A few years ago, there was talk of the next CEOs coming from procurement, but there has been little evidence of it and there are still few instances of procurement even making to board level.
I believe procurement can make that step. After all, we have intimate knowledge of global markets, how they operate and how to shape them; we have one eye on costs and another on innovation; and we have negotiation and supplier management skills.
But before the CEO role, procurement has to make it to the boardroom – and that still seems to be a big hurdle to overcome.
A lot has been said about the importance of being more strategic in your thinking, developing leadership skills, and so on, but in the days of transferable skills, where you might expect more opportunities, procurement still doesn’t make it to the top table.
The problem is more profound than a lack of skills and opportunity – it lies with the very functional expertise that gets one to the top of procurement in the first place.
Functional expertise is not what is required at board level. What is actually needed is an all-rounder, someone with a business brain, who can see the big picture. But even if the current CEO wants to see you at the table, the decision will actually rest with the other board members – they are the ones who will validate your seat. They will want to know that you can contribute to things that are important to the overall company’s health and continuing growth. They will compare and contrast your contribution with others and want to see your experience in today’s highly competitive world.
So what do you need to do?
Nowadays, there are training courses and personal development plans aplenty. I would also recommend getting some experience in various specialist disciplines, like sales and/or operations, with support of your CPO.
Ask for secondments for at least six months for each – any less will be a waste of time. These secondments can be internal or external, and demonstrate a degree of flexibility and adaptability on the part of the procurement professional – and the host organisation benefits as well.
The time spent will not only make you a better procurement professional, it will give you an insight into the challenges your colleagues face.
If you think you are under pressure in procurement, try to imagine what it is like being in sales in this current environment.
In fact, the experience will open up a whole new world – which is precisely the point.
☛ Nigel Sussman is the managing director of High Court Collections and a member of CIPS Council
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