Who Are Procurement’s New Leaders? by Jon Hansen

Posted on January 27, 2015


My most recent post titled The Face of Procurement’s Generation Next, has garnered considerable attention throughout the social media world, including some interesting comments in a number of social networking sites.

One reaction however stood out, as the perspective offered by the reader served to remind us that despite the profession’s elevation from that of a functional role to one of recognized strategic importance, old mindsets continue to present some very real challenges.

Here is what he had to say:

There is no question that the talent is out there and interested. The challenge that we face is one of leadership, as many procurement leaders continue to frame the role of procurement based on a world that will not exist in a few years . . . Often our new leaders will need to bring a perspective of how our businesses will compete and leverage technology and therefore will come from outside of procurement. Business strategy and traditional procurement strategy are often misaligned. The necessary leadership talent must synthesize the best of both, and discard the obsolete to create something new. – Bill Huber @SourceTransform

Overall, it was a most interesting comment on many levels.

For example, the reader’s reference related to framing the role of procurement “based on a world that will not exist in a few years” reminded me of a slide from my Changed Face of Procurement presentation.  The slide to which I am referring featured Eric Hoffer’s statement that “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”  In short, we need new leadership who can bring an entirely different view of how procurement can maximize both its role and impact on an organization’s success.

The potential problem I have with the comment is not in it’s overall message, but the suggestion that the required new perspective will have to originate with leadership that “will come from outside of procurement.”

When I read this, I was instantly transported – I guess transported would be the right word – back to when I wrote my 2007 post Procurement’s expanding role and the executive of the future.

Based upon a CPO Agenda Roundtable discussion involving senior executives from major global entities, it was suggested that the best people at that time to lead the purchasing department, were those who did not have a purchasing background.  Think about that one for a moment in the context of another statement from the same conversation, in which executives expressed the belief that one strategic thinker is worth ten run-of-the-mill buyers.

Again, this was back in 2007 yet, here we are in 2015, and a similar sentiment persists today.

Besides the obvious question as to why this belief in outsiders persists, one cannot help but wonder what we in the procurement world have been doing all of these years.  Have we not learned anything or, gained a big picture view of what it is we do, and why it is important.  Does the reader’s contention provide further proof that Dr. Robert Handfield and Gerald Chick were right when they said that there is little that the next generation of procurement professionals can learn from the previous “buyer” generation?

procurement leader2

If that is the case, then are we not simply handing over the reigns of our future to a new generation of outsiders, once again relegating our profession to that of a foot soldier simply following the directions of the generals from finance or IT?

I for one do not believe that this up and coming generation of procurement professionals will stand for that.

This being said, from where will procurement’s leaders ultimately come?  Are they the young men and women recognized in the ISM – ThomasNet Top 30 Under 30 group? Or will they once again emerge from outside of the procurement world, and if outside from where?  Finance?

What are your thoughts?

Have the previous generation of buyers let down today's professionals?

Have the previous generation of buyers let down today’s professionals?


Posted in: Commentary