Taking inspiration from "Corner Office: conversations about leadership and management" from the New York Times and Inc. Magazine's "How I Work", we will feature a Procurement/Supply Chain leader on this blog from time to time. 

I’m excited to feature Greg Tennyson, one of the most innovative and forward-thinking Procurement executives in the country.

Vital Stats

Location: Sacramento CA area

Current Role: Chief Procurement Officer at VSP

Current mobile devices:  2 iPhones, an iPad, and Pebble Watch

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? eProcurement, Spend Visibility, eSourcing and Contracts Lifecycle Mgmt tightly integrated with Core Financials and HCM

What are you currently reading? The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Franklin Covey

Q: Tell us about your childhood, where did you grow up and where were you educated?

A:  I am a Native of Northern CA. I grew up in the East Bay – Livermore, Pleasanton area. I went to St. Mary's college in Moraga CA for my undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts as well as my Masters of Science in Management with a concentration in procurement and contracts Management. Sports dominated my childhood – I played year round sports at all levels – football and baseball primarily. I played NCAA Division 2 football in college as a defensive end. My team building skills were heavily influenced by sports, which I’ve brought into the work setting.

Q: How and when did you get interested in Procurement?

A: Not by design. When I graduated college in the early 80s, the jobs picture was not great. I took a role at Transamerica Corp where I got exposed to procurement and contracts and dealing with suppliers. I enjoyed negotiating and partnering with suppliers, saw the value add and decided to make a career in Procurement.

My Procurement career started as a transactional buyer at Lawrence Livermore Lab. While there I earned my Master’s degree. I earned my C.P.M. and CPCM credentials shortly after graduating with my Masters in 1986. Since then I have honed my subject matter expertise and leadership skills in Procurement and Contracts in various settings – Government, large companies, small companies, and high-tech startups. I feel that Procurement offers limitless opportunity for those who are curious about business.

Q: What are some of the highlights of your career as a Procurement leader?

A: I’ve had the fortune to work during the transformative Procurement years where we achieved a seat at the Board Room table by delivering value to the bottom-line.  The procurement function, process and technology changed dramatically over that 30 year period.  It has been amazing and provided opportunities at Salesforce.com during their high-growth years and at Oracle during their intense acquisition phase.

 I’ve had the opportunity to establish and transform procurement and contracts departments on a global scale with spend ranging from the millions to multi-billion per annum.  The opportunities have allowed me to flourish professionally and expand my skills.  It has been a great ride. 

Q: What is the one thing a Procurement organization must excel at?

A: It depends on the environment, company’s maturation and culture. At companies with a command-and-control structure, cost savings can be a large focus. At other companies, the compliance lever is maybe important.  And then there are companies with a growth focus that are highly collaborative and democratic decision-making process where the entrepreneurial spirit reigns. In a growth-focused company, Procurement is a supportive enabler where it is all about time to market; also the engagement model has to be collaborative. So the company’s maturation and culture heavily influence the procurement engagement model.  As a result a procurement leader needs to read the tea leaves and operate in a model that is congruent to the operating principles of the company in order to be successful.

Q: How has the CPO role evolved?

A: The CPO role has been transformed along with the function, technology and expected results derived from a World-Class Procurement team.  The CPO is expected to sell solutions, collaborate with the business and deliver value.  The CPO role is no longer about compliance, rules and governance.  We sell to our peers, up and down the organization to ensure we are engaged and delivering.  The CPO’s interpersonal skills coupled with solution solving skills are now more important than commodity subject matter expertise (SME).  The CPO needs to surround themselves with SMEs who are highly collaborative and focused on results.  This shift has accelerated in the last 5 to 8 years away from compliance/audit to selling and influencing the leadership in an organization. 

How is the relationship with Accounting evolving?  Procurement leaders depending on the nature and maturation of a company report in to the CFO or COO.  Regardless the CPO needs to have a tightly aligned relationship with Finance to be effective in their role.  Finance is aligned with the business around budgets/FP&A activities; suppliers from a payables and working capital perspective; and, spend management.  Without Finance the CPO can be less effective because they don’t have access to budgets, DPOs, spend, supplier levers, etc.

Q: How do you hire?

A: What we do in our jobs is sourcing which is all about partnering to define requirements and expectations.  We work to find the best value in the marketplace to meet those requirements. Talent is no different. I make sure that the job description is properly vetted, i.e. aligned with HR and within the team as well the business. Then go and source the need – leveraging your network and recruiting network to bring in the best candidates.

Once hired onboarding talent is equally important to keep them engaged and accelerating their contribution.  We’ve tried a number of tried and true onboarding technics.  End of day a mentor/protégée helps assimilate the individual.  I also subscribe to hiring Type A personalities as their competitive drive achieves results.  Type As also bring some level of conflict, which I am OK with as it helps vets concerns and forces the team to collaborate with the right leadership oversight.

Q: What is your approach to mentoring and developing talent?

A: I have weekly one-on-one meeting with my staff focused on key job accomplishments and their development plans.  Based on career and family goals, we draw up a plan that includes aspirational goals for 1-2-5 years out. Where do you see yourself X years from now? Then we look at the current job-family the employee is in and the next two levels. What does it look like from a skills, competency, academic point of view and then chart a course. The question I always ask is: “What's your path? What’s your plan?” It doesn’t always have to be about procurement.  Enabling the individual to grow is the objective.

Q: What’s your approach if you have to give people tough feedback?

A: I learned a valuable lesson early in my career – the Golden Rule.  Treat people the way you want to be treated.  I try to be honest, transparent and authentic with people.  Give them the information they need to be successful and if not successful, what they need to do to raise their game.

Q: What career advice do you give to aspiring Procurement leaders?

A: Hopefully there is one constant in your career – Family.  Prioritize family and maintain a good work-life balance. I work hard and have held a high ethical standard of conduct. 

I’ve always put family first and worked to keep my skills current, transferable so I can play a multitude of roles.  Don’t put yourself in a box.  Diversify your skills, e.g., manufacturing (supply chain/direct procurement), indirect procurement, contracts management, high-tech, Government, etc.  The more specific to a procurement path, the more limited your options and the less flexibility you have.

For us (my wife and I) a long-time ago we developed our career plans together.  We’ve held to the plan and put family first.  As a result we have two great kids or should I say young men.  Our oldest just turned 30 and is a professional photographer.  Our youngest is back East in Law School at one of the Ivy League schools.  Both men have turned out great because they were first in our lives.  My wife and I also place each other first in our lives.  Family is the one constant in life – jobs come and go, but family will always be there for you if you put it first.

A big thank you to Greg for such invaluable insights.

Please leave any questions or thoughts for Greg in the comments below

Procurement and Business are about to get the Dreamforce treatment! Come visit DocuSign at the Moscone Center, Oct. 13th – 17th at Booth N1801. Get all the details here: http://dreamforce.docusign.com/