'Buyers: don't fear not having a long-term strategy'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
8 May 2014

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8 May 2014 | Will Green

Procurement professionals should not be afraid of not having a long-term strategy, the head buyer at Hitachi Rail Europe (HRE) told an event yesterday.

Jamie Foster, procurement director at HRE, was appointed with the task of growing a purchasing department after the firm won a massive contract in 2012 to replace UK intercity trains.

However, having been in the role for a time he realised he had to stop and re-evaluate the direction he was taking. “The biggest thing I am most proud of throughout this, was to stop,” he said.

Foster said the experience taught him the importance of being flexible. “I have a plan until the end of the year,” he said. “What does procurement look like in a year’s time? I don’t know, and I’m prepared to tell them [the CEO]. But I will tell them: when it’s time to evolve to the next level, I will tell you and I will tell you what we’re going to do.”

Speaking at a CIPS event entitled Procurement – Your Career Of Choice in Leeds yesterday, Foster listed six things he had learned:

1. Keep it simple. There are many procurement tools available and use them if you organisation is at the right stage, but if not be prepared to ditch some of them.

2. Take the time to understand where the rest of the business is.

3. We all think procurement is the centre of the world, but sometimes we need to check where we are in the process.

4. Stop choosing quick wins. They are just the first steps.

5. Listen to your customers.

6. Remember to check the foundations sometimes. This includes people and KPIs. Keep in mind that you must “deliver for the business”.

“Astronauts can focus on seven things at a time; normal people, four. If you have more than four KPIs, think about it. If you have more than seven, unless you work at Nasa, get rid of some of them,” said Foster.

“Have it in your processes, the checks and balances to go back and check your foundations once in a while. The cornerstones of your procurement function, what should they be? That will change.”

He added: “Procurement has to get the balance right and not be the decision-maker all the time: be the decision enabler. You have so many other stakeholders who may be able to buy something better than we can. We are the voice of reason to bad practice.”

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