We often hear stories of successful procurement professionals who fell into their careers completely by chance. However, increasingly the profession is becoming a career of choice, which is due in part to the opportunities, challenges and variety that procurement roles can offer ambitious professionals.
Kevin Foster, General Manager Procurement at AusNet Services, and an engineer by background, recently spoke to Six Degrees Executive procurement specialist Christine Armadass about his pathway to procurement. It was the appeal of having an overview of the entire organisation that initially drew him to the profession. “I have also really enjoyed the commercial component,” he says. “And another big part of it is collaborative problem-solving.”
Kevin outlined some of the key areas where procurement professionals must excel in order to survive and thrive in the profession.
1. You have to be strategic
Throughout his career, Kevin has observed the profession becoming increasingly intellectually challenging and stimulating. “You have got to quickly synthesise a lot of information and you have to understand how to use data effectively,” he explains.
As Kevin highlights, procurement was initially very much a commodity buying activity. “You would go out and get three quotes, make a decision based on cost and then lock in a contract.” Today, a lot more up-front analysis and category planning is required, which Kevin favours. “I like working in the strategic procurement space, where the models are truly around partnerships and creating long term value. As a procurement professional now, you are always trying to add value to the business.”
Take the total cost of ownership as an example. “It’s not just about the initial savings, but what something is going to cost the business long term,” he explains. It is not worth investing in something if the maintenance is ultimately going to drive up costs in the long run. It is this level of understanding and analysis that, Kevin argues, the organisation will really start to value.
2. You must be good at facilitating innovation
As with all support functions within an organisation, it is important, to understand how to manage and create constructive tension. This is how organisations find ways to do things differently and improve on existing processes.
“For example, if you’re working with engineers, it’s your role to constructively challenge the engineers and provide them with a different lens,” Kevin argues. “They don’t generally look at the contracts because that’s [procurement’s] role, along with evaluating alternative suppliers, assessing which supplier has a wider range of products, greater R&D capability and so forth.”
3. You need to nail stakeholder management
It is crucial that procurement professionals are both connected with the wider business and included in business planning so they understand what the business needs. This becomes increasingly important the further you progress in your career. CPOs and Procurement Business Partners must be able to effectively communicate, engage with and understand their organisation in order to lead effectively. Kevin believes that procurement professionals must “strive to engage and break down any barriers, to earn your licence to operate. In a support function, this is absolutely fundamental.”
Whilst Kevin credits stakeholder engagement as one of his greatest strengths, it is one he has evolved over time, learning from the challenges he faced in a previous role. This experience prompted him to tackle stakeholder management with both a structured and informal approach. “I have learned that you can’t overdo this. I will have informal 1:1 conversations and I initiate regular structured update with my stakeholders. These conversations and updates will include what we are doing and what we have achieved, supported by metrics and data.” This is an approach he has set up with his existing team, providing the framework of information to share with stakeholders.
So what is Kevin’s topmost advice to aspiring professionals? “Get a broad range of skills. If you think you are just going to progress [to CPO] through a procurement function, it is possible but you will have a tough time influencing stakeholders. It is more credible to have been on their side of the fence and to be able to communicate in their language. I find my operational, strategy and engineering experience has helped me do this job more effectively.”