Blackbook Executive

Industry Expert Q&A with Gilbert Chow – GM Procurement at Fonterra

What is your current role?  What are you responsible for?

I’m currently with Fonterra, responsible for leading the procurement strategy in Australia which encompasses direct, indirect and third party manufacturing categories. I’ve just accepted a role with Fonterra and will be moving overseas to head up procurement for Asia, the Middle East and African regions.

How did you start your career in Procurement given there isn’t really a degree or clear pathway into this area?

You’re exactly right in that there isn’t a clear pathway. I started out in a graduate program at NAB and gained exposure to lots of different areas of the business. I spent quite a bit of time in the marketing team and began to understand customer and supplier relationships which I found really interesting. I spoke to friends who had experience in procurement and liked the idea that it was a niche area where you had to be commercially savvy. From there, I actively pursued opportunities to grow a career in this area.

What are the biggest changes you are seeing within procurement functions?

The value we deliver is becoming more and more recognised. People are starting to understand the value a procurement function can offer and the way we go about facilitating value delivery across both supply markets & internal demand management. We are still behind more mature markets such as Europe/US but we are getting better and I’m seeing more people coming to Australia from overseas who are adding sophistication to our procurement functions. I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to work and lead a global team during my 4 years in the UK & the Netherlands.

What are the current gaps you see in procurement talent?

As I’ve mentioned it isn’t a mature function in Australia so we really need to think outside the box when recruiting. There’s responsibility for organisations to look at other backgrounds and behaviours and develop strong pipelines of talent, with a focus on those who are strong at change management, selling ideas and influencing. We need to become more strategic and continue to understand the value that procurement can add to a business. We are also seeing more and more people moving to Australia from regions such as Europe/South America which is contributing to an improvement in how we operate. Having said all that, with the recent federal government visa changes, it has restricted organisations in recruiting the best possible talents across the Procurement function.

What skills and behaviours do you look for when recruiting procurement talent?

I look for people who are street smart and can engage stakeholders. They don’t necessarily have to have a procurement background but they need to be a good facilitator. It’s easy to develop a category plan because it’s often very black and white. I also look for those who will challenge the status quo and be flexible to change and adapt. In my current organisation, there is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to delivery of initiatives. We need people who can be dynamic and well placed to sell their ideas to stakeholders.

Do you think there are opportunities for procurement professionals to move into other areas of a business and if so, what skills can they transfer?

Absolutely. I think one area that aligns really well is sales, the supply chain function is also closely aligned. People often say procurement is all about buying but it’s just as much about selling as it is buying, it’s very similar. I believe we can add value to lots of different areas as we are truly integrated across the business.

We are seeing lots of large businesses setting up global procurement functions, what do you think that means for procurement professionals in Australia?

You’re right in that a lot of procurement functions are moving offshore and I’m seeing multinational companies establishing their regional office/buying hub in Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland or the Netherlands. The reality is that these functions can operate well regardless of where they are based and Australia just isn’t as mature as the rest of the developed world, adding to that is the cost of operations are relatively high down under. We have to adapt and get better because most advanced businesses are moving offshore, there are countries such as the Netherlands or Singapore who are extremely mature and able to leverage global scale to attract talent and deliver significant value through global buying power.

What advice do you give young professional wanting to build a strong procurement career?

Be open minded. I mentor a number of students at Melbourne University and I tell them there is more demand than supply so it’s a great career option. The difficult thing is that there isn’t a clear pathway, you need to chase it yourself and create opportunities. Talk to people who have experience and build your network.

Interview conducted by Oliver Braithwaite, Supply Chain & Procurement Consultant at Blackbook Executive

To hear more about Supply Chain & Procurement opportunities and market updates contact Oliver on 03 9823 7408

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