30 October 2019
Topics in this article
  • Capability & Skills
  • Cost Optimization
  • Strategy & Planning

We are going to share what the smartest procurement and supply chain headhunters think about the Future CPO and discuss the idea of a ‘pinball career’. They are fascinating and of huge importance to those currently in role, or targeting the role from inside or outside of the profession.

One way of taking an independent temperature check on what the C-suite is thinking (and by implication, what CPO’s need to be thinking) is to talk to a headhunters. Why? Because there are few relationships like those between successful headhunters and their C-suite clients. These are relationships built on mutual respect, trust, and need.

These headhunters are the women and men who will shape the top of our profession. They don’t operate on the main stage, rather they are behind the scenes, experts in their domain, strategic thinkers, confidants, and expert matchmakers. Their thoughts are of huge importance to the procurement profession, and they are the conduit to understanding what those who Procurement report to are thinking about.

We are grateful that they have shared their insights, and as promised to them, we will be discrete on who said what!

  1. The future CPO is a leadership role – a commercial MD running an eco-system of people and suppliers. One headhunter remarked that there are many similarities between the profile of today’s CEO and the next generation CPO. The role may well become a stepping stone.
  2. The successful Chief Procurement Officer earns their C by thinking about the business through a lens broader than procurement. Taking this one stage further, CEOs are looking for candidates who have a point of view on the issues which worry them. From trade wars, digital-led revolution, or just Brexit; the CPO must be able to articulate insights into how this affects the business and link it to the contribution suppliers can make.
  3. Spending time outside of procurement may be an advantage and “second in commands” may not assume succession as a given. This where the idea of a ‘pinball career’ comes in. Internal recruits will most probably have come from outside Procurement in their immediate role before being CPO. Successful CPOs such as Tom Spink at Aviva (ex divisional MD) or Rainer Husmann at Allianz (ex CFO of their PE business) may be forerunners of this trend. (Interestingly, when Proxima reviewed this in 2005, just over 50% of FTSE 100 CPOs did not have a procurement background. That percentage fell in the decade and a bit after; it might rise again).
  4. The future CPO needs to be comfortable with: positive disruption, leading transformation, understanding digital advancement and how to link it to the human element, sustainability, and risk. The last three of these are board agenda items which – in my opinion – can only be addressed via suppliers. What an opportunity!
  5. Clients of headhunters are frustrated with CPOs who bounce around from business to business without progressing up the ladder. Client are searching for growth in mindset and career.

Implications are many but we will focus on three simple ones for your career to the top.

  1. Future CPO leaves to return. The career path is fuzzier and broader, to bring added perspective to the role. As a result…
  2. If you make Future CPO, it’s a springboard. In the Nordics, the CFO is often a divisional MD who lacks technical finance experience, so the role rounds them out. Can the Future CPO be a similar hunting ground for future escalation? If so…
  3. Future CPO has got to be persuaded to leave HR / IT / Sales. Procurement leadership is in a competition for talent and we must resolve any brand issues. Potential CPOs must believe the message that it really is a route to the top tier and be trained accordingly.

So, it’s not just digital infrastructure that is challenging the vertical career pathways of old. The CPO of the future is going to have a ‘pinball career’, being propelled forward but not necessarily in straight lines. It’s likely that other functions will follow suit, prompting leaders to be leaders.

Very exciting!!

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