ISM at 100: A Conversation with Tom Derry

Posted by Andrew Bartolini & Matthew York on May 13th, 2015
Stored in Articles, Events, General, People, Process

Last week, I had the pleasure to meet with Tom Derry, CEO of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), at its 100 thannual conference in Phoenix, Arizona (Matt York, our editor, sat in and helped capture the highlights and write this article). Being a milestone year for ISM, the mood was relaxed and upbeat on the morning that I met with Tom to discuss procurement and the “state of ISM at 100” and where it is headed in its second century. As a reminder, Tom took the helm of ISM in July of 2012 after spending almost a decade as an executive at AFP (Association for Financial Professionals).

One of the first questions that I asked Tom was how ISM plans to adapt to the many recent changes we have seen in the procurement profession. As he sees it, “Procurement’s going to be the place that finds the innovation and brings it into the organization.” As a result, Tom believes that ISM needs to change – and is changing – the content it creates and the way it delivers it to support the needs of supply management professionals everywhere. He says it also needs to modernize its image. After all, he noted, the ISM of 40 years ago is not the ISM of today, and would be ill-prepared to train and equip today’s and tomorrow’s supply management leaders and practitioners.

Our wide-ranging discussion turned to the subject of talent management, and the notion that there is a greater need for procurement talent than at any time in the last century. From Tom’s perspective, more organizations are paying greater attention to current and future workforce challenges, targeting Millennials for procurement, and allocating more budgetary resources to recruit, train, and retain more personnel (Our own research has shown that staff/talent constraints have become less of a challenge for Chief Procurement Officers in 2015 compared to 2014, but note that it remains a top challenge, according to our latest CPO Study). It can also be said that the Millennial generation has started to make waves within procurement, as evidenced by ISM’s and ThomasNet’s recent spotlight on the “30-under-30” supply management professionals (our resident expert on this topic, Matt York shared his thoughts on the new breed of procurement pros here and he will discuss more about this 30-under-30 program in an upcoming article)

When the subject turned to the different types of training that ISM provides, Tom noted that ISM continues to provide basic training and education for current or aspiring supply management professionals, something he considers “table stakes for companies.” He also thinks that what today’s supply management professionals really need is the ability to understand the needs of the business tomorrow by understanding “this is where my business is probably headed.” Tom notes that this is a skill that neither ISM nor enterprises can teach; it is part of a general business acumen that supply management leaders and practitioners need to develop in the course of their career, particularly in order to be successful.

In that vein, Tom sees ISM as a forward-looking organization focused on preparing tomorrow’s supply management leaders and practitioners. It was here that he mentioned ISM’s “Mastery Model” – a career development program created specifically for procurement and supply management practitioners, who “need a taxonomy of titles, defined career paths, and competency matrices.” For young professionals, this will help them track their career progression against their goals, their peers, and help them advance.

Now that the organization is a hundred years old, Tom believes that his team fully understands its place in the market as an organization that is “of, by, for the practitioner.” As its mission statement reads, ISM seeks “to enhance the value and performance of procurement and SCM practitioners and their organizations worldwide.” Tom believes that they, through their mission statement, are helping to create jobs, improve education, and raise standards of living in locations at home and abroad.

Tom says ISM is focused on improving its digital delivery of content and services, and admits that they currently lag in this regard. ISM sees itself as an educational institute for adults and aspires to be “the University of Phoenix for procurement”. To that end, he sees ISM expanding its growth in the supply chain and global logistics programs at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

Our conversation ran long but the time went fast. Three years in, Tom appears to be enjoying himself and seems genuinely excited to lead the organization into its “next century” working to help prepare today’s supply management leaders to manage tomorrow’s increasingly complex issues, like supply risk, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability. The vision is bold and it won’t be easy to execute, but the opportunity makes the effort worthwhile. And, we’ll be watching as the ISM enters a brave new century.

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