Big ideas need big sponsors, says Rio Tinto CFO

Paul Snell is managing editor at Supply Management
6 May 2015

Gaining support for a ‘big idea’ in an organisation is often the key to success, according to the CFO of Rio Tinto.

“Usually what you need is one big sponsor,” said Chris Lynch, speaking at the Procurious Big Ideas Summit in London last week. “You are always going to have naysayers. There are few unanimous decisions in business life. The important thing is to sustain your sponsors, and keep proving your point with data and delivery.”

He said the phrase “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” resonated when trying to implement new ideas. “You’ll be amazed at how your dissenters will see the wisdom of your ways as you start to get some runs on the board.”

Lynch said procurement professionals were in an ideal position to act as ‘intrapreneurs’, driving innovation and change across the business.

“The procurement profession touches a lot of lines in between the top and bottom line, including the balance sheet and cash flow. You understand what makes the business tick, and where the opportunities are for improvement,” he added.

When it comes to sources for big ideas Lynch advised looking outside your sector. He gave the example of Rio Tinto adapting technology used in the food processing industry to sort rice, to sort ores.

He also recommended closer collaboration with vendors. “As procurement professionals you know better than anybody, the best ideas can actually come from your suppliers. Rather than seeing suppliers as a cost to be cut and controlled, recognise that they are partners in the business with the great potential of working together.”

Lynch also spoke of the need for persistence and patience, as corporate structures often “suppress” innovation, and “big ideas happen despite corporate structures, rather than being facilitated by them”.

“Just get on and do it. Don’t let the forces of entropy stop you,” he urged.

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