From left, Rob Douglas, Juliet Sotnick, Imran Rasul, Kristian Saksida and SM editor Katie Jacobs
From left, Rob Douglas, Juliet Sotnick, Imran Rasul, Kristian Saksida and SM editor Katie Jacobs

How to be successful, according to four CPOs

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
6 November 2018

Four CPOs have shared what their careers have taught them about what it takes to be successful.

During a panel discussion at the CIPS UK Conference, delegates were inundated with tips on how to get to the top, covering:

1. Ability to influence

Juliet Sotnick, CPO at Babcock, said: “One of the key things for the senior executive in the procurement function is ability to influence and drive change in your team and other functions.”

Rob Douglas, CPO at Direct Line Group, said: “John [Browett, CEO at Dixons between 2007 and 2012] saved Dixons during the downturn single-handedly.”

Douglas said Browett taught him the importance of having a “clear strategy and getting people to believe it”. “You actually felt like you wanted to follow him. I think about that with my team – do I inspire confidence?”

2. Experience of different functions/cultures

Sotnick said: “Having experience of other parts of the business, it’s understanding the challenges, the level of risk aversion, understanding their drivers. It’s having that empathy with them.”

Imran Rasul, CPO at BAE Systems, said: “Having an understanding of how other cultures work and how you can work with global and multi-site teams. How do you make change work remotely?”

3. Leadership style

Kristian Saksida, CPO at chemicals company Solvay, said: “Ask for feedback on yourself and your leadership style. Use that to try and adapt your style. In the past I was more command and control. I have learnt to adapt my style. Engaging with people is much more important than creating targets. If you have got the right behaviours it goes way beyond reporting lines in structures.”

Sotnick said: “The key thing is to be authentic. People see through you if you try to be something you’re not. My way of leading is to create a strategy, make sure it’s being reviewed and signed off by others, and let people get on with it. I can’t be hands-on at the micro level.”

Douglas said: “I look back and think I was so desperate to demonstrate the analysis I had performed was clearly the right answer. It has taken me quite a while to say, ‘Chill out’ and understand their point of view. I was a bit too gung ho in those days. You don’t have to win it there and then in the room.”

4. Moving between organisations

Sotnick said: “I don’t think you have to [move between organisations]. If you are working for an organisation where you are placed well and you have built credibility, there is no need to move.”

Rasul said: “If I was feeling restricted within that organisation, perhaps move on, but I would also say try and move within that organisation first.”

Saksida: “As long as you are learning, moving forward to challenge yourself, that is the acid test.”

5. Work/life balance

Rasul said: “Making sure there is a sensible work-life balance throughout the organisation is important. Unless there is a crisis I won’t work the weekend and I try not to work evenings. It’s not always easy.”

Saksida: “You want well-rounded people who are robust in terms of mental health. That balance in life is really important.”

6. Best single piece of career advice

Douglas said: “Make sure you move into something where you are on-purpose. If you are in that place you will naturally become good at it.”

Sotnick said: “Focus on the capabilities you are looking to develop.”

Rasul said: “Take a few risks, back yourself. Think like a business leader. Think of your business rather than just your function.”

Saksida said: “If you don’t like what you’re doing, go and do something else. Life is too short.”

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