CPOs: Think Globally, Network Locally

Posted by Andrew Bartolini on March 26th, 2010
Stored in Articles, Chief Procurement Officers, People

The CPOs in the Bay Area have an informal group that gets together from time to time to network and discuss best practices (Sidebar: I dialed into their meeting a few days ago to provide an overview of recent trends in supply management technology and highlight key solution providers in certain segments. I will share some of the Q&A from this call in a future article). I think it is high time that CPOs in most major cities begin to develop the same type of local connections. CFOs have been doing this for years to their personal and professional benefit.

Some professionals have done a great job building procurement communities like the local ISM chapters in Silicon Valley led by John Semanik and Dallas (which has some true CPO involvement via its CPO Advisory Board). Connecticut led by Phil Presti, VP of Worldwide Procurement for Pfizer and supported by Bob Sember of the JVKelly Group is an example of another group.  Boston has the new New England Procurement Professionals group that Gary Beaudreau started in LinkedIn and as of this writing has 188 members.

I applaud any group that organizes procurement professionals – whether you are in one of the 140+ ISM affiliates, one of the hundreds of newer LinkedIn groups focused on procurement or a participant on some other type of platform (blog?) – and I welcome any opportunity to meet with groups like this and discuss supply management.

But while many of these local ISM chapters and online networks/groupings are thriving (Sidebar: St. Louis ISM is looking to revamp and just kicked off a new membership drive), I’m not sure that they generally meet the needs of the CPO. This is not meant as a slight to ISM which provides a valuable service in our world. I do however believe that today’s CPO is less likely to need and less likely to utilize either the CPM or CPSM designation in day to day management. In my view an MBA with an operations or procurement/supply chain concentration will be of significantly greater value than a CPM/CPSM. Of course that argument is unfair since the CPM is not intended to replace an advanced degree. But I digress…. My point is that the relevance that the average CPO would find in a meeting geared around continuing education for CPMs/CPSMs will be limited. I would draw the same analogy between today’s CFO and the C.P.A. designation. This is one reason why the CFOs in the US have developed strong local networks.

One of the reasons why benchmarking can be so powerful (particularly between like companies or like job roles) is the reality that so many of us, particularly at the senior-most ranks, operate in a relative vacuum, forced to rely almost singularly on our own intelligence and instincts when new situations and key decision points arise. Benchmarking, like the local CPO clubs I am proposing, validate decisions, provide lessons learned, and introduce new (new to you) ideas and approaches that help you avoid reinventing the wheel.

Those of you in major cities should have no problem identifying 10-20 local CPOs who can afford to meet 4-6 times a year for a couple of hours at a time. As you move to smaller metro regions, you may need to consider a wider driving radius to mark a territory.

Once you have a core group (and I’d be happy to introduce any of my contacts in a given region or serve as an intermediary), you can collectively decide what you want to achieve – knowledge sharing, professional development, social/personal interaction, something else….  then set a few meeting dates. Consider rotating sites and topics so that everyone has a fair voice and pick a new chairperson or host to drive each meeting’s agenda. Now I pause because what I am thinking sounds foolish but could be a great ice-breaker – start the first hour of your first meeting with a “speed dating” session where CPOs are paired together for a few minutes of introductions before moving on to the next one. Who knows? A lot can happen in 8 minutes…..

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