New SABIC procurement boss outlines plans

The incoming leader of procurement at petrochemicals manufacturer SABIC has said he wants increase automation and make procurement more agile.

Nawaf Al-Zahrani, procurement leader at SABIC, outlined a two-pronged plan to make cost savings at the Saudi chemical giant, by outsourcing business functions and increasing the number of processes automated.

Relationship management, inventory, contract management and data quality were all challenges Al-Zahrani outlined for himself in his new role. “In SABIC we manage a huge number of suppliers and to deal with all these suppliers there are a lot of challenges,” he said. “But of course this comes with just as many opportunities.”

Speaking at the CIPS Middle East Conference, Al-Zahrani praised SABIC’s stringent procedures and polices, but said being too strict could lead to inefficiencies. “It’s good to have such procedures, but along with such stringent procedures maybe comes delay in the process. Maybe you suffer from agility, and I think one of our challenges is to find solutions,” he said.

SABIC is looking to develop its local supply chain, said Al-Zahrani. “I look at it as an opportunity, having the right suppliers in the proximity of our facilities we show that we have technical support whenever we want, and also helps us to manage our inventory,” he said.

Having come to procurement from a manufacturing background, Al-Zahrani said he hoped his move would encourage others to join the profession. “But for me, I don’t want to rely on this idea of only making a good example for others to go into procurement,” he said. 

Finding and keeping talent was among the challenges Al-Zahrani outlined for SABIC, but he said the firm was investing in talent development. “We really want to make procurement very attractive to others. We have need for technical people to join procurement and unless we make it very attractive for them they will never join, regardless of what we say.”

Al-Zahrani said procurement needed to inform potential talent that it offers the same career progression and treatment as they would expect in other professions.

The organisation is expecting a lot from procurement, said Al-Zahrani. The function is expected to add value to the business, address liability issues and contribute to cost control. “We want in procurement to be a trusted business partner for our organisation. We want it to look at us as market experts… to trust us to get the right answer.”

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