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Purchasing and Supply's Rise: Why It's a Leadership Role Today

ISM's 93rd Annual International Supply Management Conference

St. Louis, MO
May 2008


Joseph Cavinato, Ph.D., C.P.M., Director of the A.T. Kearney Center for Strategic Supply Leadership (CSSL) at ISM and ISM professor of supply chain management at Thunderbird School of Global Management

There can be no doubt: Supply management is growing and reaching new heights. To help prepare these professionals for the future, presenter Joseph Cavinato, Ph.D., C.P.M., director of the A.T. Kearney Center for Strategic Supply Leadership (CSSL) at ISM and ISM professor of supply chain management at Thunderbird School of Global Management, discussed the mega-trends that will shape tomorrow's supply management stand-outs.

"It's a field that is doing things differently than even five years ago, and certainly different than ten years ago" Cavinato said. "Today, it's recognized as contributing to the business, or function, of the organization."

Cavinato also outlined many of the capabilities expected of today's supply management professionals. His contention is that supply chain is moving from what has always been a management function to a leadership function. "Today, it's not just doing things right — it's doing the right things," he said.

Additionally, supply management professionals now need to track their progress, develop competencies and skills, identify what is next and take charge when necessary.

Cavinato presented a chronology of how the field has evolved, beginning in the 1880's when business owners did the important buying and clerks bought everything else, to today — and through 2010 — as opportunities for bottomline and top-line performance reign supreme.

Whereas organizations typically were structured with the top executives doing the thinking and everyone else specializing in specific competencies, Cavinato outlines a handful of ways it is different today:

  • Evolving organizations have senior management providing the vision and values, but not thinking for the whole organization.

  • Meanwhile, non-strategic suppliers — facilities management teams, for example — are operating independently within organizations.

  • Strategic alliances are being formed with suppliers that have what organizations need and want but cannot afford to bring on full-time.

Internally, key personnel — more often than not serving a supply management role — have a sense of total cost of ownership and total value, define and develop measures, excel at project management, and speak multiple business languages.

"This is where we have a chance to really excel as we move from being vertically oriented organizations to process-oriented," Cavinato explained. "Collaboration is key — the ability to influence and reach people who don't work for us. All of this isn't management; it's leadership."

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