CPO of the Year 2013

The Faculty congratulates Keith Bird, Queensland Rail

For the second consecutive year, a senior manager of a Queensland Government-owned corporation has been named Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) of the Year.

Keith Bird, the General Manager of Commercial for Queensland Rail, was named 2013 CPO at the Asia-Pacific CPO Forum in Melbourne last night (Wednesday May 15). In 2012, the inaugural award was won by Sharyn Scriven, Group Manager of Procurement and Supply for Queensland’s electricity distribution company, Energex.

The Asia-Pacific wide awards recognise performance and leadership excellence in the procurement profession, one of the fastest-growing disciplines in Australia. CPOs across the Asia-Pacific now control spend of between $100 million and $5 billion and are responsible for managing their business’ most strategic relationships.

In the first two years under Keith’s leadership, the procurement team achieved more than $100 million in benefits realisation; and to date, has almost doubled targeted cost savings. Key initiatives include developing a Strategic Procurement Model to transform Queensland Rail’s approach to procurement while supporting the business functions to achieve their objectives; and implementing Category Management strategies and a visual performance room to improve sourcing efficiencies and project transparency, and ensure value-for-money outcomes.

With a depth and breadth of experience from a ground-up approach to senior leadership, Keith has a background in public and private sector enterprises across complex and strategic commercial portfolios. These include the transport sectors, shared services, wholesale, retail and supply chain. Keith joined Queensland Rail in 2011 at a time of significant restructuring. While the coal and freight business of QR National listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, the passenger-focused Queensland Rail remained in government ownership, and is responsible for more than $6 billion in assets, over 7,000kms of track and 6,600 employees.

Keith established a centralised procurement structure to replace a very complicated and fragmented one, and improved the culture for procurement within the organisation. He went back to basics, creating a core procurement leadership responsible for delivering a capability building program and streamlining methodology with standardised and simplified procurement processes, tools and templates. This provided clear, consistent messaging to stakeholders and suppliers, ensuring a strong focus on execution without compromising governance and risk. While the new approach initially met resistance within the organisation, it has increased the control and transparency of spend under procurement management from 10% to 65% in just over two years.

The CPO of the Year Awards are hosted by The Faculty, a management consultancy specialising in procurement solutions, in partnership with The Workwear Group. The independent panel of judges comprises: John Pollaers (CEO of Pacific Brands), Anita Ziemer (MD of Slade Partners), the Hon Lindsay Tanner FCIPS (Special Advisor to Lazard and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, Victoria University), Professor Ian Williamson (Melbourne Business School) and panel chair, Dr Karen Morley (Karen Morley & Associates).

Ms Morley said Keith’s impact on the business extended beyond significant financial achievements. ” Keith is a strong team leader, encouraging his people to become trusted advisors to the business. He has also played a key role in encouraging more women into the profession through the formation of a Women in Procurement Group which has expanded across Queensland Rail’s Commercial team,” she said.

“Keith’s leadership characteristics have taken a government-focused culture in procurement to a forward-thinking environment that has helped Queensland Rail to manage cost sustainability and provide transparency and strong governance.”

In recognition of the renewed role of procurement in Queensland Rail, Keith was promoted to take on greater responsibility for commercial matters across the organisation. He now chairs the Investment Advisory Team which considers all investment proposals.

According to the Founding Chairman of The Faculty, Tania Seary, this approach reflects the maturity of procurement as a profession in both the private and public sectors. “As the need to deliver a competitive advantage intensifies, organisations are increasingly looking towards their supply chain to find cost savings, improve their commercial advantage, drive innovation from the supply base and importantly, protect them from risk,” she explained.

“Today’s CPO combines technical knowledge and negotiating skills with commercial savvy and superior people skills to lead change, influence outcomes and help the business to meet key objectives. Given the skills of top performing CPOs, it is no surprise to see more and more CPOs at executive team meetings or advancing to very senior positions. The Chief Executive Officer of Rio Tinto, Sam Walsh, is a former CPO and a point in case.”

Keith Bird advises other CPOs to have a clear vision for their procurement function and provide their people with opportunities to think laterally to meet challenging business objectives, using principle-centred leadership.

“It’s important that procurement professionals can be innovative in looking for new ways to deliver value, yet able to make mistakes without the risk of punitive consequences. Sometimes, CPOs can over-complicate things or try to be trendy; but at the end of the day, procurement is about delivering sustainable value for money for your organisation, customers and shareholders.”