A Career Twists and Turns Out in Procurement

By Guest Editor

July 14, 2015 at 9:00 AM

By Wendy Rigby

Many leaders in procurement did not arrive at their current position by taking a linear career path. Fewer have undergraduate degrees in procurement or supply chain management (with more schools now offering programs, this may be changing). Still, these procurement leaders find the job challenging and rewarding. Each has an engaging story about how they got to where they are today. 

My Purchasing Center frequently profiles CPOs and other procurement leaders to learn their perspective on the profession--what strategies they've been successful at executing, where they see procurement heading, and what advice they have to offer others interested in similar roles. This time, we speak with Joanna Martinez, Executive Managing Director and Chief Procurement Officer at Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate firm.

Your title is Executive Managing Director, Chief Procurement Officer at Cushman & Wakefield. What does that mean? What do you do?

I’m responsible for supplier management and the purchase-to-pay process which includes accounts payable. What's fascinating about my role is that I’m responsible for the corporate spend as you would expect, but we also have a very large business where companies outsource the management of their facilities to us. There’s a huge amount of procurement in that, and, so I’m in the wonderful position of working with our client-facing teams as well as with our clients. We’re able to jettison in and help clients by educating them and bringing new techniques and ideas to them to help lower their costs and run their businesses more efficiently. It’s a dual role. In procurement they talk about “sitting on one side of the table,” usually referring to the negotiating table.  I sit on both sides of the table, which is awesome. It gives me perspective and helps me understand different points of view and strategies.

We’ve had clients with a change of management—a new CEO or division head--and the client is suddenly under pressure to save money or do something differently: Improve processes, save money, something that’s been a pain point. Working with the facilities management team sometimes the solution is an improved facilities management process. Sometimes the solution can come from purchasing. Sometimes, because I’m looking for new ideas, I can give some to our clients. I’ll see something work with one client and perhaps suggest it to another, keeping confidentiality of course, or I’ll speak at a conference and see a trend or hear people talking about something. I’ll try to do that as well.

Joanna_Martinez.jpgHow did you get into procurement?

I was put in procurement against my will. I was working for Johnson & Johnson. There was a big reorganization taking place and, as a result of the reorg, my job was being eliminated. The new person running the organization sat me down and said “I came in to shake things up. I’m firing everybody, but I am loathe to fire you because you appear to have some brains. However, your replacement has already bought a house!” So, he came up with a scheme. The head of procurement for the division wanted to move into mergers and acquisitions but had no replacement. He said, “Look, we think you can do this, but you have to start at the bottom.” It took three years, but eventually I was the first female procurement director in the consumer company.

Was this early in your career?

I’m an engineer by profession and I’d had a number of supply chain roles. The good thing is that while I was at J&J I lost my job 13 times through reorgs. Each time I got a chance to try something different, and I learned to embrace the change and not spend time being nervous about it. So I had already been in a number of roles (supervisor to engineering role to quality trainer to running third-party manufacturing to running a small manufacturing plant) so I had a really nice base. He was right, by the way. I loved it. It was exactly right for me. 

Was he an early mentor?

I think the person who was the head of procurement was the mentor. The first person recognized my abilities and was willing to look at my skills and say, “This is a person we should save.” 

Is it important to have a mentor? 

The people who really make it to the top have mentors. The tough thing with finding a mentor is you can have someone who is wonderful and skilled and teaches you but then through no fault of their own their career goes nowhere. The best mentors have great careers and career growth. You can have two kinds of mentors—the technical mentor who teaches you the ropes and how to do what you do. There’s always a difference between what you learn in school and how it works in the real world. The second is the career mentor—someone who’s been successful or is rising in the organization and teaches you how to deal with the environment. Every company has a culture, a way of doing things, and a language. If someone says, “Well, this didn’t work, or “We didn’t get things done,” you have to learn the particular language of the company so you understand what he is telling you. 

The millennials who are hitting the workforce are not afraid to ask people to guide them. They may not use the word “mentor” but they’re much better at asking questions and forming those relationships, For folks in my generation, there was a certain hierarchy you followed and you wouldn’t walk into someone’s office. Younger folks are much better at that elevator speech. They get a chance to spend time in a hallway or elevator or waiting for a meeting to start and they wind up having some sort of agreement to follow up. They’re great at that. 

I am happy about this development because more and more it’s about the network of people that you know on the outside who might be able to come and work on a particular task. I rely heavily on a network of people that I know who work independently. When we need help in the organization I can call on them. They are people who’ve faced challenges in different companies and I can call on them. We all have to learn and develop those relationships outside and within the company. 

Would you do anything differently in your career? 

I would have networked better. I was not good at it early in my career. I was easily intimidated by titles or someone’s presence or their obvious success and my own brain held me back. I was relying on getting ahead by doing a good job and having people see that I am smart and did a good job. People did see that, but I didn’t understand that that’s only a piece of it. Part of it is making sure that the right people see it. Networking and having people get to know you as an individual are also part of it. 

As an engineer were there courses that prepared you for a career in procurement? 

Yes. The engineering school taught me how to think. That is the single most important thing that I got out of engineering school, how to take a problem, break it down into its components, analyze it and come up with a solution. That logical thought process, that scientific method, has been totally invaluable. 

Do you ever regret leaving engineering?

I’m not sure that I ever really left. My mentor taught me to be prepared. I never just pick up the phone and negotiate. I’m prepared. There’s analysis. We say, “If they don’t agree to this, what’s our backup plan?” While I’m not building equipment or working on the space shuttle, I am analyzing and stepping back and trying to estimate how much it takes to make something or provide a service and using that as the basis for the conversation. My title doesn’t say engineer but I use engineering components. 

What were big challenges in your career?

I’ve been in a reorganization situation 18 times. At the end of one of the first I realized that I had done nothing that entire year except worry about what was going to happen. I recognized that if I was going to work in corporate America, this was a reality. They say three data points make a trend. I had three data points by then. Reorganizations are the way things are, and I’d better learn how to cope with that, and do what I have to do to make sure I can still move forward, make things happen, and feel good about the contribution I make, in an atmosphere of uncertainty. 

That was a real turning point. If I hadn’t made that mental change, I would have never made it in corporate America. I would have wound up finding something else. I wouldn’t have been able to take all that churn. I decided to be ruthless about adding to my skills. I identify trends and skills and get them. I can't control whether I was going to have a job when there was an organizational change, but I can control to some extent my ability to land on my feet by making sure I had the right skills, network and agility. 

Did you get a graduate degree with that in mind?

I attended conferences. Sometimes I talked to headhunters who called. I looked at job postings to understand what’s important. The same words pop up all the time. For example, there was a big quality movement in the 80s, and I made sure that I was one of the quality trainers at Johnson & Johnson. I got excellent training myself. I have a big enough network now that I call people and ask, “What trends are you seeing?” “How does the executive of today differ from the executive of yesterday?”

Do you have advice for women in procurement?

First, I would advise women that the best procurement people that I’ve seen are those who have done something besides procurement, who have a good rounded business sense. That comes from doing different kinds of jobs. The best HR procurement person is someone who has worked in HR, for example. It’s always different when you are the customer. When you’re the customer you do a better job of being the supplier or providing the services. I encourage young women to not look at procurement and think “I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do this forever,” but to get those broader business skills and do this for a while, then move to do something different. Or start out doing something different with the goal of moving into procurement. 

Second, every project has a finish line. There are people who are great at doing the project but it’s hard to get them to do the last 10% and finish up. Learning that you need to get it done—it’s not just important to do a good job, it’s also important to complete it. In general, women want to make it perfect and sometimes in making it perfect, you frustrate the organization.  

For young people entering the profession, networking is important. Something as simple as setting up a 15-minute meeting and saying “I’m new,” and “Procurement is what I do. Could you tell me what you do?” People are happy to do that. You’ve made a connection. It’s hard. Some people have the personality to do that. For others, it's a hard thing to get around. 

A few years ago, I worked for a financial services firm where procurement had outstanding penetration. We did fascinating work in obscure parts of the firm where you wouldn't think procurement would add value. We had a team member who was gregarious and engaging. His job was to spend a few minutes every day walking one of the floors and looking for someone, or an area, or a cluster of people that hadn't worked with our team, introduce himself and get to know them. With that face time he was able to make an inroad or create the beginning of a relationship that maybe would help us later on. It started out as a fun idea, but had very meaningful results.

Do you have other suggestions?

Young folks, or any professionals, really, should join the professional organizations for the business they’re in, not necessarily procurement. I work for a real estate firm. I encourage my team to go to trade shows and events focused on the real estate community, not those focused on procurement. Participating in procurement groups is fine, but to help them gain a broader business sense and be a better client to their internal customers, it’s a good thing to do as well. Sometimes people get so focused on getting that CPM or CPIM professional designation. These designations can point to people who are more siloed. You can’t do a good job in this role unless you really understand the business. 

It’s wonderful to talk to people who enjoy their work. It’s inspirational.

I really do enjoy my work. The person who put me in procurement was right. It is a good use of my skills. I liked it so much that I decided that this is going to be my niche. I tell people that “I fix broken purchasing groups, or start up new ones.” 

Where do you see procurement heading?

With the use of technology and the capabilities of third-party specialists, over time procurement will be more about the networks, putting networks together, a virtual enterprise to make something happen, and then disassembling that when you no longer need it. In other words, a team comes together to develop a new product to bring to market or bring a new client on board and then disassembles and some people stay and some move on. Procurement will be more about nimbleness. Not so much about long-term supplier relationships but understanding the breadth of supplier relationships and the right matches between the business needs and the best supplier.

Also see the My Purchasing Center article, Positive Signs for Procurement Hiring in 2015

 

wendy rigby.jpg

Wendy Rigby is a freelance editor working in Massachusetts. You may contact her at wrigby@mediasolvegroup.com


 




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