News focus: The way forward for procurement in the Middle East

Paul Snell is managing editor at Supply Management
8 June 2015

The Middle East has long been considered a crossroads, historically as a meeting point for trade between east and west and today as an international airline hub.

The procurement profession also finds itself at a crossroads in its evolution. How can it cement the gains of the previous decade, and prepare itself for future challenges? CIPS President Babs Omotowa told this year’s CIPS Middle East Conference that procurement was now seen as a core function in many organisations – indicating the profession’s strategic status.

“We have seen several procurement professionals become CEOs, this shows the profession has come of age and the sky is the limit, as CIPS enables you to aspire to the very top,” he said.

But as one of those professionals Omotowa, managing director and CEO at Nigeria LNG, does not believe the profession has reached its peak. “Far from it,” he said. “I think of us as a young footballer who has worked hard to get into the first team. He has all the skills to shine, but he is not the finished article. He needs to push on, develop his importance to the team, perhaps by scoring more goals, or stopping the other team from scoring.”

He also likened the role of a purchaser to that of a goalkeeper. “You can’t win a match just by saving goals. He needs to be part of a team and sometimes step out of his comfort zone and actually become a goal scorer.”

Kieran Dowd, director, global procurement at Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), warned against the belief that procurement in every organisation is on the same evolutionary path. He felt there is no single route to best practice, as proposed by some consultants and academics, as this does not consider the demands and constraints in each organisation.

And he urged those who had not yet achieved ‘world-class’ status not to be too concerned, coming up with what he called the ‘Good Will Hunting realisation’. “You just need to know, it’s not your fault,” he said.

Talent not tools

Developing the next generation of talent within the profession is just as much a concern in the Middle East as in the rest of the procurement world.

This was neatly summed up by Saeed Al Ameri, vice president of contracts at Abu Dhabi Airports. “You can have the best tools around, but not having the right skills in place makes it difficult to deliver on the objectives of the organisation,” he said.

Samar Al Mansoori, executive director – procurement and commercial at TDIC, said there is a missing link between businesses and universities. “I have myself approached many universities to talk about the profession – they don’t allow you in,” she says. A fan of CIPS’ Be a Buyer initiative, she is in the early stages of developing a means of connecting professionals in the region with universities and schools.

Being a mentor

Another way to nurture young talent is through mentoring.

Recruiter Graham Whitworth of Morgan McKinley said there was quite a demand from senior professionals in the region who wanted to play this type of role. “One of the things I sense from the community is there are a lot of people who like the idea of being a mentor, but they don’t know how to channel this appropriately,” he said.

Mentoring can also be a source of new blood for the profession, he believes. “We are in a situation in procurement where we are moving very quickly, and many of the skills that we need are not available in the market, so we are looking for transferable skills. A lot of the time you already have the right people in your business, they are just in the wrong department or team. And a mentoring focus in the organisation can help identify those individuals.”

Kurt Warren, associate director, logistics and supply chain management at New York University Abu Dhabi – who described mentoring as the most rewarding aspect of his 30 year career – said that to be successful you have to be willing to develop staff who could one day take over your position.

Omotowa was in agreement. “One thing we should always aim for is to identify talents that are better than you, and if you do that you might just find the next [Apple CEO] Tim Cook.”

Progress for women

The role of women in the procurement profession was debated the last time the conference was held in Abu Dhabi in 2011. But has there being any progress since then? Yes, a lot says Durdana Farid, senior procurement specialist at broadcaster MBC.

“In the past five years we have massively grown in this region. CIPS has played a huge role in creating awareness of how procurement is an integral part of an organisation. The struggles six years ago were much more complex than they are now. There are so many women in the region that I have come across that are doing great in the profession,” she told a panel discussion.

According to Megan James, procurement service delivery section manager at the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority: “Contrary to a lot of the misconceptions abroad, I think that women in the UAE are extremely well-supported by men. I know in the organisations I have worked in, the contributions of women are very highly valued. We are in a very fortunate country in the Middle East that genuinely supports women right from the very top.”

The panelists advised women to be courageous, and take control of their own careers.

Key speaker, Emirati film maker Nayla Al Khaja (pictured above) echoed this, urging women to be fearless in pursuing their ambitions. “It’s like an electrical socket. If you push it all the way in it will work. If you only push it half the way in, it might not. It’s the same about believing in yourself,” she said. “Women should be fearless and follow their dreams and not let scary things deter them.”

And, she adds, this isn’t just a lesson for women. “It’s not a gender thing. The real question is are you a professional in your field? Are you pushing yourself? It’s that drive that is important. You have to be totally committed and totally professional.”

Raising your game

CIPS President Babs Omotowa had four tips for buyers at the conference to prepare themselves for the next stage of procurement’s evolution:

1. Step outside cost reduction. “Learn the language of the business and understand where you can add value,” he said. “To understand the business you need to be able to spend time with it, to read up, to train yourself to ask questions and get involved.”

2. Drive value across the entire chain. “Ensure you enable your suppliers to get involved very early for them to be able to innovate and add creativity. The early involvement of suppliers will benefit both you and them.”

3. Be the solution for societal issues. “This is good for business and society. Environmental, free trade, child labour and corruption issues – these are areas where we can make a difference.”

4. Secure the present and the future by investing in the best people. “Develop the best people you can find and give them the opportunities to excel,” he concluded.

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