Procurement is a secret weapon for CEOs

7 October 2011

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7 October 2011 | Adam Leach

From the perspective of a CEO, good procurement is an “unsung hero” and a “liberating secret weapon”, according to Ellis Watson, managing director of newspapers at publisher DC Thomson and former CEO of Simon Cowell’s company SYCO.

Speaking at the CIPS Conference 2011, he said: “When you have good procurement it’s one of the most liberating tools in an organisation’s armoury. I know the difference you make is enormous.”

He said he first realised the value of procurement during his time heading up John Menzies where his head of procurement delivered hugely significant benefits to the company. “Thanks to him we saved millions and liberated the John Menzies balance sheet,” he said.

Offering advice to procurement professionals, Watson highlighted the value in “getting out there” and reducing communication through emails and non-personal communication.

“Often you are deemed to be the buying police, let them see the person within you that can empathise with them. Make it personal, make sure people know your name. If you can instil in your colleagues and more importantly your suppliers that you are looking to work with passionate partners, you will reap the benefits. Passion is the main ingredient.”

He told the audience of buyers that, with positivity and passion, could persuade even the worst “mood Hoovers” in their organisations, or dementors (a reference to joy-sucking creatures from Harry Potter), to change – and if after trying, it still doesn’t work, they need to be ditched. “People are either radiators or drains, and if you are enthusiastic you will get far more radiators. Be relentlessly direct with people. Be enthusiastic, cheerful and passionate.”

Watson also called on procurement to seize the opportunity presented by the current economic turmoil: “Within the current parameters, isn't now the time to be bold?” said Watson: “The world is not totally falling in, so let’s turn this to our advantage. The recession is the time when you can really punch above your weight. Say you don't want be part of it – turn it into an opportunity. If everyone else is bricking themselves, turn this to your advantage. Let other people be in recession.

He said he thought procurement professionals were very good at sharing ideas and best practice with one another and he advocated more of it. He said you never know when a favour you pay a peer will be repaid. “Within procurement there are no new things. Just go out and find it. Talk to strangers. We should be a lot more forward, because people will be more direct.”

For more details see the live blog from the conference on 6 October.

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