Three ways to make your procurement career stand out to senior leaders

The role of the CPO has drastically changed in recent years, as has the perception of the procurement profession. With this in mind, what will it take to make it to the very top as you progress in your procurement career?

Six Degrees Executive procurement recruitment specialist Christine Armadass recently caught up with Jim Hilaris, who leads the procurement function at Cleanaway Waste Management to discover the secrets to his 25-year career success story. Like so many professionals, Jim’s entry into the world of procurement was unexpected. He began his career as a finance graduate before following his then boss into a procurement role. He has since held leadership positions across different industries including financial services, oil & energy, industrial services and consumer services. Jim shared with us his top tips for ambitious procurement professionals hoping to make it to the C-suite.

Top tips for a procurement career path 

1. Branch out

When it comes to recruiting for a CPO, procurement expertise is all but taken for granted. The strongest candidates will possess excellent business acumen and a diverse skillset. They know how to lead with the interests of the business at the heart of everything they do and how to communicate effectively with their CFO or CEO.

To achieve this, diverse experience is invaluable. Jim’s first period in procurement lasted nine years before he left to take on wider business roles. “I felt that I needed a more rounded background rather than just procurement experience.” He would encourage all aspiring professionals to take on positions outside procurement at some point in their career to prove their leadership qualities. “This provides you with more credibility when dealing with your internal stakeholders as opposed to saying procurement is all you’ve done. Ideally do this internally and prove yourself within the business in broader roles.”

For Jim, a brief hiatus was just the motivation he needed to contribute to the profession. “I came back to make an impact, to make things better than they were. I saw there was opportunity within procurement.”

2. Value your team

No (successful) CPO is an island. Indeed, the best procurement leaders understand the importance of building, nurturing and, ultimately, putting faith in their teams. “You can’t succeed as CPO unless you have a talented team around you to deliver the outcomes,” says Jim.

As you progress in your career focus on your ability to build and nurture relationships, bring people with you on the journey and learn to recognise top talent. As Jim reinforces, chasing subject matter expertise isn’t necessarily the most important thing. “Sometimes, it’s more about the intellectual capacity and behavioural attributes,” he explains. “I am really looking to see if they have the right behaviour or the right potential before subject matter expertise.”

Jim also advises professionals to take their time during the recruitment process and learn from mistakes made along the way. “You try different things when you are building a team, and different compositions.” Experiment with hiring based on behaviour and skills and setting up a team in different ways.

3. Be multi-dimensional

How has Jim seen the perception of the procurement function change throughout his career? “In the Australian landscape it has progressed, although not as fast as I would like. Some organisations still pull a one dimensional lever and different industries have different maturity levels.”

Most procurement teams understand that the days of cost-cutting as king are over. But it’s all too easy to focus on quick wins, especially as you set out on your career. Remember that procurement professionals are in a unique position to drive organisational change when it comes to sustainability initiatives, supply chain transparency, supplier innovation, technology and digitisation.

Being multidimensional also refers to the individual’s skillset. Managing stakeholders, building relationships, tracking outcomes and commercial awareness are among the skills Jim credits for his success.

So what’s Jim looking for in his new hires? “Motivation and commitment. And then the compatibility with the team and more broadly the mission of the organisation.”

Talk to Christine Armadass about the future of your procurement career.