Autumn, May 2015

FLiP CPO Masterclass

I’m sitting in the Park Hyatt Melbourne’s Trilogy Room listening to Yoda. Well, not exactly Yoda, but Keith Bird, GM Commercial at Queensland Rail, who is Yoda-like in his inexhaustible flow of wisdom. I’m joined by David Mulligan of Laing O’Rourke and Fred Chadraoui of Victoria University, both of whom have been nominated as rising stars by their employers and given the opportunity to attend The Faculty’s Future Leaders in Procurement (FLiP) forum to advance their careers. The three of us are sitting on the edge of our seats, craning forward to make sure we don’t miss a word.

This is the part of the day I’ve been looking forward to the most. I’ve spent the bulk of today at the National CPO Roundtable meeting with Keith and 20 more of the region’s leading CPOs, frantically taking notes as they discussed the challenges and opportunities visible from the top of the profession. Meanwhile, here at the Park Hyatt, David, Fred and 30 other FLiPpers have had an intensive day of workshops, lectures and big-picture thinking, but for many, this is the crowning event of the day. To be able to sit down for half an hour with CPOs of Keith Bird’s calibre is a not-to-be-missed opportunity, and all around me, procurement’s future leaders are making the most of it.

Keith begins the discussion by exploring David and Fred’s backgrounds, aspirations and challenges. He gives advice on making the jump from technical expertise to leadership – the important skills, in Keith’s view, are understanding finance and the commercial process as this will set you in good stead for what he calls “the long game”. The next step is to learn the softer skills: influencing, negotiating and public speaking, and accept that you’ll become a generalist as you move up the career tree. He talks about driving change by respectfully challenging assumptions and asking difficult questions – there’s always a way to fix things if you put your mind to it. Keith has valuable advice on leadership: listen to the people around you, understand the difference between intentions and behaviour, and don’t be afraid to let your team take the lead while you listen, support and coach.

From skills and leadership, Keith moves to advice on relationships, staying healthy, staying in control, and staying passionate by always seeking to recapture the excitement of your first job, no matter where you are in your career. His main advice to us was to always be open to learning new things, and that’s exactly what his small audience did today. I walked away thinking in envy of his team at Queensland Rail who have access to Keith’s advice every day of the working week.

If Keith Bird is Yoda, Richard Allen is the procurement sector’s Han Solo. Star Wars comparisons aside, the two mentors share a common achievement – Keith was the recipient of the CPO of the Year award in 2013, while Richard won the award for 2015. The CPO of Telstra is talking with Dominic Dommerson of Asciano, an enthusiastic FLiPper who has attended the forum no less than three times. Dominic is about to embark on a new stage in his career as he prepares to hire and manage a direct report over the coming months, so this is where Richard focuses his advice. We discuss the importance of hiring the right people, and coaching them to give them the very best start at your organisation. Like Keith, Richard stresses the importance of the soft skills and advises that cultural fit should be the focus of the interview process. This leads to a discussion of the different growth prospects offered by large versus small companies, and how to seize opportunities in both situations.

To be told that you have a bright future in procurement by one of the nation’s most recognised CPOs is a real confidence-booster. After swapping business cards and a farewell handshake, Dominic walks away from the meeting inspired and brim-full of ideas ready to take back to his team. The CPO mentors have enjoyed the session too – it would be hard not to, sitting face-to-face with such high-potential future leaders brimming with enthusiasm and ideas. Today, both Keith and Richard have demonstrated that they’re very genuine about the development of young procurement professionals’ careers. 

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