From Tactical to Strategic: Transforming Procurement One Company at a Time

By Susan Avery

September 04, 2014 at 6:43 AM

Their beards may be grayer but their passion for procurement is no less than when Robert A. Rudzki founded Greybeard Advisors LLC 10 years ago.

Rudzki, who has experience as CPO and CFO was at a crossroads in his corporate career when a procurement leader at another company asked for his assistance with transforming a team from tactical to strategic. Having led similar transformations at Fortune 500 companies, Rudzki had the expertise and was willing to help. He also knew of a colleague with a similar background who also wanted to share his knowledge with others in procurement.  

 Rudzki_photo_2014_for_MPC.pngRudzki tells My Purchasing Center he decided then that he would not work as a lone consultant, but rather as part of a network of experienced practitioner leaders. Today, Greybeard Advisors is made up of more than 75 of these procurement and supply chain leaders who work on transformation projects at companies in the U.S. and some regions overseas. In fact, Greybeard just added an advisor in the Middle East to manage projects for clients there. 

He recalls that his departure from his former employer, Bayer, was “very amicable”--they had offered him the top global procurement role in Germany where the company is headquartered. His family wasn’t ready for such a move, he says, prompting him to consider other possibilities. But Rudzki also wasn’t looking for another CPO position, figuring he could have a bigger impact on the profession as an advisor to companies looking to transform their procurement and supply chain operations. Since 2004, Greybeard Advisors has done just that for dozens of organizations--private and public--across a variety of industries. 

Rudzki also has co-written two books on procurement and supply chain, Straight to the Bottom Line®: An Executive’s Roadmap to World Class Supply Management and Next Level Supply Management Excellence: Your Straight to the Bottom Line Roadmap and contributes to publications such as My Purchasing Center and other supply chain titles. He speaks frequently at APICS--The Association for Operations Management--and Institute for Supply Management events--both the national conference and at local ISM affilliate meetings. 

“My experience has been really gratifying, sharing learnings and helping companies and leaders who really want to transform themselves from tactical, operational purchasing departments to become not just a better tactical department but also to take on a more strategic role across all dimensions important to the success of an organization,” Rudzki says. 

All About Experience

David Butler, Vice President, Global Operations and Supply Chain at Philips Healthcare, recalls working with Rudzki as he was setting up indirect procurement at his company when it was known as Respironics. Respironics was acquired by Philips in 2008. Butler is pictured on right. 

 2011_Butler_Approved_Portrait_Photo.jpg“Greybeard brings to the table experienced professionals in procurement to help people scale their organizations,” says Butler, who is a member of the My Purchasing Center Editorial Advisory Board and has contributed to Rudzki’s book Next Level Supply Management Excellence. 

“Together we set up the organization at Respironics successfully and delivered world-class savings for many years,” he says. “In addition, we also integrated ourselves (procurement) effectively into non product related purchasing decision makers.” 

As Butler sees it, Rudzki’s contribution to procurement goes beyond what he and the advisors do for individual organizations. “Bob taught us how to position procurement as an enabler to corporate success,” he says. “He always talks about procurement in a broader context of the business. 

“He taught us to speak in terms of the c-suite, in language executives want to hear,” Butler says. “And he taught us how to add value beyond negotiated cost savings.”

Jim Baehr, who worked with Rudzki at Bayer before joining him at Greybeard and has also contributed to the Next Level Supply Management Excellence book agrees, adding that his colleague’s work has helped further the procurement function. 

First are his specific contributions, his interactions with people who are leaders in the industry, Baehr says. “Bob has helped to advance the awareness of strategic sourcing and negotiations management. He’s an advocate for the profession. He understands what the needs are and does an excellent job at communicating at the senior level the importance of the role of sourcing, procurement and the supply chain.”

As important, Baehr says, are Rudzki’s accomplishments at the helm of Greybeard. “The experience level of the people he’s called upon to be part of Greybeard is very significant,” he says. “It’s a talented group of people who are open to new ideas and willing to take on assignments” such as a recent project with Cathy Martin at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. 

“It was not a project someone from the private sector would embrace,” Baehr says. “We jumped in with both feet. We listened attentively, did our assessment and realized that while there are certain processes that must be followed in a quasi public sector, there is also a marvelous opportunity to share what the private sector does.”

As Martin expressed in the My Purchasing Center article, Procurement Best Practices Flourish in the Public Sector, “Our transformation partner, Greybeard Advisors, came in and showed me – showed us – ways that we could drive costs out of the business by doing some of the sustainable things like strategic sourcing and negotiations management and other things I had been laying the groundwork for.” 

Greybeard client Mark Manno, Senior Vice President, Strategic Sourcing and Information Technology at Alpha Natural Resources in Bristol, Va., concurs. "Bob really believes in and is committed to what he’s doing.” 

Not only has Rudzki and Greybeard Advisors helped Manno’s team manage costs, an imperative for a coal company during an economic downturn, but they’ve also introduced and helped implement a strategic sourcing process and the use of cross functional teams which now the organization is using to source heavy equipment and MRO supplies as well as some services categories. What they’ve put in place appears to be sustainable. Since working with Greybeard, Manno has taken on additional responsibilities and has hired a vice president of strategic sourcing. 

Yet another way Rudzki and Greybeard Advisors give back is by becoming involved in their local communities and through donations to clients’ favorite charitable organizations. 

Benchmarking Begins

Greybeard’s engagement with a client starts with a conversation with the head of procurement or finance or the chief executive who sees that the company needs to do better across its purchasing and logistics operation. From the experience, the CEO wants to learn where procurement stands compared to best practices and the opportunity that’s available if the company made an investment in people, process and systems. 

 greybeard_logo.jpgRudzki likes to distinguish Greybeard Advisors from other procurement consulting firms. Among the most significant difference: Each advisor has at least 20 years experience in procurement. “My business is defined by people who have gray hair and gray matter with real practical experience who have been in procurement’s shoes in the corporate world or public sector and understand what the team leader is going through and will help him or her come up with an credible and successful plan of action,” he says. 

In other words, the advisors at Greybeard literally roll up their sleeves and do the work along side their clients. They coach the client so that the client learns by doing. When the engagement is complete, the results, Rudzki says, are sustainable. “The whole point is to build internal capability and skills while generating tangible results that are significant,” he says. “That dual emphasis is very important.”

Client Matt Stites, Executive Director--Supply Chain at Appvion in Appleton, Wis., says that Rudzki “appreciates the changes sourcing and supply chain are going through and really uses his experience and understanding of the changes to help facilitate intelligent discussions with different layers in an organization. He brings to the discussion his ability to level with a CFO in a language he or she understands.”

Transformation Calls for Leaders 

It’s the CPO who’s reluctant to make that leap that Rudzki finds most challenging of his time with Greybeard. “It takes a real leader and brave person in effect to say ‘There’s an opportunity here we have not realized, but if we get a little outside help we can quantify it, lay out a road map and achieve it in a very short period of time,’” he says.

That’s why in some cases, it’s the CEO or CFO and not the CPO who approaches him about improving the bottom line, top line or balance sheet. “Fortunately, procurement can affect all three,” he says.

From his vantage point, Rudzki observes the strides that procurement and supply chain have made since 2004.  “The profession has continued to develop its intellectual capital, for example, in the area of supplier risk management. That has evolved quite dramatically in the past 10 years,” he says. “At the same time, we’ve seen some companies go backwards, retracting to a more tactical view of what they need to do. In many cases, this was brought on by the recession.

“Companies that could not hold onto the direction they were embarked upon is a disappointment,” he explains. “Short-term pressure to cut costs during the recession made them do things tactically convenient and strategically foolish.” Other companies, he says, have become overly reliant on technology without first ensuring that they have the right process, objectives and people in place.

Still, Rudzki says it’s gratifying to work with clients who genuinely want to take their organizations to a state that’s not just next level, but approaching world class. “It gives me a great feeling of accomplishment to see an organization have an interest in learning, implementing and continuing on their own without us necessarily being there to hold their hands for a long time,” he says. 

As for the next 10 years and beyond, it does not appear that retirement is imminent for Rudzki although he has started to work to ensure that the firm he founded will continue to contribute to the procurement and supply chain profession for some time. He’s building a new generation of advisors, experienced procurement practitioner leaders who may not be as gray, yet who share his passion for helping to further advance the profession.

Tags: purchasing Supply chain management Procurement sourcing transformation
Category: News Article

Susan Avery


Susan Avery is Editor-in-Chief at My Purchasing Center. She writes articles, blogs and white papers and manages and creates other content for the online procurement and supply management publication. She produces and moderates roundtable discussions, podcasts, webcasts and video interviews. Susan has 30 years experience covering procurement and supply management for Purchasing magazine and 

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