To be influential is essential, say top purchasers

29 April 2010

28 April 2010 | Rebecca Ellinor in San Diego

The ability to influence others is vital if you want to gain and keep a place on the board of directors.

That was the conclusion of four top purchasers at a panel discussion on earning and keeping a seat at the top table, held at the Institute for Supply Management’s annual conference, in California this week.

Shelley Stewart, senior vice-president operational excellence and chief procurement officer, Tyco International, told the audience: “You have to be an influencer, it’s so critical because you can’t always get it done yourself. You have to be able to influence the organisation and others to drive change in your business. Everything we do is with another department.”

Sid Johnson, vice-president of global supply management at Delphi Corporation, agreed: “You have to have the ability to work across the company because you get things done through others.


Strong internal customer satisfaction opens numerous doors, added David Nelson, senior partner at Fenix Group International. “To have great internal customer satisfaction builds respect and support for everyone - for your people, your department, yourself - it just never lets you down,” he said.

Lisa Martin, senior vice-president, worldwide procurement at pharmaceutical company Pfizer, added a note of caution to always keep in mind the company’s overall objective, which means not always doing what the customer wants. “It’s a healthy tension. In fact, if you don’t have it you may not be doing something you should be,” she said.

Martin said she spent a lot of time meeting all the senior executives and getting to know them. “You need to have a relationship with those whose budgets you’re hoping to influence. It was a really valuable investment of my time.


Stewart said influencing is a skill that’s learnt in many cases and how you exercise it depends on your organisation. Martin suggested practising these skills in a safe environment such as church or at parent-teacher groups. “The first thing is to listen,” she said.

Panellists agreed that once you’ve got that coveted place at the top table you have to work to keep delivering results. “And you’d better not get the seat unless you’re ready for it,” said Stewart. “I work for the CEO, I sit in the room with all the presidents and I have to earn my keep.”

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