With Women’s Day (9 August) around the corner, SmartProcurement is highlighting the success of women who are international industry leaders in the field of Procurement. Elaine Porteous, Managing Director of specialised procurement recruiter CA Procurement, told SmartProcurement that: “In a recent study done by the Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies (CAPS), it was found that women are increasingly gaining greater responsibility in procurement companies of all sizes. An example of this is that women hold 12% of the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) titles internationally, and that in the USA they earn significantly more than male CPOs ($418,000 vs. $366,000)”.
“As a result of this, recruiting agencies say that they are busier than ever trying to fill high-level posts in Supply Management,” says Porteous (pictured left). At the recent European Leaders in Procurement roundtable, Nicole Everett, Group Procurement Manager at Shell, pinpointed the importance of this topic: “I’ve always been interested in talent management because it’s about delivering results through people,” she said “Especially with women, this implies a good tension as you can lose your best female talent to other parts of the business, but equally you are open to getting in the best talents from other parts of the business.”
Bearing this in mind, here is some advice for would-be procurement executives from four women who have made it to the top by breaking through the glass ceiling of the business world.
Broaden Your Expertise
Christie Breves, CPO at Alcoa, advises individuals who wish to pursue a career in procurement to get experience in as much disciplines as possible and not get pigeonholed in just one area of expertise: “Have a thirst for learning, make sure you are always developing professionally and have a great sense of urgency and real focus on delivering measurable impact,” she says.
The skills needed for a successful career in purchasing are the same whether the individual is a man or a woman, Breves continues. “Perhaps women are better listeners and maybe more collaborative, but I think it depends on the individual. I think a purchasing professional needs good business and financial acumen, good customer orientation, an ability to sell ideas and very solid experience in purchasing and business processes.”
Breves is the first individual to hold the CPO title at Alcoa and is responsible for purchasing all direct and indirect materials and services and capital equipment globally, which amounts to about $18 billion annually. “I think the recognition of the importance of procurement at Alcoa is really best addressed by the actions of our executive council when it decided three years ago to invest in this new organisation,” she said. “It’s all about building more capability in procurement, and having the organisation become much more strategic. Part is in reaction to the world supply situation becoming more challenging. But, part of it was the value we demonstrated in procurement by doing this right, and by having really talented people in the function.”
When asked about her work in purchasing, Breves said that she likes knowing that what she does makes a difference “and that a career in procurement presents you with an opportunity to work with a variety of people in different roles – internal teams, businesses and suppliers.”
Furthermore, Breves works to promote the purchasing profession. She has done this by serving on the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) board of directors and is a past member of the Procurement Strategy Council. Currently, she is on the editorial advisory board of Purchasing and the board of the Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies (CAPS).
Set Your Sights High
If Christina De Luca had one piece of advice to give, it would be: “If you want it, go for it and surround yourself with people who support and believe in you and will challenge and push you to achieve what you want.”
De Luca is the CPO for the refining and marketing division at BP in London, and is responsible for providing procurement capability for the businesses to achieve their strategies and deliver the most value for the company. BP is a global company with operations in just under 100 countries, whereof De Luca manages the purchasing budget of about $20 billion annually.
She is furthermore on the board of directors at the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and works closely with professors at nearby universities in London, whom she considers coaches: “I don’t think you can lead the profession without thinking about the science of that profession and where it is heading,” she says.
De Luca also does some coaching herself and meets frequently with young people in mentoring relationships during the work week. “I think education, certification and continued learning are crucially important.”
She concludes by stating that if she had to do it all over again, she would not set her sights so low for her career: “It wasn’t that I didn’t have aspirations, but I didn’t have people around me who told me that I can do anything.”
Keep Questioning & Learning
“Be patient, professional and mature, and continue to focus not only on getting the work done, but on how it’s done,” advises Linda Behan, Vice President and Global Head of Strategic Sourcing at Fidelity Investments. “Approach each situation as a blank slate, think creatively, listen and learn.”
At Fidelity, Behan led the restructuring of her organisation that included creating new positions aligned with categories of spending and upgrading skills through recruiting and training. Behan is responsible for a multi-billion dollar spending tab that includes some areas that are new to most purchasing organisations – real estate, advertising and marketing, benefits, legal and audit, and telecommunications.
Behan notes that her early years provided the foundation for her current role: “I’ve taken every opportunity to learn and continue to r
ecognise there’s still much more learning to be done. It’s one of the many things I love about this work.”
She continues by saying: “Poise, patience and perseverance are what it takes to succeed in purchasing. With the shift from traditional purchasing to more strategic approaches, there’s more opportunity to bring value and demonstrated leadership in new forums and with more executive visibility. Access and exposure coupled with good work generally translate into opportunities.”
Behan is a member of the Sourcing Interests Group and has participated in the Minority Purchasing Council.
Be a Change Agent
Lisa Martin, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Procurement at Pfizer, suggests that those just starting out in purchasing should have a deliberate plan for their careers and not be afraid of rejection. “You have to be able to deal with rejection and not take it personally,” she says. “As much as purchasing is understood as a function, it’s still misunderstood. It’s part of our responsibility to keep on educating.”
She further adds to this that executives look to procurement for new ideas, so those in the profession have to be change agents.
Martin considers an accomplishment “seeing people who worked for me in the past become successful on their own.” She also finds it satisfying watching how other professionals have changed their view of procurement and Supply Chain Management as the function has become more strategic than tactical. Now the two areas are ripe with opportunities for individuals to pursue challenging careers.
Martin is involved in the local chapter of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and was the group’s youngest female president. Of the opportunity within ISM to test her leadership skill, she says she’s “always viewed my early involvement in ISM as a critical success factor.” Now, she’s serving as chair on the board of directors of the association, and is mentoring a recipient of the group’s annual R. Gene Richter Scholarship.
Article submitted by Carine Snyman of SmartProcurement and Elaine Porteous, a contributor and manager of CA Procurement a specialist procurement recruiter.