I was drawn to the worlds of consulting and investment banking in my early post MBA-career by the chance to work on a variety of different projects, the ability to use and develop a wide-range of skills, and my interest in transactions. In the the late 1990s, I was drawn to the technology market by the opportunity to enter the exciting world of pre-IPO opportunities. And while I just missed a few big opportunities, I soon found myself working for companies that were focused on sourcing and procurement – packaging and selling solutions and then working as a strategic sourcing consultant.

As I was then, I remain drawn to and interested in strategic sourcing for the same reasons I’d been in banking – the chance to work on a variety of different projects, the ability to use and develop a wide-range of skills, and my interest in transactions. In my opinion, sourcing as a process and as a function is very nuanced and challenging and as a result, extremely interesting. Eric Beylier Chief Procurement Officer at Tetra Technologies captured a similar sentiment when he said that, “Being a Chief Procurement Officer has been one of the most interesting, diverse, challenging and satisfying professional activities for me.”

At Ariba LIVE 2012, one CPO Panel that I attended was posed the question that is the title of this article –

Business or Sourcing: What Skill Sets Does Your CPO Value Most?

A similar question would be

If you are a sourcing professional, what skill sets have been most important to your success?

Is it the ability to analyze spend reports or supply markets? Your knowledge of the category? How you engage stakeholders and manage projects? Does your broader understanding of the business give you the edge that you need? What about your sourcing process expertise? Is it something else? Or, is it a blend of these and other skills that have gotten you to where you are in your career?

If you were to separate out the skills (and clearly you need to have more than one skill to perform any job) into two buckets – sourcing expertise and general business expertise – what bucket needs the most attention? what bucket of skills differentiates you in the market? Finally, what bucket does your CPO value most?

Is there a right answer to the question? In the specific, absolutely – your skills are unique and your CPO has an opinion on this? Have you asked him/her? Of course, in the specific, the “right’ answers can be different.

The Chief Procurement Officer of one global mining company told me that, “Noone in “Procurement” should be in management / senior positions unless they have spent time in the business unit so they have a solid business grounding (builds trust). The biggest challenge lies in integrating procurement with 0perations – the more they are apart and  not aligned with priorities, the less their perceived relevance.”

Holger Baeuerle, Chief Procurement Officer at Moody’s believes that, “The key to achieving success in procurement is to hire good people who fit in with the culture and the task at hand.” Holger tends to hire operations or process people instead of traditional negotiators.

Is there a right answer to the question? In general or for the market, no. What works for one CPO or organization may not work for another. For example, when the question was posed to the audience at Ariba LIVE, the room was split 40/40 on whether business or sourcing skills were more important to their departments. The other twenty percent held out for option C – which believes that a blend of the two is what’s needed.

We’ll look at this question in more detail next time and include an analysis of at least one new job posting and a few recent conversations with recruiters and hiring managers.

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