So you’ve decided procurement is the career for you. And you’ve embarked on this journey with gusto - bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to make your mark on the profession.
As Richard Allen, CPO/ Director Procurement, Property and Financial Shared Services from Bupa knows all too well, making it to the top requires the right attitude, the right environment and the right skillset.
Richard was formerly CPO at Telstra, where he managed a spend of $12billion+, and was CPO of the year in 2015. In a recent conversation with Six Degrees Executive recruitment specialist Christine Armadass, Richard shares his thoughts on key indicators to look out for to confirm that, not only are you in the right function, but you’re primed for procurement success.
1. You’re good at it
It might seem obvious but having a natural aptitude for a procurement role is a good place to start. For Richard, having fallen into the profession by chance, this provided some much-welcomed motivation. “There was some alignment in my head in terms of what I was good at and someone else also recognising that,” he says. “This is often the case when you’re early on in your career, and someone with more experience can see something or offer you a perspective that you may not be able to see for yourself.”
2. You’re commercial
With the rise of technology and roles becoming increasingly strategic, many skills traditionally associated with procurement are being deemed less important. But one skill that, in Richard’s experience, remains fundamental for procurement professionals is being commercial. “It’s important to have an idea of what value means to you and the company you work for. You have to ensure the commercial integrity of the business is maintained and bring that to the table.”
3. You like it
There will always be those workdays, and perhaps long stretches of time, that aren’t entirely fulfilling. And there will always be work environments that are less than optimal. But there is a lot to be said for truly enjoying work – at least most of the time. “I think you have to enjoy what you do,” Richard says. After all, you have to turn up and do that job every day. “After a couple of years [in procurement] I figured out not only that was I alright at it - I actually enjoyed it. I have never had Mondayitis in my life.”
Richard stressed the importance of figuring out career priorities, particularly early on in a procurement career, in order to find a role that will ultimately be fulfilling. “Even if you love the role, if you’re not aligned with the values and culture [of your organisation], over a period of time this will wear you out.”
4. You want more from your career than “buying”
The perception of procurement has drastically changed over the years and, as such, so have the expectations business leaders place on procurement professionals. Where once procurement and “buying” were synonymous, today a broader, more complex, skillset is demanded. “You have to be able to demonstrate navigating complexity, agility and working in a changing environment” Richard explains. I need to know that [my hires] can engage and influence a very broad and diverse range of stakeholders.”
5. You have vision
Trusted Advisor, Most Valuable Player, and Seat at the Table are all terms procurement professionals are accustomed to hearing, and perhaps growing tired of. However, like it or not, procurement is a profession with so much potential, influence and scope. It takes someone with vision and drive to push a team to its limits.
For those professionals without ambition, it’s easy to get left behind or be replaced, even by those lacking technical procurement experience. As Richard highlights “industry experience has some part to play, but it’s not at the top of my list. I have never discounted anyone because they didn’t have specific industry experience and I hire people from different functions all the time.”
6. You’re adaptable
When you work within a profession that is continually evolving, and at different paces within different organisations, adaptability is an invaluable skill. The ability to respond quickly to changing working environments, reassess decisions and respond to challenges with new ideas and appropriate processes has stood Richard in good stead throughout his career. He remembers a time early on in his career when he was working in a particularly unsophisticated business unit. “I tried to implement a structure and governance that was not ready for this level procurement sophistication,” he explains. The model was too expensive and ultimately delivered suboptimal outcomes, “I should have gone with a structure that was lighter and leaner. It’s important to understand the environment you’re in and don’t assume what you knew at your previous job will apply to the new environment you have come into.”
Richard’s parting advice to professionals in the early stages of their career? “Whatever you do in your work life needs to fit in your broader life. Think forward about how the job may play out, if you love it enough then it doesn’t matter.”