Procurement chiefs must leverage both technology and relationships

PL Staff

Despite technological advancements changing the face of procurement, the human side of CPOs will remain as important as ever, says Jan Piskadlo, former regional head of Asia Pacific procurement at AIG and GSK

It was the prospect of jetting off to exotic locations to buy lemons, oranges and pineapples that attracted me to procurement. My first job was at Beecham’s Food & Drink, which I joined in 1979 as a graduate trainee and citrus buyer.

I stayed in procurement for 37 years, which won’t surprise anyone who knows how passionate I am about our function. Procurement has provided me with the opportunity to live and work on three continents and experience a range of industries. I have bought almost everything imaginable during that time and had the privilege of building and leading some great teams. I believe those teams made a difference to their businesses, to the function’s standing and to individual careers. I don’t think I could have had this opportunity doing anything else.

The secure transition and reformulation of Glaxo’s Inhaled Asthma business, resulting from the global phase-out of CFC greenhouse gases, was one of the most interesting projects I worked on. It was a truly global project involving 18 manufacturing sites, government quotas, strategic storage capability, reformulation, uncertain timelines and required us to protect the company’s largest revenue stream. It was a five-year project, which ultimately helped reposition procurement as a true strategic business partner.

One of the key lessons I learned was to make sure you delight your customers by continuously providing them with choices, ideas and options. You also need to motivate your team by creating an environment where empowerment and trust are genuine. Finally, if you build up capabilities within your team, you will create a palpable buzz in your business around procurement, which is invaluable.

Procurement has matured beyond all recognition. It now has a confidence about it, which allows it to champion value beyond savings and supplier-enabled innovation. The function is increasingly seen as a career of choice and, if CPOs can position procurement correctly with the next generation, it will help attract them to the function. Thankfully, those discussions about securing a seat at the table and attracting and retaining talent have started to recede and we are well placed to leverage technological developments.

With changes in technology and the shifting business landscape, you’d be forgiven for thinking the future CPO will need to be more of a technology officer than a corporate partner. The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and blockchain are all centre stage in the debate on the future of procurement.

The critical question is whether procurement executives have the agility, flexibility and broad behavioural capabilities to help them make sense of, and leverage, these platforms. The ability to walk into a customer’s office and create an agenda remains the key differentiator. Behavioural capabilities around building rapport, trust and engendering a willingness to experiment will be even more important when there are so many more choices at play.

The procurement function is like no other in that it allows you to touch all parts of the business. If you stay in the function or move into the business as an advocate, both offer a rich and diverse career. Always think about your customer and deliver value in a currency they value and not what procurement assumes they value. Understand their needs, have the courage to be true to those needs and invest time in the one area that nobody else can leverage like you can: the supply market. This is the way you can develop your unique selling point. 

Jan Piskadlo is former regional head of Asia Pacific procurement at AIG and GSK

This article originally appeared in PLQ Volume II: Issue IV, which focused on what procurement may look like in the year 2030. You can read more here

This contributed article has been written by a guest writer at the invitation of Procurement Leaders. Procurement Leaders received no payment directly connected with the publishing of this content. 

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