Tag Archives: board meetings

Different Country, Same Procurement Culture?

Heading off to begin a new procurement chapter abroad? Make sure you’re prepared to accommodate, and adapt to, a new culture.

Have you ever wondered what courage it would  take to pack your bags and set off across the globe in order to start an entirely new chapter?

Juggling a new home, new job and a new life isn’t a challenge for the faint-hearted but it’s one you’re unlikely to regret and something that ISM board member, Kim Brown, knows all about!

Throughout her impressive procurement career, Kim has enjoyed roles at Reynolds and Reynolds Company, General Electric, Toys R Us and, most recently, at Dell, Inc as Vice President, Global Materials.

Kim’s lengthy career has taken her around the world so it’s unsurprising that she’s honed and developed her cultural intelligence (CQ) over the years. When we interviewed Kim, we were interested to hear about her global experiences, both what she’s learnt and how she’s adapted to different circumstances, and gain some advice on what it takes to hold a position on a board as noteworthy as ISM.

Procurement around the world

“I’ve lived in quite a few places, four or five US states and two countries,” explains Kim. ” I also did a stint as an ex-pat in Mexico city for a year and spent on year in Singapore.”

Was she able to observe distinct differences in working cultures  during her time abroad? “Very much so, particularly at the beginning of my time in Mexico, which has a very, verY different culture. I was working for General Electric at the time and accustomed to the direct and process-driven culture in the US. In Mexico, the conversations with suppliers, local people and colleagues were very family-based. They wanted to know about me, and understand what my family life was like before doing business with me.”

In Singapore, Kim faced the challenge of managing a widely dispersed and culturally diverse team. “I had team members in 26 or 27 different countries, all of which had cultural nuances.”

Pulling together a strategy for a large team is challenging at the best of times but it becomes even more so when you must be cognisant of how different cultures are motivated by different things. “Something that someone in the US would regard as a very small factor might mean a lot to someone in India, for example.

“Singapore itself was a very different culture.  It seemed at times cautious and a little shyer than in some other parts of the world. I’m the kind of person who says hello to a lot of people, and in Singapore they would look at the floor in response! However, once you get to know them and they get to know you I found the community to be friendly and outgoing.”

This, in a way, is the motto of Kim’s story. Working across cultures and borders requires patience, tolerance, compromise and understanding from both sides.

“As long as you go about making a change in the right way, it will work. When I first started in a global role I tried to supplement it with videoconferencing. I quickly found I was questioned “When are you coming, when will we see you?”  And there is no substitute for that. Employees are often very excited by and enthusiastic about a visit from the regional office – I’d arrive in Malaysia, for example, and find that the room was packed with people who wanted to see me, listen and ask lots of questions.”

What a board wants

If anyone knows the answer to the question “what does a board want?” it’s Kim Brown. As well as being treasurer for ISM, she’s held positions on two additional NFP boards, one of which had 70 board members. “When I went on [the board with 70 people], I wanted to be really involved, to be on the executive committee and be a decision maker, not just a voter. These roles are extracurricular but if you’re going to do it, do it!

“At ISM, we have very robust conversations, which is fun! I learn a lot and have the opportunity to interact with a whole bunch of new network contacts. I try to look positively upon any experience where I can learn something new.”

Kim’s top tips for procurement when presenting to the board:

  • Keep your strategy clear and concise and ensure you know how to sell it!
  • You need goals and objectives; lay out the salient points and present them in a way that makes sense
  • Get your act together! When you’re presenting, make sure it’s in an understandable manner.
  • Do your homework and always  look at alternatives and contingencies.
  • Use your  junior team members! I really like it when CEOs do this. It gives your team an opportunity to showcase the work they’re capable of doing, and allows us, as the board, to show your team that we’ve got confidence in them!

Don’t Bore The Board

Struggling to get business leaders interested in procurement? You’re doing it wrong! 

The dashboard that Lara Nichols built in her first weeks as SVP of Procurement at NFP was, she thought, a masterpiece. It had everything a procurement professional could wish for – sourcing strategies, savings programs, vendor and risk management targets, governance plans – but it simply wasn’t getting the cut-through she expected outside of the procurement team.

“I’d find that people simply didn’t want to have procurement conversations with me – nobody cared about the typical procurement metrics I was focusing on. I realised that I needed to change my approach to my work to become less of a procurement professional, and more of a businessperson with procurement expertise.”

Now, Nichols’ dashboard is built around what she calls meaningful business drivers. “The underlying data is the same, but I’ve had to re-jig how I talked about it.”

How do you identify your organisation’s business drivers? For Nichols, she took a dual approach:

Connect with the team operating at the heart of the business: “This will be different in every industry, but in insurance brokerage and in many financial services companies, the top-line team is the lead force in our business. I made an effort to become tightly connected with the business development team. We have a huge sales force, so I’ve deliberately familiarised myself with their sales strategy and focused on finding ways to provide support for what they do.”

“My advice is to seek out the people that deliver on the heartbeat of the company’s success, and connect yourself with that team.”

Connect with the CFO: “There’s a reason the CFO is always in the top three roles of a company. Finance influences the whole organisation in so many ways”, says Nichols. “I’ve spent a lot of time with the entire finance team, including my CFO, which has helped me re-align procurement’s contribution in the context of NFP’s numbers, and not the other way around.”

Nichols says that strong financial know-how is therefore vital to any CPO’s success. “The ability to influence the numbers equates to company performance. Procurement and Finance should build a deep and mutually beneficial relationship to truly delivery value we all know is intrinsically there.”

Getting involved in ISM2017

Nichols is Chair of the ISM2017 Conference Leadership Committee, and co-leads the Bottom Line Learning Track.

“Personally, I’m excited to attend the Signature Session run by Amazon Business, called Is Your Tail Spend Putting You In A Tailspin. It’s an important topic. Another session I’m looking forward to will be run by Brooks Brothers, featuring a conversation between a CFO and CPO on How Does the P&L Work, Anyway. It will provide the grounding in Finance that’s so important for success in our profession.”

Nichols is proud of the fact that the Committee has built a program with a diverse range of speakers. “We challenge ourselves to recruit first-time speakers, people who have never had an opportunity to present. Brooks Brothers, for example, have never attended an ISM conference before, but we’re expecting some very valuable insights from their session. On the other end of the spectrum, you have your solid contributors who have been attending and supporting ISM for a long time. They bring an incredible level of insight, experience and wisdom to the conference.

Network, network, network

Two of Nichols’ last three appointments were made possible with the help of her personal network. “In both cases, friends of mine knew the hiring managers. There’d been a discussion at some point about what the business was looking for, and my connection has said ‘That sounds like something Lara would like to do – would you like me to introduce her?’ In both cases, I was hired into an exciting, newly-created role.”

Outside of moving roles, Nichols’ network is invaluable when dealing with what she describes as “wicked problems”. “I ask myself who can I talk to in my network who would have some insights into my problem. The network sustains me – usually it starts with an instant message, which leads to a phone call where we explore ideas and – eventually – the solution presents itself.”

Plan ahead to get the most out of ISM2017

There’s so much choice at ISM’s major event of the year that it can be overwhelming, particularly for first time attendees. Nichols says that this will be the case particularly for people who haven’t prepared.

“Chart a course through the sessions. Read ahead, and think about how to spend your time. Plan it out like you would do before going on vacation! If you’ve done some pre-planning, you’ll have filters in place to help you pick well when you’re presented with a choice.”

ISM has provided plenty of tips to guide attendees through the maze of session, including the Learning Tracks, information on how each session is aligned to certain competencies in the Mastery Model, and proficiencies based on years of experience.

“Be present” says Nichols. “Don’t skip the social activities such as the receptions and networking events. That’s where the real magic happens. Visit the Exhibit Hall – that’s where you can access new information and innovation that you can take back to your office.”

There’s still time to register for ISM2017, taking place in Orlando, Florida from May 21-24.

Planning to attend ISM2017? Don’t miss out on Procurious Founder and CEO Tania Seary’s tips on how to Network Your Way To The Top on Tuesday May 23rd, 3.45pm.