Aspiring Chief Procurement Officers ("CPOs") need to build a broad foundation of commercial, strategic, operational and leadership skills, as well as developing their emotional intelligence. In the current market, we are increasingly witnessing business leaders transition into CPO roles – but with very mixed results. The pressure is on for aspiring leaders to develop their skills, gain credibility in order to advise at the board and investor level and challenge themselves to demonstrate true value to the organisation. Excellent career planning – with a particular focus on building critical breadth, gaining global leadership experience and maintaining a focus on value – makes all the difference. 


Global leadership

A CPO needs to be a trusted advisor who influences the executive committee – and a leader in their own right.

CPOs are typically knowledgeable, articulate, innovative, confident, strategic and credible. Seriously consider the traits and behaviours that a CPO displays and work to develop those in yourself. Bear in mind that the more you go up the ladder in this area, the less opportunities there are, so it’s best to lay solid foundations from the outset.

Top tips:

  • Get exposure to local, regional and global operating models and develop the agility to exert your influence across a multitude of stakeholder groups.
  • Gain credibility and influence by pioneering and creating jointly owned procurement targets with internal stakeholders.
  • Work with stakeholders to create true value by understanding the levers and inspiring teams to carry out a shared vision through purposeful engagement. • Develop experience in building controls, systems and robustness around processes. Creating highly capable teams that are solution-oriented and capable of helping the business deliver its commercial objectives. Additionally, be sure to show, if possible, that you are capable of leading teams through testing times. Don’t accept the status quo and be prepared to make tough decisions as and when required.

“In my career, I have learnt that the more senior the procurement role, the more leadership and influence become essential to success. Ultimately, at CPO level, our impact is less about our procurement expertise, but more about how we engage our stakeholders, speak their language and articulate our procurement ambition to nonprocurement executives. Influence is about credibility, while credibility is about understanding the needs of the enterprise and delivering on them.” Stéphane Masseran, SVP & Chief Procurement Officer, Ipsen

Cross-functional experience

Leaders that progress past being functional experts have a diverse toolkit at their disposal, plus a solid track record of delivery.

Building up a diverse portfolio of experience provides perspective and often demonstrates an individual is flexible and able to deliver across multiple operating models. The most successful CPOs tend to have the ability to look outside of their own function and identify external solutions from the outside. Utilising their holistic view and understanding of operations, commercial and product, they’re able to see the bigger picture and create a vision that the business can buy into.

Top tips:

  • Gain critical experience across a variety of positions within indirect and direct procurement.
  • Develop a more balanced view of commercial imperatives. Consider taking a secondment into supply chain/operations or in the wider business; anything with an international component is particularly helpful in developing first-hand understanding and a more balanced viewpoint.
  • Be sure to put your hand up for critical projects or difficult programs as this will develop your skills, and increase credibility and trust.

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Focus on value 

Being able to partner with the business is fundamental for a CPO.

You need to be able to link procurement objectives to the C-suite agenda, and understand how to influence the board, as well as shareholders and investors, and understand which external factors may influence your capital investment. Traditional procurement is not enough. It’s likely that the CPO of the future will be perceived as a problem-solver and a leader in value creation. It’s vital, therefore, that you have a strong understanding of the wider business environment and that you know where and how value is generated. You must understand what is critical to the business in order to be able to deliver innovative and effective solutions.

Top tips:

  • Take the lead on critical projects in increasingly important areas such as digital transformation, risk management, ESG, supplier management and supply chain risk.
  • Stay up to date with developments in digital technology and risk assessment. Many businesses require new sources of value creation and these areas will gain much more attention in the near future. After all, organisations are shaping the supply chains of the future and you want to stay ahead of the curve.

“Successful procurement functions work with the business to articulate their requirements in a way that the market can understand. Procurement leaders who deliver the greatest value will remove complexity from transactional buying and create a clear channel with suppliers where the company can explain its needs and they can propose appropriate innovations. They must be able to ‘walk in their CxO peers’ shoes’ when jointly defining the business strategy, solving problems and identifying future opportunities.” Rory Lamont, Executive Officer &, CPO, Hitachi

  • Seek out a mentor: If becoming a CPO is your goal, it’s crucial you enlist the help of an experienced CPO. A mentor will help you evaluate what you’ve done, establish what you still need to do and figure out how to get that experience. They should have been in their CPO role for several years, or already in their second role, which will allow you to get the benefit of what they’ve learned, as well as insights into how they did it.
  • Keep your eye on your long-term goals: Always opt for experience and the ability to work with a brilliant leader. Don’t allow a short-term remuneration increase or prestigious title get in the way of your long-term objectives.
  • Honestly assess your abilities: Be brave and ask for feedback. You need to know where your gaps are and take action. Do you or your procurement function have a perception problem? How do you solve it?
  • Build your network:L It is imperative to ensure you are on the radar of the right people. The majority of CPO roles are recruited by executive search firms or through a network, with most appointments needing to be advocated in some way. Make yourself known to the right communities and you will on the radar for potential roles. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, ensure it reflects your skills and experience accurately, and is the best professional representation of yourself.

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BIE is a trusted advisor to many aspiring and existing CPOs, and our team would be delighted to support you on your journey.


Becoming a Procurement Leader: Career Advice & Guidance

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