She may only have been involved in procurement since 2011 – but AIG’s Charmaine Tan has already made a considerable impact, transforming the function’s reputation and prestige in the eyes of marketing teams and marketing agencies across Asia.
Not bad for a graduate who, by her own admission, had no concept of the function’s role just four years ago. Tan picked up the Procurement Leaders Future Leader award in London in May and now, a few months on, she says that the influence of her mentor at AIG, Jan Piskadlo, has played a crucial role in her success.
“My total experience in procurement is just four years,” she says. “I’m a marketing graduate and I didn’t even know what procurement did – I just knew when I graduated that I wanted to work for a global company. What attracted me was that I wanted to work overseas, I wanted exposure to other cultures and working environments, I wanted to meet different people.”
A new vision
With those imperatives in mind, Piskadlo sold Tan a vision of procurement that fulfilled her every professional need – outlining just how attractive a proposition the modern-day procurement function was.
“I wasn’t certain which function I wanted to work in but Jan introduced me to procurement and told me what it could potentially bring,” she says. “He told me that procurement can interact with any part of the business, with HR, finance and sales. “It seemed to me to be the perfect way to get a helicopter view of the business very quickly. That’s something no other area can offer.”
It became evident to Piskadlo that Tan possessed many of the attributes needed to be a success in the most demanding of arenas – boasting impeccable influencing and sales skills. “Jan told me we are like internal sales people – we need to internalise business requirements and develop ideas and options, leveraging market knowledge and competitor intelligence to influence business decisions,” she says.
“Procurement then needs to take its input and go out to the marketplace to sell the company and excite suppliers. It then has to get those ideas from suppliers to sell back to the marketing team – it’s a sort of internal consultancy and sales person role. You need to be dynamic; you need to be on your toes.”
Tan graduated from Nanyang Business School with a Bachelor in Marketing and first made her name with GSK, spending almost three years with the company as part of the firm’s first procurement graduate programme. Having been charged with the task of unlocking and maximising both value and the delivery of savings, she wasted no time in making her mark.
Starting with local sourcing responsibilities in Singapore, Tan was soon handed regional responsibilities in indirect categories such as marketing agencies, media and market research.
Seconded to Malaysia, the location of GSK’s regional consumer office, Tan worked closely with key stakeholders, including regional marketing teams, finance and partner agencies in south east Asia in a bid to support the firm’s ambitious business plans.
It was a huge success, with Tan helping the team achieve £300,000 of annual savings – a figure 250% above the initial target. Her startling impact didn’t go un-noticed, with Tan not only promoted to global category manager for digital agencies, but also winning the GSK Procurement STAR awards for ‘significant contributions to the region’.
It was then that AIG, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, came knocking and it was here where Tan’s career progression went into overdrive.
“Within six months of joining AIG, Charmaine completely rebranded procurement in the eyes of the marketing team and marketing agencies in Japan, driving top-line revenue in an area which procurement had never been previously involved in,” said Piskadlo in his submission for Tan for the Future Leader Award.
Using the concept of performance-based incentives, AIG formed a consortium with its marketing agencies in a bid to make internal changes and drive superior performance of ‘cost per response’ (CRP), or the cost to acquire an insurance lead.
The results were immediate and, again, singled Tan out as a procurement professional of rare promise. Tan, however, is quick to pay tribute to the role played by Piskadlo.
“The mentoring was crucial,” she says. “He was my mentor in terms of showing me the ropes and telling me what procurement was all about. He also tailored the programme to what I really wanted as a career goal. Having a mentor is very different to having a coach.
“For me, having a mentor is very much more relationship-orientated. It allows you to share what you want from your life, your career and what you enjoy doing.
“Then they’ll try to help you work out how that can be achieved and what you need to do. Having a mentor, particularly at a very early stage in your career, is absolutely crucial.”
Tan made use of that influence to make AIG procurementrelevantandnotjust‘operational’ for the marketing function. That, though, is no longer the case, with Tan using all her skills to infiltrate a previously no-go area and ensure that procurement’s voice was both trusted and influential. Having made such an impact, Tan is intent on taking procurement to a wider audience in a region where the function can still find itself at the margins.
“I’ve been speaking to my university’s career office, arranging some time to go in and talk about procurement. I’ve been recommending procurement as a career of choice. There’s a lot to offer because procurement is a new function in many ways, particularly in Asia, and it’s a new career option. Indirect procurement in Asia is in its infancy. In many countries and areas it’s a totally new concept.”
Mentoring, of course, is a far from new innovation but there’s no doubting the fact that without Piskadlo, Tan’s career might not have taken off to such an extraordinary extent. “There is a real contrast between being a manager and a leader,” says Tan. “For me, a leader is someone who is able to develop your capabilities using the materials you have.
“I like the analogy, which I shared at a Procurement Leaders conference last year that being a leader is like playing a game of chess. There are different pieces on a chess board and it’s up to the leader to strategise and work out the best way of getting the most out of every piece. A manager is the person who treats everyone the same. I see Jan as my leader and my mentor because he develops people according to the attributes they have.”
It has been a four-year whirlwind for Tan since graduating and, for someone who knew so little about procurement such a short time ago, she hasmadeenormousstrides,anachievement recognised at the Procurement Leaders awards.
“Winning the award was incredible,” she says. “It’s a real validation of all the work I’ve put in, as well as everyone around me.”
So what does the future hold? “I don’t want to say I’ll be in procurement for ever,” she says. “At the moment, it’s the perfect career. It’s an ever-changing environment, particularly in the marketing space. What attracted me was the breadth that the function can offer in such a short amount of time and the ability to interact with people both internally and externally.”
Tan has come a long way in a short time – now she clearly has her eyes on achieving much more.
This article is a piece of independent journalism, written by an experienced journalist and commissioned exclusively by Procurement Leaders.
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