The rise of the multi-disciplinary procurement professional

The functional value of procurement has changed significantly over the last few decades. We spoke to Brett Gilman, who has worked in supply chain and global procurement for over 25 years, about how the job profile landscape has changed and what makes a successful procurement professional today.

Interviewee: Brett Gilman – Procurement Executive

Gilman grew up in Philadelphia, the United States, but has lived and worked in Germany for over twenty years. With a bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MBA in Business Administration and Management, he began his career in telecommunications with Siemens AG and then moved into the automotive industry, working for global brands including TRW, BorgWarner Automotive and Delphi Technologies.

Gilman’s successful career in global procurement includes his most recent roles as Vice President of Global Supply Chain at BorgWarner Emissions Systems and Executive Sourcing Director at Delphi Technologies. He recently left this position and is currently looking for his next procurement challenge in a dynamic and global environment.

With a wealth of experience in global supply chain, Gilman offers acute insight into the evolution of the function of procurement. He points out that “a person coming into procurement today [still] needs to have a solid foundation in some technical and/or commercial discipline.” So whether that is a foundation in operations, engineering, law, finance, or business, individuals should have an area of expertise that assures their distinct value to an organisation.

Yet because of the sheer amount of data available today and the speed in which it is processed, procurement experts now also need to anticipate and translate the implications of this information immediately. This can be very difficult for individuals who are too specialised in a single discipline.

“You need procurement professionals who understand the consequences of what’s going on in the world today as well as tomorrow,” Gilman stresses. “I would call them multi-disciplinary procurement experts.”

Today’s procurement professionals deal with a wide range of issues, from the introduction of advanced technology, international bankruptcies, changing governmental regulations, complex global and intercultural negotiations and much more. The traditional KPIs related to cost, quality and delivery – which are used to measure the success of employees and teams – often fail to reflect this complex reality.

When international markets change, procurement professionals must both react and become a gatekeeper for the consequences of these variations. “What fascinates me about procurement is that we instantaneously experience geo-economic-political changes because we buy parts from around the world that go into things. When crisis or substantial external changes occur, the C-Suite, as well as colleagues from operations, sales, finance, etc., are immediately knocking at our door because our customers are doing the same to us. At the very time that we’re trying to understand and solve some of these extremely big issues, there is a tremendous appetite within your own organisation as well as the entire supply chain to know what is happening. “

To compliment the multi-disciplinary procurement expert, businesses need a diverse team that speaks multiple languages, is intercultural, gender representative and works across all time zones. According to Gilman, an individual’s ability to work cohesively on a diverse team should be championed by more organisations. He says: “Sure, you can have people who are technical experts at something and even excellent in their multi-disciplinary capability but there will always be blind spots. Having a diverse team that can cover those blind spots is the true differentiator.”

“I also think that having multi-disciplinary experts in cross-cultural teams working in hyper-fast networks also challenges our conventional ways of looking at organisations either centrally or decentrally. Information moves where it needs to go and problems are solved across networks more than they are across lined structures,” he adds.

“We’re really shaped by the things that happen and we really help to shape their impact in our offices,” says Gilman. And in today’s hyperconnected world, working in procurement is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week, commitment. The rewards or a career in procurement are vast, however – Gilman himself has travelled extensively, met suppliers and interesting people from across the globe and has learned how to solve problems by taking different perspectives into account.

For a business, the positive impact of having a multi-disciplinary procurement talent is undeniable, says Gilman. “It has the ability to greatly achieve results because you have to use those different tools that come out from a multi-disciplinary approach in order to optimise your team’s performance.”

Ultimately, he says, “drawing on that different set of tool box will often help you find the right solutions.”

This is the first instalment of an in-depth interview with Brett Gilman for Proco Thinking. Find out what Gilman had to say about the future for procurement professionals and the effect of Industry 4.0 in the coming weeks.

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