23 September 2009 | Rebecca Ellinor
CIPS fellows last night debated whether "great procurement leaders can become great business leaders".
The OGC's Sally Collier, Mike Norris, chief executive of Computacenter, and recruitment consultant Sarah Lim were the three panellists who argued the case in support of the motion, while former CPO Neil Deverill reasoned against.
Deverill, whose purchasing career has spanned 39 years and taken him to five continents, said the debate was based on the assumption that really great procurement leaders already exist. He said he feared the current perception of what is a "really great procurement leader" falls very short of greatness on average.
"Great procurement leaders are as rare as hen's teeth, perhaps even verging on a mythical existence," he argued. He said he had only ever come across three great procurement leaders who had a next-level job to go to.
Deverill said, however, that fellows could change things. "We have a clear unrelenting responsibility to motivate and lead our colleagues to better and yes, even great, achievements."
He challenged the 75 fellows attending the event in London to "recalibrate in our minds what is greatness in procurement leadership and accept our culpability in promoting mediocrity in the past". "We must cause the institute to take a lead in setting a real and worthy standard, not just for the skills but especially for the potential of future procurement leaders. And we must red circle and counsel aspirant procurement leaders who are of insufficient stuff, and instead attract, market and promote more of those people who clearly do have a next job above and beyond that of a procurement leader".
Collier argued purchasers are at the heart of a business and their commercial nous lent them to becoming great overall leaders. Although she admitted she couldn't find many examples to support her belief and suggested that might be because they "pretend not to come from a procurement background".
Norris said he believed great leaders are born rather than created, and said the essential element was to truly and deeply understand your industry and company.
Lim outlined a raft of attributes she said were vital to leaders - supporting the point that business acumen beyond technical and function-specific skills are necessary for success.
All three arguing in support of the motion said they were convinced there was nothing to stop great procurement leaders becoming great business leaders.