On Tuesday, September 17th, Chatham hosted Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), welcoming Mark Clouse, Partner at global consulting firm AT Kearney, to discuss the future of procurement. ISM chapter members joined Chatham students for networking, drinks, and a light dinner, followed by a presentation led by a dynamic Mr. Clouse on the changing landscape of sourcing. Professionals from companies including engineered materials leader II-VI, pharmaceutical giant Bayer, and plastics and packaging innovator Nova Chemicals were also in attendance, offering students a great opportunity to explore the varied positions and industries within supply management.
“So much is owned and controlled by what [supply management professionals] are doing. It’s a great profession to be in,” says Clouse. The term “buyer,” he argues, is no longer applicable, as it doesn’t represent the total value this role offers an organization—including its contributions to sustainability agendas and top-line growth,expansion into new regions and furthering corporate responsibility initiatives. As Clouse explains, those in procurement have a “visibility of what suppliers are able to do, what a marketing team is demanding, and what engineering says are constraints,” with procurement professionals “at the nexus.” Leading companies are rebranding the role of “buyer,” raising it from a legacy of a “back-office, obscure function” to one that can be much more dynamic.
In light of this expansion, procurement is now getting a seat at the C-suite table among leading companies; CFOs are increasingly recognizing the importance of procurement and its strategic capabilities. This shift has led to a demand for a new kind of supply manager, one with both traditional quantitative and technical skills as well as more qualitative, humanistic ones. As technical processes are being “outsourced, offshored, or automated,” Clouse says, “skills like creativity, emotional intelligence, and cross-functional leadership ability are the ones that will separate those that rise to the top from the ones that don’t.” Current professionals must be able to adopt processes inherent in design thinking and change management, broadening their toolkit and thus widening the role’s scope and impact. “As more transactional items become automated, [supply professionals] get to focus more time on strategic, game-changing activities.”
A challenge for managers lies not only in developing these skills within themselves, but also in seeking them out amongst new talent. Companies like AT Kearney are modifying their interview techniques, combining more traditional metrics of technical abilities with ones that measure more nuanced higher-order ones like intuition, synthesis, and communication—skills, Clouse posits, that will drive the future of procurement and its changing role in business.
Chatham aims to prepare its MBA students for this changing landscape via its innovative curriculum, personalized attention, and access to a dynamic network of business leaders like those present at last week’s event. Second year MBA/Master of Sustainability student Hannah Rauch saw the evening as an opportunity to learn more about the supply management profession. While the topic is integrated in much of her coursework in Chatham’s dual degree program, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine what such a career might look like. “My own interest in supply chain topics is mostly within sustainable clothing and cosmetics, but I’ve learned so much about its role in other industries even in this short span of time,” she explains. “I now see how varied positions within the field can be.” The evening’s guest speaker also sparked Hannah’s interest in management consulting: “I love that it covers such a broad range of industries.”
Clouse closed his presentation with the oft-cited parable of The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin, wherein “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” While there are many interpretations of this, it can be reduced to a way of identifying different cognitive styles: hedgehogs are perceived as single-minded, big picture thinkers who view the world through an organizing principle, while foxes are seen as more agile and adaptable, drawing on a range of experiences to form a worldview that is more nuanced and often contradictory. While many MBA programs claim that the leaders of the best companies are hedgehogs, Clouse’s is among a larger voice of dissent: “The fox’s agility is more useful in a leader’s ability to contribute value while managing risk.” Are you a hedgehog or a fox?
Join The B&E Department for the next ISM Pittsburgh meeting on Tuesday, October 8th. Robert James of Highmark Health will discuss Supplier Diversity in Procurement.
Tricia Wancko is an MBA/Masters of Food Studies candidate who is just as interested in cuisine and culture as she is in the economic and political structures that shape our food system. With over a decade of experience in hospitality and entrepreneurship, she’s here at Chatham to broaden her toolkit. She holds a BS in Communication from Boston University with a focus on design and has over a decade of experience in fine dining restaurants, tourism and events, and food entrepreneurship as well as in small-scale farming within the greater New York City area.