Procurement executives from a range of different industries, companies and at various different levels within the function answer questions on leadership and individual growth.
Procurement Leaders (PL): What’s your background and how did you come to procurement?
Katie Hodgkiss (KH): Like a lot of people I stumbled into procurement. I was studying for a postgraduate in journalism and took a temporary job in procurement at an infrastructure investment company. It gave me an insight into an industry I had never considered as a possible career option, but I got on really well with the head of procurement and he took me under his wing. When I finished my studies, I worked on a couple of buying assignments, then I was offered a permanent position.
PL: How is procurement suited to meet your career ambitions?
KH: I’m five years into my career in the function and I can honestly say I’ve never regretted my decision. The great thing about procurement is that there are always new things to learn. The job can vary depending on which market you’re operating in. I recently moved from the HR category to IT, where the suppliers are often heavily embedded within the business, so you have to be more creative in working out where you can add value.
At Lloyds there are also opportunities to lead. Currently I’m developing the overall strategy for my category, but I’ve also led projects improving how procurement works as a function. Last year I developed a new tool which would allow us to assess our stakeholder relationships more effectively, and I’m in the process of launching a forum to encourage more collaboration across the category teams.
PL: Are there any personality traits or technical skills that have helped you progress to your leadership role?
KH: I’m naturally inclined to take charge and I’ve always looked for opportunities to lead. That’s paid off because now I’m approached by colleagues to come on board and work on strategic projects.
PL: What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
KH: When I first joined Lloyds I was given plenty of training in the core skills a buyer needs. Now I’m thinking about the next stage in my career and the skills I will need for that, so I’m looking for opportunities to lead more strategic projects. In procurement there are new markets emerging all the time so new skills are essential.
PL: How do you motivate and lead success?
KH: In my role, the ability to manage stakeholders, who are often more senior than I am, is critical. I always seek to understand their goals and motivations, and then factor that into my approach.
To lead effectively – particularly in a large organisation like Lloyds – you need to be the driving force and take accountability, but also be willing to involve others in the decision-making process.
PL: How does Lloyds help to support you in continually developing your leadership skills?
KH: At Lloyds we have a leadership faculty portal, which is a useful reference point for development. Most importantly the company isn’t particularly hierarchical so there are lots of opportunities to lead projects even if you are in the more junior ranks. There is also a mentoring programme, which has really helped in terms of my development.
Procurement Leaders (PL): How have you progressed into your leadership position? Are there any personality traits or technical skills that supported this?
Jochen Theuerkauf (JT): I have spent the last decade working with some really inspirational people at T-Mobile International, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange and now BuyIn. Their advice and the opportunities they have given me to work abroad and in new categories has enabled me to develop my skills, which helped me move up through the ranks. Progressing into this position has also been about my passion to develop people, and see members of my team perform to their best. I rate my professional success as a measure of the success of my team.
From a technical point of view, the Procurement Leaders’ Mini MBA helped me to gain a better understanding of the needs of stakeholders.
In our industry, and more specifically the mobile handset sector, the market is very dynamic. Negotiation strategies can only be implemented together with local stakeholders, as well as group marketing and finance. It is important to be able to empathise with all these different parties and understand their different perspectives and to speak with one voice towards suppliers.
PL: Can you describe how senior leadership has supported you before and in the course of your current role?
JT: The leadership team has undoubtedly shaped my way of thinking and professional approach. They have helped me understand customer requirements and have also challenged how I work on a day-to-day basis in terms of setting the right priorities.
However, I think the most valuable support I receive from them is trust. Our industry is so fast-paced. To cope with these market dynamics we have a number of agile projects in play to develop new negotiation levers. Ultimately management trust is what allows us to ensure the best prices in the market for our customers.
PL: How do you motivate and lead success in your team?
JT: We have an open style of communication in my team. The trust I enjoy from senior management is something I pass on to my team. They are the experts at what they’re doing so I give them the respect and freedom they need to feel empowered. Trust also means that at a certain point in time you have to let people go, to give them the chance to develop outside procurement.
PL: How does BuyIn help to support you in continually developing your leadership skills?
JT: Within BuyIn we have a procurement academy with courses to develop leadership skills. We also have clear communicated expectations concerning leadership, supported by a leadership excellence model. We also regularly invite industry analysts, vendors and members of our group strategy departments to come in and talk, to bring fresh knowledge and ideas into the team.
PL: What are the three most important values you demonstrate as a leader?
JT: First, openness and willingness for change. If you don’t change and adapt to the market, your environment will take decisions for you. Second, open communication – only as a team can you achieve success. Third, trust. Not all projects end successfully, but to have the motivation to start again is very important.
PL: To what extent is it necessary to take a region-specific approach to talent development or can a function-wide approach suffice?
JT: The intercultural background is very important in a business that works with a global supplier base. My team has individuals from several nationalities; nevertheless we all follow the same BuyIn procurement approach to identify market dynamics.
Procurement Leaders (PL): How important is having a function that fosters and supports the growth of leadership skills?
Christina Vasili (CV): It is absolutely critical. The business world is fiercely competitive and you cannot survive as a business if you do not create the right environment for your best people to succeed. We are constantly told that there is a war on talent out there. If we are to attract and retain the best, we need to provide them with the right opportunities which allows them to develop their leadership skills in a way that enables them and the business, to succeed in the future.
PL: What has been your own leadership journey?
CV: At the beginning I was definitely caught in the world where I felt that I needed to know the answers. If someone came to me with a problem or an opportunity, I placed a huge amount of pressure on myself to come up with the answer; I am by nature a problem solver. I felt that this is what a head of procurement should be able to do; I needed to perform. That’s just not realistic nor is it effective. There is so much ambiguity and uncertainty out there and there are no simple answers but there are plenty of complex problems. In the past few years, I have shifted my thinking. I accept as being flawed, the concept of people higher up the organisation knowing more.
Good leaders draw on the knowledge and experience from the people around them and across the organisation to get to the right outcome. So, I have removed that pressure from me. I have put aside the need to perform all the time. Instead, I try to really listen and to learn from everyone around me. I try to hear all the different viewpoints, encourage collaboration and facilitate a solution.
PL: Do you think different skill sets and personalities drive leadership at different levels of the procurement organisation, or is a good leader always a good leader?
CV: On the one hand and for me, leadership can be a collective responsibility. For example, as the CPO, I am the leader in my department, however I work with my leadership team to ensure that we meet our goals, drive the procurement agenda forward and ultimately succeed. The different skill sets, experiences and personalities within this leadership team provide cognitive diversity and as such, and through collaboration and positive challenge, I believe we reach better outcomes. On the other hand, I also believe that a true leader, one that really understands what it means to be a good leader, will succeed at any level.
PL: You are a strong advocate of promoting leadership initiatives – what do you think today’s leaders should be doing differently to nurture leaders of tomorrow?
CV: The most important thing to be doing differently is to show the leaders of tomorrow that being a successful future leader requires a different skill set and approach to leading than in the past. In order to truly lead you need to use your influence, not your authority, you need to use the practice of leadership and not your position to set direction where direction is not clear. In addition, successful leadership requires a different set of skills. At the top of the list is self-awareness. So the challenge for leadership development, as we move forward, is really about how do we help people develop self-awareness that allows them to step outside of their usual processes, outside of the rules and be able to create a new future.
PL: What kind of leadership and talent development journey are you hoping to create in your organisation, and how are you doing that?
CV: This is a really timely question because we are just in the midst of refreshing our development framework. At the heart of this, we are looking at the wider business strategy and how our team can support that in the work that we do. We are then looking to link that to the capabilities we are trying to develop. We need to be able to articulate some clear direction around career paths, refreshing competency matrices and implementing the appropriate learning and development framework.
PL: What advice can you give to procurement professionals that aspire to move into a leadership role in the function?
CV: The role of procurement is changing. The way in which it adds value and maintains relevance to the business goes far beyond sourcing and the delivery of cost reduction numbers. As such, in order to lead a successful procurement function you need to develop a more rounded set of skills and behaviours. A good starting point is to examine your own behaviour and to become much more self-aware. What is your impact? How do you work with others? Can you influence positively? Can you collaborate to address problems and identify creative solutions? It’s not enough in this day and age to be a deep technical expert; those days are long gone.
This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.