Former CEO of Rio Tinto, Sam Walsh, was addressing CIPS Annual Dinner guests ©LeoWilkinson
Former CEO of Rio Tinto, Sam Walsh, was addressing CIPS Annual Dinner guests ©LeoWilkinson

CIPS president: get under the skin of your organisation

9 March 2017

The CIPS president outlined the theme for his tenure, Passion for Procurement, as he addressed guests at the CIPS Annual Dinner 2017 last night.

Sam Walsh, former Rio Tinto CEO who started his career as a trainee buyer, said it was his aim as president “to get as many CEOs and CFOs as possible to be fully engaged with procurement”. He was talking at the annual dinner and networking event, held at 8 Northumberland Avenue, London. 

Walsh also gave tribute to CIPS CEO David Noble, who died suddenly a fortnight ago. “David was passionate about nights like tonight…we should follow his lead and use tonight to celebrate his legacy,” he said, dedicating the evening to Noble. “This one is for David.”

Walsh said there were “times where procurement could learn to work with CEOs differently”, and shared three observations on how the function could work better with senior leaders and showcase the work it does.

“My advice to start with is to get under the skin of your organisation and fully understand their needs,” he said. “Secondly, have seriously good people behind you and, finally, deliver organisational game-changing value.

“Easy, right?”

At Rio Tinto, procurement was always aligned with company strategy, and the department helped to take around $2bn of cost out of the business in a turbulent market, Walsh said. “I believe that they were able to deliver that because they understood the business, its needs and had the relationships required.”

Surround yourself with good people, Walsh said, but “don’t define yourself by what your peers are doing. Differentiate yourself and take things on that stretch your knowledge… This will get you noticed,” he said. 

Procurement professionals should also take ownership of their career paths, and find themselves a mentor no matter what level you are at. Even as a CEO, Walsh had a mentor who “held my feet to the fire and helped me deliver way beyond what I believed I or any organisation was capable of,” he said.

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