8 November 2012 | Rebecca Ellinor
New CIPS president, Paula Gildert wants procurement professionals to make the case for value, not savings and grab the attention of business. Rebecca Ellinor finds out more.
Paula Gildert has a message for the profession: be aware of the influential role you play in your business. “We’re past asking for a seat at the table – I believe I have one because I have something valuable to say.”
Gildert’s plan for her CIPS presidential year, which begins this month, is to support the institute’s mission to lead global excellence in procurement and supply. She intends to do that in her day job, through her role on the CIPS Global Board of Trustees and by encouraging and inspiring people she meets during her tenure as president.
“Everything about good business is influence and quality of decisions. If we can’t be excellent at that it doesn’t matter how many fabulous category strategies we have, nor how many ideas we have on cost reduction and cost avoidance.”
She suggests a new vocabulary could help. “What I find frustrating is that sometimes we are stuck in the jargon of our function. We talk about ‘category strategies’ and so on. Business doesn’t want to hear that. We almost have to reinvent ourselves. We have to be the Apple iPod – when that was invented, no one knew they needed 1,000 songs in their pocket. Now they can’t live without it.”
Change of focus
Gildert believes the profession is still too dependent on savings as the way to measure its success.
“The procurement performance conversation is hugely dominated by savings. Getting it right first time is obviously the goal, which means thereafter you won’t save a cent. Our ‘winning’ strategy, is therefore one in which we will ultimately fail if that is the only thing we are recognised for.
“My personal mission is to re-establish that conversation on a value-basis. We have some fabulous stories to tell, but often we are not the ones telling them or at least not in a way that grabs attention.”
She is walking the talk by applying that approach at Novartis, where she is global head of development strategic sourcing for Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
“One of the things my team and I are working on is how we measure other value propositions: cost avoidance, supply chain security, risk management and quality. We are building our balanced scorecard and raising awareness with our senior leaders that we cannot deliver nearly double-digit cost reduction year-on-year. It is not possible unless you re-engineer what you buy. So, that’s what we are doing.”
This, she says, is a transformation role that goes deep into the core purpose of the organisation.
“That is an exciting place from which to lead. That’s a job I would apply for any day, rather than ‘can you shave more cents off the dollar?’”
To achieve such a transformation, Gildert needs a strong team, so she’s always on the look-out for individuals with the right skills. “For transformations like this to be effective, you need lots of people who are 100 per cent committed, take full responsibility for the commitments they have made. That means a shift in how we interact with the business, being courageous in forecasting what can be achieved and proactively looking at new ways of doing things to overcome the inevitable challenges and set-backs.
“This shift requires us to have breakthrough conversations that can unlock significant additional value. What other opportunities/projects are there? Who do we need to talk to in the business to build support for the ideas? You start to become facilitators and leaders of change, as opposed to predictable.”
Gildert suggests the use of focused customer surveys. “I’m not talking about a quick poll. We sit opposite key stakeholders and ask a very structured set of questions and they score us 0-10, as well as giving critical and honest qualitative comments.”
The survey explores the type of value, quality, communication, responsiveness and creativity they get from her team and what’s important to them. “We analyse the results and come up with ideas for improvement. This is a time-consuming, business-partnering dialogue. Then, guess what? We have to deliver those commitments. If you don’t, the next time you speak to them you can imagine the reception.
“Do customer surveys, but do them in a good way. It takes courage to do it properly because you will find out what you’re not doing well and then you need to earnestly work to improve it. It’s tough work, but it will transform the relationships. This approach helps us base our actions on facts.”
Eye for talent
Gildert focuses less on the technical ability of potential new recruits and instead seeks out those with strong interpersonal skills. “I have to explore enough to know that the technical competencies are there, but I will spend more time testing their influencing skills and their ability to understand the needs of others.
“When I’m not looking at how I can deliver value to my business, I’m thinking, ‘I like the look of that person. How can I get them into my team?’ Great people make things happen. My advice would be to always have your antennae up to spot good people.”
But she’s not the only one on the lookout for talent. “We have just had four people offered new positions in other internal sourcing teams in the past two months. This is a natural consequence: if you have talent, people will come to your team looking for it and that is a positive, but unfortunately disruptive thing.”
Gildert also spends time mentoring others outside her department and outside Novartis. “Getting yourself active in different networks is really important. CIPS, for example, is a great network, so exploit it,” she says. During her year as CIPS president, she will actively help to realise the institute’s ambition to raise the profile of procurement among young people as a profession of choice.
Helping CIPS evolve
Another area where she can help deliver CIPS’ mission is through her role on the new Global Board of Trustees. “One of my personal goals is that we should not lose pace in the need for CIPS to evolve to be successful in the current markets and regions where it operates. Having been on the board for some time and having worked through the recent CIPS modernisation project, I see my role to help the new board learn from the past and use it to make robust decisions for the future.”
CIPS is working with the UN to open new offices in China and India to grow the membership and practice of supply chain and procurement. “We want to do business with corporations and private and public sector organisations, where we are opening offices to further our goals,” says Gildert. “To do that on such a tight budget (as a not-for-profit charity) means every pound has to work extraordinarily hard. The board is looking at all the plans and having to be really diligent about making the right choices.”
Gildert, who is based in Switzerland, also attended the inaugural meeting of CIPS European Network Group this autumn – effectively a large branch in Europe from which it is hoped other European branches will spring up.
Running alongside the development of offices in international regions is Gildert’s work with CIPS to help transform UK membership to ensure it remains an exciting and essential prospect.
“CIPS has a big strategy to deliver. My role as president is to add energy or emphasis to that.
I am very proud to be president – it’s an honour and I will do my best to do it justice.”
Getting into procurement
Gildert’s career began as a qualified physicist and control and electrical engineer. She had roles of increasing responsibility as a plant engineer, and then a manufacturing manager – running the plant and production teams with logistics and warehousing. After that, she was a global supply chain manager with factories in Europe and America.
“We had some great things to do, but the guy who was having the most fun was the one in procurement. I loved what he was doing and delivering and could see it was a role fuelled by challenge. I thought ‘fantastic!’ Customers always think the supplier could have done a better job, while the supplier always thinks that the customer is letting him down.
“You always have tough expectations and conflicts and the trick is to align them. When you do, you can certainly make things happen. My very next job was a procurement job.”