Questions and Answers on Global Procurement with John Zapko, VP of Global Procurement, Lenovo
Challenges of Global Procurement
Rob Handfield (Co-Director of SCRC): Hi, I’m here with John Zapko, vice president of global procurement. John has procurement authority over all software, Latin America, and emerging markets. And we’re here with John to get his views of what’s going on in the world of global procurement. John, what do you see as being, in your world, the big challenges for Lenovo as you look at global procurement in the areas that you work in?
John Zapko (VP of Global Procurement, Lenovo): Yeah, that’s a good question, Rob. You know, we’ve talked a lot about this in our strategy sessions with our management team, and as we’ve grown our global organization and we’ve positioned the people around our global organization, what we find as we drive toward more and more success with Lenovo, and what we’re trying to do in the industry and the marketplace, is that our biggest challenge is talent.
Without question, attracting talent, bringing it on board, being able to hire this talent and especially retaining talent around the world in some of our most important positions, not only at management levels, senior management levels, but also commodity management and the people that really focus on the procurement activity, driving the supplier-based management, you know, negotiations, contracts. As we drive in this complex world, having that level of talent is really, really critical for us, and it is clearly the biggest challenge we have.
The Importance of Talent in Procurement
Rob Handfield (Co-Director of SCRC): John, maybe you could speak a little bit to the topic of how you create talent and why is it so important in a complex world. At this conference, we’ve been hearing a lot about global complexity and the challenges in dealing with governments, with regulations. Why is talent so important in procurement as you work these issues?
John Zapko (VP of Global Procurement, Lenovo): Well, you know, the global complexity is becoming more and more significant for us. I think for us, and anyone. As we drive our growth, in emerging markets especially, and as we drive our activity into those emerging markets, having people that really understand the procurement role, that have experience in delivering professional procurement activity, then being able to do that in a more complex environment in the merging market, where government regulations’ specific uniqueness is around contract.
New emerging suppliers and our ability to manage those emerging suppliers, those become key critical skills and key critical experiences that, if we don’t have, we’re seriously lacking. So we benefit from those greatly, and when we find those people, whether we build that town internally through activity and growth and development, or we hire it in, once we have it and once we’re driving the advantages with it, we really have to retain it. And so that becomes the major initiative for us as we work in this complex world.
Rob Handfield (Co-Director of SCRC): Now I can certainly see that. One of the things I think that Lenovo decided to do a few years ago, and I remember the day we had that conversation, was when Lenovo became a partner to the SCRC. And you’ve clearly been a great partner. We do a number of projects every year with you. You’ve hired several of our graduates. What do you see as the role that organizations such as NC State and the SCRC play in Lenovo’s search to recruit and retain the best talent?
John Zapko (VP of Global Procurement, Lenovo): SCRC has been an important function and activity for us over the course of, I think we had that conversation maybe five or six years ago. And at the time we were searching for an association to focus on, to network with, to attach ourselves to locally. With all of the recruiting that we do and the base that we’re trying to build and that we have built in Morrisville, which is centrally located in this area of North Carolina, we wanted to make sure that we attached ourselves to a professional supply chain organization, which is what we’ve done with SCRC.
Beyond the corporate networking and attachment to local education, clearly the biggest thing for us, Rob, has been the practicums and our ability to attract students, both graduate and undergraduate students, to work with us in a variety of projects for which we’ve really found a way, working with your team, to improve the deliverables and the experiences, both from the student section, which I’ve heard from your team has been well done, but certainly from our perspective. We’ve learned how to manage those. We’ve learned how to bring these guys in, work with them specifically, get good deliverables out of those projects and really capitalize on that investment. And we plan to continue to do this for some time because it’s really been a value for us.
Characteristics of Employees
Rob Handfield (Co-Director of SCRC): Great. I guess the last question I’d like to ask you is what would be your advice to young people who are looking to have a career in supply chain management at a company like Lenovo? What are the characteristics you look for in young people who are looking for careers in that area?
John Zapko (VP of Global Procurement, Lenovo): Well, you know, the first thing would be to recognize the supply chain as a very specific and important function. You’ve said over the years, and it’s been proven over the years, that supply chain is becoming a more and more important role in the capabilities and the advancement of especially global organizations like we have. We’ve done some of the same things internally as we’ve kind of raised the level of the supply chain in our company. From advice to young talent perspective I would say, state your interest. Come into it as a business proposition, whether the young people land in procurement or logistics, or supply management or planning, supply chain is big and broad. And from a business perspective, it has lots and lots of challenges, and people can find their way to a career of their liking. From a procurement perspective, I always coach my new hires to think of it as your business management. You’re delivering the procurement responsibilities and the procurement professionalism. But if you’re not focused on delivering the spend management, finding your supplier base, operating in a professional way, if you’re thinking about that, you are more likely to become a procurement professional that is built and developed and broadened to take other roles within the business, other roles within the supply chain, and other roles within the corporate structure.
Rob Handfield (Co-Director of SCRC): Well, thank you very much, John. Lenovo’s been a great partner over the years, and we look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.
John Zapko (VP of Global Procurement, Lenovo): I appreciate it. And the ongoing partnership of the SCRC, it’s important to us, and we find big value in it.