Know yourself and build your brand, advises Bolger

6 October 2011

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6 October 2011 | Rebecca Ellinor

Plan your career, understand what you’re good, and not good at, build your brand and deliver with style.

That was the advice from Ian Bolger, head of managed procurement service, Thames Water, presenting a session on ‘effective career management’ at the annual CIPS conference at Kings Place in London, today.

Bolger has 20 years’ experience in procurement and supply chain across various sectors including oil, brewing, heavy building materials and now utilities, including 10 years in director-level leadership roles.

His advice to delegates was to decide what lifestyle you want first and work backwards from that. “Think life first, then career, and how much you have to earn to get it,” he said.

He said those who think they want to be a CEO should try spending a day in the life of one “because it’s hell”. “They don’t have a life, it’s with them all the time and nothing is clear, everything is grey.”

Bolger said procurement was too quick to beat itself up that it’s not at the top table when the CPO role is already a really big one. However, he argued too many purchasers were one-dimensional. “We talk about what’s important to us – savings – but they are focused on competition, customers, product and brand. To be relevant, the higher up a business you go you need to talk less about procurement and more about business. CEOs want people who are good CPOs but could also be good in other roles. Many procurement professionals lack breadth –people stay in comfort zone.”

Other tips he gave included:

  • • Build networks and alliances

  • • Get to know the key recruitment professionals

• Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and seek positive and negative feedback about both

  • •  Don’t rely on HR to help and don’t wait for things to happen

  • • Get trained and if you want a senior position keep moving on and challenging yourself

Bolger said he has been fortunate to have had some excellent bosses and recommends you don’t accept a job unless you’ve met your future boss. “There are people in the market who are leaving in their droves because they have chosen the wrong leader.”

Mentors can also assist in your success and one tip is to ask someone in the business you perhaps don’t get on with to help you. “It’s a great compliment so people rarely say no and that way you can build a relationship with them.”

Bolger said he’s a fairly hard boss to work for but he cares about those who work for him and those that survive do well. “I’m proud that a lot of people who’ve worked for me have gone on to do great things.” Talking about a situation in which 30 per cent of his team left or got fired, he said: “The 30 per cent who went had a sour, negative attitude, I can’t deal with that. The people who can’t step up have to step out.”

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