Tag Archives: tuesdays with tom

As You Sip Your Delicious Morning Cup Of Suppliers’ Blood…

Is supply management really full of psychopaths? Why do members of Gen Next want to change jobs so frequently? How can managers retain top procurement talent? We put all these questions and more to ISM CEO Tom Derry.

Psychopaths in the profession?

A few years back, a researcher approached ISM CEO Tom Derry and wanted to survey the ISM membership to build a psychological profile of people who go into supply management. A few months later, Tom opened the newspaper and was appalled to find a headline stating “The majority of procurement professionals are psychopaths!”

“That was then,” says Tom. “In those days, there was an expectation that your job was to sit across the negotiating table from your supplier, have zero empathy with that person, demand cost reductions, and extract the pound of flesh. Sure, I can see how those could be seen as psychopathic tendencies. But you’re never going to succeed in supply management [these days] with that kind of approach. The emphasis on supplier relationship management in particular is so critical. That [old] profile is never going to be successful in the profession today.”

The days of the blood-sucking, empathy lacking hardball negotiator are over, but we still have work to do to reinvent the profession’s image – and that’s where fresh, new talent is going to help.

Time to Jump?

Last year, Procurious’ “Gen Next” survey revealed that just under 50% of supply management professionals intend to change roles within the next two years, and 34% intend to leave their current organisation entirely within the next 2 – 5 years. We asked Tom if it’s unrealistic these days for employers to expect their employees to stay anywhere for more than five years.

“Not at all. I think it’s realistic for them to expect longer tenure, but there are a few key things that matter”, says Tom. These include:

  • Training on the job – people really value skill acquisition.
  • Challenging and new assignments giving people a chance to grow.
  • Giving them exposure to other functions in the business via a rotation program.

Retaining Top Talent

But how can a head of supply management retain their top talent? In Tom’s view, we need to be realistic. “Don’t be too defensive about talent”, he says. “It’s a wonderful thing for a leader to be known as a discoverer and developer of great talent, which inevitably means that some people are going to move on, but that’s attractive. If I’m looking for a place to work and I know someone who has a reputation for identifying and developing people who want great new opportunities, I’m going to want to work there. Develop a reputation that will work to your advantage.”

Tom also stresses the importance of making people feel valued. “You can’t overvalue how important it is for a manager to just walk around and talk to people. Take an active interest in what they’re doing. They’ll be happy to know that you know what they’re working on, and that you find it exciting and interesting, and that means a hell of a lot to anybody when a leader comes around and shows interest. It drives results for the company.”

“As a leader, you have to be aware of the profile and external reputation of your team, within the company and externally in the industry. You need to be forward-looking as a leader in creating an environment that’s always compelling and interesting. The best CPOs that I know are focused on where the business is headed in the next 3-5 years, and what kind of team they need to build to optimise the business that we’re going to become. If you’re looking backwards and focused on efficiency, you’re missing the point. You need to be thinking about where you need to take the procurement team to deliver on the future vision – and that is what will make you an attractive leader to any talent.”

In our 10-part “Tuesdays With Tom” podcast series, Tom Derry discusses a broad range of critically important topics that every supply management professional should be across.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Tuesdays With Tom: Trump, Trade and Turning Disruption into Opportunity

Institute for Supply Management CEO Tom Derry compares the Trump administration’s trade policies to “self-inflicted friendly fire” in the first of our 10-part Tuesdays with Tom podcast series.

“In military conflicts, one of the outcomes we most dread are instances of ‘friendly fire’, when you mistakenly fire on your own troops. I think the current [trade] policy is almost an instance of self-inflicted friendly fire, from an economic perspective. We might be helping domestic industries like steel and aluminum (although even that’s arguable), but we’re actually damaging the far bigger industries that are consumers of those products; who make household appliances, yellow goods for construction, or automobiles. All of our exports in those areas will suffer with this trade policy.”

In the first of our Tuesdays with Tom podcast series, ISM CEO Tom Derry talks with Procurious Founder Tania Seary about the current raft of trade wars and tariffs that have come about as a result of US policy shift.

Supply management professionals do NOT like trade wars

“ISM publishes economic reports every month for the manufacturing and services sector. Comments have been very consistent: we’re seeing suppliers trying to impose price increases on buyers as they’re buying metals (such as steel and aluminum)”, says Tom. “We’re seeing people anticipating the tariffs, looking to end sourcing from China and look for suppliers elsewhere, and we’re seeing people postpone investments.

“The two most important economic factors in deciding where to locate a manufacturing facility are local taxes and tariffs. If tariffs are uncertain, [companies are] going to postpone decisions about building that next facility, which is not good for the economy in the long run.”

NAFTA renegotiations having an impact

“What’s so interesting about these policy changes”, says Tom, “is that even mere discussion has a real economic impact and causes real dislocation of supply chains. Even before the steel tariffs were imposed, people reacted to the idea of tariffs, and that caused businesses to have to change their plans.”

Historically, NAFTA has resulted in incredibly tightly integrated supply chains in certain industries, particularly the automotive industry. “We do a lot of assembly of automotive in northern Mexico for final sales here in the United States or in Canada, but before you get to that final assembly in those plants, you’ve got components for parts that move across the Mexican/US border four or five times before we get to the final vehicle”, says Tom.

“Imagine what it would be like to impose tariffs in both directions four or five times, and the inspections that would have to go with it, and the country of origin verification that would have to be performed. If NAFTA [fails], it’ll be incredibly disruptive in terms of the auto industry here in North America.” 

Two tips for turning disruption into opportunity

  1. Have a Plan B: “Every good category manger has a Strategy A for expected economic conditions, and Strategy B if there’s an economic downturn or something happens in the commodity markets. You have to have those playbooks thought through and scripted … if you haven’t done that, get to work on that immediately.”
  2. Be prepared to react fast: “If you see a dramatic change, you need to be able to respond to it in the moment. The advantage goes to the company, the organisation, or the individual who can react fastest during times of great change. If you’re late in moving, any potential benefit to be realised will be captured by someone else. Make sure you’ve got that playbook well defined.”

“The advantage goes to the company, the organisation, or the individual who can react fastest during times of great change.”

Tom tells the story of a CPO working at LG Electronics during the 2008-9 recession, who was concerned about securing semiconductors. They were aware that a recession would lead to a drop in consumer demand for electronics and hence a demand for semiconductor chips, so he visited his suppliers in Asia, then managed to convince his executive committee to buy $9 billion worth of semiconductors because the price would never be as low again. LG subsequently posted record profits for 2009 due to that CPO’s business acumen, his understanding of the spot market for semiconductors, and doing his homework. This is how you respond to disruptive events.

“[Procurement needs to] see through the common perception, recognise market opportunities and the dislocation between price and demand, and seize opportunities to turn a perceived threat into a great opportunity for a huge bottom line impact.”


Tuesdays with Tom is a 10-part podcast series featuring exclusive insights from ISM CEO, Tom Derry. Register now to receive an alert whenever a new podcast is released.