a quality failure, so how do we handle that?”
Stroup spoke to Tim Burt, community advisor at Procurement Leaders, to discuss the current environment, and the factor she considers to be most important during turbulent times – people. Listen to the conversation in full or read highlights, below:
Leaders across the enterprise now recognise procurement’s value
After almost three years spent standing up to the effects of a global pandemic, logistics delays, inflation, scarcity and numerous other challenges, Stroup feels procurement is finally getting the acknowledgement it deserves. “The last couple of years have really shown businesses the value of procurement – and not just as a purchasing function/PO function, but the strategy of procurement and the value we bring in managing risk,” she says. “The executive team has acknowledged the procurement team’s work in keeping product on the shelf, managing cost and managing inflation. I don’t think this is just Nestlé, this is across the board.”
Leveraging long-standing risk management expertise
Stroup suggests that, in many ways, the polycrisis is nothing new: “I know we are facing unique times but, when we look at history and we look forward, I’m not so sure it’s that unique. We’ve always had these issues and we always will.”
Despite the headwinds, Stroup is proud of her function’s risk management efforts. “Risk is part of our DNA,” she says. What has changed in recent months, however, is how Nestlé has adopted its expertise around managing commodity and pricing risk expertise it has gained over many years and applied that to new areas such as packaging, indirect materials and even talent.
‘I’m always shopping for talent’
Mirroring the findings of Procurement Leaders’ Strategic Planning Guide 2023, which identified talent as the number one priority for CPOs, attracting and retaining the right staff is Stroup’s greatest concern. “For me, the biggest challenge is whether we have the right people,” she says. “How do we identify what our people want out of their careers and satisfy that need? How do we keep our rockstars? How do we rotate the turnover we know we’ll always have? How do we onboard people properly? And how do we grow that?”
Despite having a “very strong team”, Stroup says: “I’m always shopping for talent. We can always be better.”
Regardless of who they are, staff must adopt a CEO mentality
Keenly linked to this is an ongoing effort to elevate employees’ thinking and empower them to use their skills and expertise fully. “I say to my teams I want them to think of themselves as CEOs: whether they’re business partners, category managers: how do we get that mindset of them owning that completely from a procurement standpoint?” Stroup says.
“I don’t need 10 subject-matter experts in a team of 10. I need two or three subject-matter experts and a multitude of other skill sets. I need someone who’s an expert in risk, in the category, in logistics, in communications and in stakeholder management. We’ve been trying to get our people to work more across functions and across teams, rather than ‘this is my category, this is what I manage.’ It’s adopting the CEO mentality, thinking: ‘How do we pull those different levers?'”
‘Focus, focus, focus’
Stroup advises her team to focus on three priorities that will enable the business to succeed and then pursue those goals – and only those goals – advising her team: “If it’s not one of your three priorities, put it in your deleted files.”
To foster this throughout the team, Stroup says leaders must empower their staff to say no more often and remove the urgent but not important items from their to-do lists. Despite the difficulties it may cause, the rewards far outweigh any disruption: “It’s the only way to survive and succeed, especially in the current context.”