In my public seminar days of the 1990s, my “hook” opening began with, this spoof question, for which I requested a show of hands. “How many of you, when you were young, grew up dreaming that when you got big, you were going to be a purchasing manager?” The rooms filled with chuckles and guffaws. On very rare occasions throughout the two thousand or so seminars, someone would raise his/her hand to spoof me!
The majority of “purchasing” practitioners fell into the job (back then it was considered a job as opposed to a profession), mostly by circumstance rather than by choice. I liked to tell the audience that “Their reward for hard work and accomplishment was a sentence to purchasing!”
I would then go on to tell them that purchasing was the Rodney Dangerfield of business. Despite the fact that purchasing represents 90% of operations for a firm that earns 10%, and that purchasing is the most efficient and largest generator of profitability in all of business, “I tell ya, we just get no respect.”
The purchasing profession has changed radically since then. I began doing education and training seminars two decades ago. It was a great proving ground for sharpening public speaking skills. The American Management Association (AMA) recruited me to write and deliver a Negotiation program. It must have been good as it is still in use today at the seminar company which bought out the Kansas City subsidiary.
Since I was a purchasing expert, AMA also asked me to write and deliver a two day Purchasing program. Since my style was energetic and zany, my resemblance to Mel Brooks was a daily comment which I took as a complement.
There was general resentment and disregard of purchasing because the internal customer did not understand or appreciate what value purchasing brought to business. Attendees would volunteer that coworkers thought that anyone could do purchasing. “What’s the big deal? Just get three prices, do the bump and grind, and off in a cloud of smoke!” Yeah, just like that.
I am proud and happy that the view of procurement has changed. Leadership from within the profession is largely responsible for its own ringing successes. One of the economic facts in our favor is what I previously contended, that purchasing is the most efficient and largest generator of profitability in all of business.
A story by Susan Avery entitled Procurement Changes in Past 10 Years cites these stats from a 2013 industry survey:
- In 2013, 67% of procurement professionals have college degrees; the majority of which are business degrees
- In 2003, just 67% held degrees
- In 1993, the figure was 61.2%, mostly in business.
- Procurement professionals are roughly the same age on average. In 1993, the average age was 44 years. In 2003, it was 46 years.
- 70% of procurement professionals in 2013 are 45 years or older
- In 2013, 40% call the CFO their boss
- In 2003, just 6% worked for companies with this reporting structure
The inescapable conclusion is that purchasing pros are profitability leaders. It is equally important that we pursue professionalism as demonstrated by certification designations.