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A Portrait of the CPO as a Young Man or Woman
Broadly speaking, the professional specifications of a Chief Procurement Officer role can be quite diverse. The path to a procurement leadership role is often enabled by technical and functional prowess. But it is a CPO’s leadership, communication, and relationship-building skills coupled with a clear understanding of business fundamentals and an ability to offer insight in support of the business strategy, that enables them to thrive and succeed.
“Being a Chief Procurement Officer has been one of the most interesting, diverse, challenging and satisfying professional activities for me. Supply chain and procurement touches everything in a company….. There are so many possibilities [for procurement] to create value.” – CPO and Former Strategy Consultant
The educational background of the typical CPO tends to be technical in nature–i.e., an undergraduate degree in business or engineering that is often enhanced by a Master’s degree in business or a specific technical field like engineering. The career paths of many of today’s CPOs include an early post-undergraduate career in procurement, manufacturing, or finance followed by some significant experience with a process-driven company or in a process-driven role. The typical new CPO has been working in and around the field for between 15 and 20 years with at least five years in a director/VP level position before stepping into the CPO role. Some have been able to “earn their stripes” more quickly by working as management consultants, and/or by developing a very deep industry expertise before moving directly into a procurement leadership role.
Employers generally value proven success in managing people and experience with similarly-structured and similarly-sized organizations and more so than specific industry experience. Also, since most companies view their procurement organizations as either in need of a transformation or in the midst of one, a successful track record in driving change or transformation projects within procurement is seen as very valuable. Moreover, one of the latest CPO hiring trends has been the move by many enterprises to bring in an outsider rather than hire from within their current ranks.
“My perception is our industry is looking for leaders that think beyond the current circumstance and are addressing issues their organization will face in 2-3 years. They want leaders that have a long term perspective, can achieve goals in an ambiguous environment and can communicate at the board level.” – CPO Oil and Energy Sector
The CPOs that I interviewed over the last year ranked their strategic management and general communication skills as much more important than their functional capabilities. That said, the majority of CPOs in the market have a strong foundation in and clear understanding of the key people, process, and technology areas that enable procurement departments to succeed. In fact, CPOs of departments with less than 100 people are regularly required to roll-up their sleeves and get directly involved in sourcing, category, and project decisions. The need for a strategic vision and an ability to execute is required of all CPOs. Today’s leading CPOs must be able to identify the best opportunities quickly and execute them just as fast. They must be able to lead sourcing efforts, engage the organization, create performance reports, and then deliver them to other executives. They must also have a clear vision, be able to garner support for it, and then drive it.