Strategic Sourcing VP Jonathan Rosemberg speaks about Business Transformations and Talent

April 20, 2017


Welcome to the latest installment of Argentus’ Executive Interview series, where we speak with leaders from across Procurement and Supply Chain about current issues in the field, emerging trends, and talent.

Our interview with Jonathan Rosemberg, Vice President of Profit Improvement and Strategic Sourcing at Indigo, had so much great content that we had to split it into two. Jon is a Procurement leader with a wealth of experience at some of Canada’s top retailers, with specific experience in helping companies transform transactional Procurement functions into strategic, highly-valuable centres of excellence. In this edition, we talked about:

  • His approach to leading Procurement transformations from the first 90 days into the future.
  • How companies can overcome the “talent gaps” that are making it difficult to hire.
  • His approach to leadership and helping his team build strong careers in Strategic Sourcing.

Check it out!

When you’re starting a Procurement transformation, what are the key things to identify and put in place in the first 90 days? How about after that?

I would describe my approach to transformations in two ways. For the first 90 days, you listen first, second, you listen, third, you listen. You want to understand the dynamics of the organization to set yourself up for success. You want to learn the language. Every company has its own jargon and language and you need to understand it to see how you fit into their world.

The other way I think about my approach to transformations is to look at it through four different verticals, or a matrix if you like.

The first one to pay attention to is culture. You’re trying to understand what motivates the organization. Is it a mission-driven organization? If so, what’s the mission? Is it profit-driven? If so, what are the levers you can pull? You need to get a deep understanding of culture by understanding how these factors interact with each-other.

The second one is people. You want to have a good team in place that can actually embed in the organization, a centre-led team who can go to team meetings for the categories they’re supporting and build relationships as trusted advisors and negotiating partners. So early on, you’re also trying to make sure you have the right talent in place. The technical expertise in Procurement is a dime a dozen. The difficult piece is learning how to build relationships for the long term. A lot of Procurement folks forget that it’s ultimately all about people. If you can’t get people on board you’re doomed to fail.

The third element is building very simple processes. Some companies will have process maps for everything that they touch, and it’s very intimidating for the head of marketing or finance to try to engage you and you show them this complex process with different touch points, different teams, etc. I try to simplify the process for how the business engages with our team. Simple, simple processes.

The fourth element is leveraging the right technologies. Everybody thinks about e-Procurement as the golden goose. I think it can be very powerful, but it’s not always the best solution. Sometimes, a massive implementation of a piece of software can freeze an organization – instead of the tool enabling the work, the work enables the tool. So it’s important to do lots of market research to make sure you have the right tools in place. There are some technologies that make things easier, better, and faster. If that’s not happening, there’s no point in implementing technology just for technology’s sake.

When I join an organization I whiteboard all four of these areas and see how to approach it for each. You build a roadmap, and create a mission statement that people around the organization can relate to.

Is there anything you’ve noticed about working in Strategic Sourcing in Retail specifically compared to in other industries?

I think if you’ve got the technical skills, and you’ve got the personality for it, the industry isn’t as important. You need to have a certain type of personality for this role. You’re in situations that require a certain amount of confrontation and positive conflict. You can’t be passive about it. If you’ve got those two things, and the ability to create partnerships, you’ll be successful regardless of what the industry is. [At Indigo] we buy books, general merchandise, indirect, and whatever. There’s some level of learning curve. But once you understand the fundamentals of the function, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Retail, Hospitality, or Finance, it’s fairly transferable.

In my team, I like to give everyone an opportunity to move from one category to others. So people go from IT to Marketing to Business Services to something else. It keeps it fun.

Do you think there’s a large enough pool of talent with the skills to do these kind of transformations? And if companies are finding it difficult to attract the talent, what do you think they can do to make that leap?

 I think it’s tough to find people who can do both [the technical side and the more relationship-building side]. I have a very young team here. Most of them have fewer than 3 years of Procurement experience. We’re building it as we go. The millennial generation does not believe in transactional relationships. It’s a very different approach to doing business, measuring outputs instead of inputs. It’s not about coming in at 9 and leaving at 5, it’s about doing your work. I think the shift in general corporate culture that’s happening is going to be beneficial to this profession.

I think Procurement is at an inflection point. There’s an old-school approach and a more modern approach in terms of how Procurement conducts itself. But it’s not easy to find the talent. There’s a big group of people who come from that “we’re in Procurement and we save money” line of thinking. It’s a very blurry line, and people are able to change their approach. There’s a new generation looking at it in terms of total cost of ownership and minimizing risk by working with the business and suppliers in the best way.

It’s not always easy to attract people to this role. It’s not the most glamorous of core functions, and I don’t think we advertise our profession very well. People don’t know what we do. Here, we’re building the organization from the ground up, and educating people as to the value we bring takes time. But companies are starting to see the immense value in it.

We hope you enjoyed the interview with Jonathan Rosemberg. And if you’re a Procurement professional, we’d love it if you shared your thoughts in the comments! While you’re at it, take a few minutes to check out this video below about the efforts of the Profit Improvement & Strategic Sourcing team at Indigo. 


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