East Coast Forum 2017: Transforming from the ground up

DK Photo #2

Procurement Leaders East Coast Forum is returning to Boston in September bringing together senior procurement professionals for two days of discussions on ways to transform procurement for tomorrow’s business.


David Kern, TripAdvisor’s head of procurement, talks to Procurement Leaders about his function’s recent transformation and the wider role procurement plays in the organisation.


Procurement Leaders: What is the scope and scale of procurement at TripAdvisor?


David Kern (DK): TripAdvisor is made up of 20 different brands, some of which are standalone companies, altogether making up the entire TripAdvisor media group.


The procurement team assists each of these brand units, and supports the tactical and cross-functional opportunities that go with them – as you can imagine, we are very busy. We act as an agent working on behalf of these units so one day we could be looking at technology spend, the next at strategic vendor partnerships and the next purchasing general goods and services, such as office products.


As a very social-focused organisation, does procurement run differently here to other organisations you have worked for?


DK: Procurement does work a little differently at TripAdvisor. For some other companies, procurement may be perceived as a functional role hidden behind the curtain; focused solely on bringing spend down in categories. Savings are a fact of life in this profession, of course, but we are doing something a little unique in that we are taking the procurement function to our employees via a grassroots development effort, by building from the ground up rather than the top down.


What I mean by grassroots efforts is that we are partnering with the business and working with lots of different parts of the organisation and employees who ask for our help.


At TripAdvisor, a major part of our culture is to ‘act like an owner’ for everything you do, and this means everyone regardless of seniority. We drive this ownership mindset throughout the procurement team. As ‘owners’ we must act as equal partners with the business unit owners on projects so we all have a stake in the team win. Because business unit owners also have this ownership mindset, they are aware that we are there to act as a partner with them on the project – rather than taking control away from them.


How has the function at TripAdvisor transformed in recent years?


DK: Before I joined TripAdvisor two years ago, my role never existed. Each of the 20 brand units were responsible for procurement. While there was collaboration across the units, there wasn’t an overarching procurement focus. There was also the issue that two teams could be negotiating and contracting the same suppliers with no common approach.


This new functional role I was brought in for was created in the spirit of bringing all the different brands together to help grow the business. I created a new central team – the centre of excellence – made up of a key task force of individuals or ‘firefighters’ that can come in and work on key projects.


The business units still exist and still have ownership of the decisions in their units, but we have access to central data and insight that can support them.


How are you leading the function on a road to continuous improvement?


DK: The key is to get the right people involved in projects at the right time. We, as both procurement and as an organisation, need to recognise that engagement is important at all levels. Sometimes, engaging employees at the lowest level can be the most meaningful as they better understand the challenges on the ground.


The way businesses work now is that teams other than procurement also sometimes have a need to be involved in supplier discussions or negotiations and so we need to work collaboratively and align across the business. We have also started hosting ’lunch and learn’ sessions where we teach other parts of the business skills that they may need when dealing with suppliers and challenge them to think differently.


What advice would you give other teams undergoing a transformation?


DK: I’d tell them to seek out the early wins and share them with their business partners. Sometimes we get too worried about value in terms of the dollars and cents when, instead, we should be focusing on other values such as talent and strategy alignment.


As you transform, it is also important to be sure of the direction in which you’re going and be open about it. Procurement must act as the hunter of what it wants to be and share what and how it is doing that with the rest of the business.



What lessons are you hoping to take away from the Forum?


DK: There are two main things I’m hoping to get out of the event. First, I am looking forward to building my professional contacts with people in the procurement space. Second, I want to hear what’s working and not working in the industry for others. In this environment, we can – and should – be as transparent and open as possible. In being so, we can collectively help to improve the profession and help benchmark and share ideas with each other.


Find out more about Procurement Leaders’ East Coast Forum


Image courtesy of TripAdvisor


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.