People & Skills
A Seat at the Top Table for Procurement Executives?

We thought that in these quiet days between Christmas and New Year we would feature some of the research and discussion papers that we have produced over the past couple of years. In particular, we will highlight those that have relevance to public sector procurement and procurement people, although today’s paper is relevant to anyone who is ambitious!

Today, let’s take a look at A Seat at the Top Table, which I co-authored with Ed Cross, who was then MD of Xchanging’s procurement outsourcing division. In that role, he had real profit and loss responsibility for a business unit with revenues in the many millions, and several hundred staff. He also sat on the Executive Board of the overall Xchanging business, so he brought some real experience of being at that “top table”.

In my procurement career, I was always one step below Executive Board, usually reporting to the CFO or COO, but I have also worked as a non-executive director on three Boards; two large public sector organisations, and one smaller private sector. I’ve also run my own small businesses too although the “top table” is very small in those cases! But between Ed and I, we felt we had some interesting experience of the whole issue of how procurement people can get to that level and contribute to the board when they do.

So in this paper, we discuss how procurement professionals can position themselves best to work at the highest levels of organisations. The paper considers how organisations determine board composition, and looks at the three different roles of a typical board member. The usual expectation is that members will bring to the board functional knowledge and expertise, a wider business understanding and contribution, and will also fulfil a governance role. It is not enough to “just” be a procurement expert.

That leads into the core of the discussion; what procurement executives need to do and show to prepare themselves for these senior roles. That includes demonstrating repeatable success as a functional leader, but also showing that they have a wider business understanding. Colleagues need to see that you can contribute to the debate well beyond matters that are in your own detailed area of expertise.

Finally, the personal characteristics needed to succeed at the highest levels are outlined. Particularly when the board is fulfilling some governance role, qualities such as independence and integrity come to the fore. And in any case, judgement, persuasion, listening skills and the challenging art of knowing when to speak up and when to shut up are all important for the board member.

We think the paper will be useful and interesting for anyone in procurement, public or private sector, who has the ambition to reach the top – or close to it! You can download it here, free on registration. And remember, there are dozens – probably hundreds – of Spend Matters papers from Europe and the US that you can download, free on registration.