Boston Procurement Leaders part 3: Talent Management Challenges

One of the most interesting panels from the Boston Procurement Leaders conference was focused on Talent Management.  We heard from a number of speakers on the subject of how the need for talent is shifting dramatically in the years ahead.

The first to comment on this was Ken Litton, CPO at Deutsche Bank, and a former NC State engineer alumni.  Ken worked as an engineer and in procurement at Rockwell and then as head of procurement for the Xbox division at Microsoft.  He shared with us what is happening in the procurement talent space:

“What I was hiring for 10 years ago  is very different for what I am hiring for now.  The high fliers are looking more like risk managers advising whether we should be doing certain deals or not.  My Accounts Payable and Sourcing people are looking like value drivers focused on driving P&L realization to the bottom line.  The Vendor Management team are starting to sound like banking regulators.  The rest of my team are looking like bankers focused on our balance of trade with top vendors, who are also big clients –to enable top line revenue.  So we are working with a very different mold than what we were talking about ten years ago.”

Linda Topping, Chief Procurement Officer at Colgate Palmolive, also shared her views on her experience on talent in procurement:

“In the past, the movement in procurement was very slow.  Your career path was opportunistic, in that if someone happened to notice you, you got promoted.  The movement of talent was that people came into procurement and stayed forever because they had the relationships.  You had the business relationship with the company, sort of an “old school relationship”, where knowing people for 25 years was a good thing. What became clear in 2008 is that it didn’t matter how well you knew people, because the world was changing!”

“Ten years ago we recognized the world was changing and Colgate realized that  having lifers in procurement was not a good thing and the metamorphosis was clearing the house by re-setting the expectation.  The expectation became:  I don’t want anything bought by someone who doesn’t have professional procurement people experience.”

“In the last five years the profile changed and the turnover went from zero to very high.  Instead, procurement became a training ground – and the idea was to get them in, get them up, and if they are good, promote them to another area.  This is a big change – as opposed to procurement being a great career because there is no competition!”

“Today we get excellent MBAs going into procurement as a career of choice.  My boss who runs the whole supply chain insists that two or three of high potential are running through global procurement and it is seen as great training ground for getting a much broader business understanding of high potential future leaders.  We see people who have emotional intelligence and who can be an influencer.  And a lot of the projects involve the analytical side of the business, so they have to be careful on how they spend their time.”

Ken finished the panel with a challenge to the group.  “As a profession we’ve come a long way, but we have a lot of work to do.  Brokerage and clearing people want to come work for us, because they want to do deals, and they want to be at the tables negotiating these deals.  But are they ready?  I’m not sure as an industry we have matured enough.  Are we career pathing people the right way to go into procurement and face these challenges?”

A great question indeed…