When communication giant Cogeco Cable—now Cogeco Connexion— asked Erin Geldard to build its strategic procurement department two years ago, Geldard knew she had to craft a strategy of her own. So the first thing she did was study the business. After gaining a greater understanding, she searched for the right people to collaborate with.
It’s not that she didn’t have faith in her own abilities—she had spent nearly twenty years as a procurement officer in the aerospace and financial industries before moving to Cogeco. A lesson that she learned at each of those jobs was that no one could be successful without the help of others.
“I needed to get the best people to do the job because no matter how great the leader, it’s not a one-man show,” she says. “I knew I had to add good talent, that the key was to have amazing people around me.”*
Geldard on Building a Strategic Procurement Team
1. Go for quick wins at the beginning to build confidence among other departments while working on long-term objectives in line with the company’s vision
2. Learn everything you can about the business
3. Understand that everyone, including suppliers, is a collaborator
Geldard soon realized that building the department was a tall order. Prior to her start at the company, Cogeco worked under a more traditional procurement model: placing purchase orders and going to market for specific products. The organization brought Geldard on board because of her past success in building strategic sourcing teams and implementing spend category management—in other words, understanding trends in corporate spending, marketplace, and supplier intelligence in order to build solid negotiating strategies and generate value for the business.
For the first six months and as she worked on recruiting new team members, the department was made up of a couple of people. The hurdles Geldard faced as a member of the department were daunting, as many companies across Canada saw procurement as mostly a clerical role, so people didn’t have confidence yet in asking the team to negotiate major corporate agreements.
“I had to get key people in place with clear roles and responsibilities,” she recalls. “I had to set up challenging objectives to the team and stretch mandates so that we were working to those objectives. I wanted to get a lot of quick wins in the beginning to demonstrate the value we could bring, while also building long-term strategies.”
As she assembled her team, those wins started coming, and procurement’s importance to the company grew exponentially. Each department now has to go through procurement to choose suppliers instead of handling its budget independently. For example, if IT needs new computers, or marketing wants to design a new logo, those departments don’t just send a request—the department heads meet with Geldard and her team to discuss the project.
“We touch almost every contract: from engineering to new equipment such as TiVo, to construction projects, hiring accountants, brands, and advertising,” she says. “Every day I come to work there are new projects.”
External spending, other than salaries, now falls under the procurement department. Geldard’s department answers to finance, but is not a finance department per se. Still, Geldard says that she probably spends 20 percent of her time crunching numbers.
“You need the numbers to build a strategy,” she says. “If I don’t know where my numbers are going and where your numbers are coming in, it’s difficult to negotiate commercial agreements.”
Where the department had once been isolated, it now could be seen as a valuable collaborator with key expertise within the company.
“As soon as I started having those key people in place, collaboration changed,” Geldard says. “The team started working closely with other departments. Now, my managers go meet with the key stakeholders of Cogeco on a regular basis. It’s a lot easier to collaborate now because they see the value in my team.”
Geldard’s concept of collaboration extends beyond her department and its operation within the company to collaboration with the suppliers Cogeco depends on.
“Suppliers are collaborators,” she says. “Our key suppliers need us, but we need them too. It works both ways. If you don’t have those collaborative relationships, they’re not going to help you out when you need them.”
Geldard’s impact might best be exemplified by the department’s engagement survey, which quantifies employee satisfaction. When she came in, satisfaction was at 15 percent, and within a year it rose to 78 percent.
“Building the team has been the key element,” she says. “That and building solid relationships with everyone else we work with.”
*Continuing the Conversation with . . .
Anne Bloom, LG Electronics:
“This is very true. Talented people make their leaders look good and lead to better accomplishment of goals.”
“What advice would you give to someone entering the workforce for the first time as it relates to collaboration?”
Geldard: “I would tell them not be afraid to voice their own opinion, be a good listener, and make strategic alliances early on within their department, as well as outside.”