Transcript: What the Duck?! Episode 65

What the Duck?! Episode 65 Transcript

TALES OF A LONE WOLF: Building Procurement from the Ground Up with Craig Smith

Welcome to What the Duck?! A podcast with real experts talking about direct spend challenges and experiences. And now, here’s your host, SourceDay’s very own manufacturing Maven, Sarah Scudder. Thank you for joining me for What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast brought to you by SourceDay. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder, and this is the podcast for people working in the direct materials part of the supply chain. I’m @SarahScudder on LinkedIn and @Sscudder on Twitter.

Thanks for joining me for What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast brought to you by SourceDay. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder, and this is the podcast for people working in the direct materials part of supply chain and manufacturing. I’m @SarahScudder on LinkedIn and @Sscudder on Twitter. I’ve decided to change things up a bit and incorporate past interviews I’ve conducted from our LinkedIn live events because I feel the content is good and relevant to our podcast audience. So, today, here’s an interview from a LinkedIn live show I hosted earlier this year.

Craig is part of the Procurement Foundry community that Mike Cadieux started a few years ago. I’ve been a big supporter and part of the network as well, so we got to meet up in person for their first-ever conference, and it feels like it was longer than two weeks ago, but nice to see you again, Craig, and have you on the show. Great to see you and really good to be here. Thanks for the invite.

So, I love fun names, and I love the name Lone Wolf. I think Paul and and you’ve got a core group of 10 or 12 of you, so can you describe to me what is this Lone Wolf group?

Sure. So it’s really about small procurement and sourcing or vendor management teams that are a bunch of us are a team of one, and then others have smaller two to three people-sized teams of running the procurement organization within their different entities, right? So a lot of work with a bunch of a switch between the tactical and the Strategic on a daily basis, so it’s just I think we face maybe some different challenges than larger procurement teams, and we’re definitely juggling and keeping a lot of balls in the air as we’re going through our day-to-day.

Yeah. From talking to you and some of the other Lone Wolfers, it’s you guys are either a team of one or a very, very small team, so you’re tackling and having to figure out how to prioritize what to work on because you don’t have a lot of resources. Right.

So, Craig, you and I share something in common and that we both chose to major in marketing. So, would like to have you tell me a little bit about your college experience and why marketing?

So, my sister was five years older than me and we both went to the University of Oklahoma. She went through the journalism school and majored in advertising, and I kind of thought that that might be fun because I thought of myself as creative, even though I have no musical skill or artistic skill or anything like that, but so she told me, “Listen, don’t do what I did. Get a business degree.” There was a marketing degree with an emphasis in advertising, so I chose to go that route. Never got into marketing per se, but I went into sales and sales engineering after that. We’ll have to get into a little bit later about some of the similarities and differences between sales and marketing because I don’t think everyone realizes sometimes the overlap.

What was the most important thing that you learned in your undergraduate program when you were majoring in marketing?

So, I’ll give two examples. Number one, I didn’t start at OU with the intent on being in marketing. I actually wanted to major in history and be a college professor, and had a great European history professor that I talked to about doing that, and he said, “Listen, if you want to be poor like me, don’t have a car, bike to work. You may want to think of something else,” and so that’s when I decided to make the switch. And then really in college, I left to work. I didn’t really like to study, so I had about three different jobs while I was at OU, which I really just wanted to work all the time and make money. But I had some really great sales and sales management classes that stuck with me, but I’ve moved on since then.

So, what did you when you started college, what did you think you wanted to do after graduation?

Well, when I started, I thought I would become, you know, hopefully becoming a history professor. When that switched over to marketing, I had thought I would try to get into the advertising business. I didn’t really know. I just really wanted to graduate. I was living with my sister at the time and she just wanted me out, so which I don’t blame her because I was a terrible roommate. Terrible, why? Let’s dig into this. Yeah, I just, I had a dog that was dirty. I wasn’t super clean and, you know, she was five years older, so she was mid to late 20s and wanted to do her thing and I had to take care of her little brother anymore. You were, you were kindly booted is what I like to say. I was prodded to start interviewing and sending out resumes, yes.

Oh, so you had, you said I think three or four jobs throughout school. You really liked working and making money, maybe not studying and testing as much, but that’s something you just learned about yourself. What was your first paying gig after college?

So, I moved to a an even smaller town in Oklahoma where a young man that was still at OU, he had a RAM manufacturing business, so for RAM memory, it was primarily for Apple Computers. So, I joined his sales team and sold RAM memory on a commission-only basis with customers in the US and then my territories were Scandinavia, had a couple of customers in the UK, a couple of customers in France, and then a few in South Africa as well.

So, smaller town meaning how many people?

I, if I recall, there was a there was a four-year University there, I think with the college, it was about 18,000 people.

Wow, that is tiny.

It was, it was fun. It was a really fun little town, good people. When I was working there, they did not have liquor by the drink, so you either had to join a club or do that type of thing at your home. And, but after I left, I think that passed it finally passed a few years later, but it was a it was a really great way to start a career. I had some success. The memory market fell about 80 percent from a pricing standpoint, and so the paycheck started dwindling a little bit, and I got a little wanderlust and needed to spread my wings and get out of Oklahoma.

So, I moved to Atlanta. My father was in telecom with Conoco, a friend of his knew of a company, a small backbone company, an IP backbone company in Atlanta that I joined up with. I think the title was customer relations manager, which was similar to what customer success is now. So, and a lot a lot of renewals, smaller type deals, and then handled kind of billing question calls and things like that. And then I followed my boss there to a few other stops in that in that same space in Atlanta.

So, how did you get into procurement?

The boss I was working for in Atlanta started working in here in Denver for another larger Telecom company, made a role for me, which was funny. It was a tech, as a tech writer position, but I never did any tech writing. It was kind of kind of a gap-fill role. I helped with asset management. I helped with forecasting and budgeting for the IT team. The person that was running vendor management, IT vendor management for us, got pulled into a SOX project. He knew of my sales and sales engineering background along with my boss, and he said, “I’ll teach you how to do this and you’ll love it.” And that’s that’s how it started. So, for those that don’t know, what is SOX? Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. So, various financial controls around risk mitigation and things like that.

So, it kind of seems like this job was created for you.

It was, really. When he decided to take my, my a co-worker then became boss, took on that project, he had the confidence in me to take over, although that role hadn’t been around for too long, and had a great set of leaders and teachers in that position both from both Mike, my boss, and then the legal team there as well. That was really helpful in in getting me started to redlining contracts, thinking about what I needed to look for, and things like that. So, really started me on my path.

You kind of had this position created for you, your redlining contracts. You’re learning more and more about procurement. What did you do next?

So, the boss that I that took that stocks effort went to another company, a large financial services company. Was there for a few months and asked me to come on board to join his IT sourcing team. So, I did that, and and did various sourcing types of engagements, from hardware, big enterprise software, some network security, professional services, things like that. So, and then stayed in that role for six and a half years and then actually moved into our operations and infrastructure team. Doing some similar type of activity but not direct negotiation with the vendor, it was more around service costing, IT planning and budgeting, and forecasting, and that type of activity, and some other one-off type projects as well, but still stayed close with the vendors and things like and the internal clients as well.

So, how does someone get good at IT sourcing if they don’t have an IT background?

“So ask for help. The both position, those first two positions, and companies where I started off in the career had really good engineers that loved to whiteboard, either you know technical diagrams or things like that and explain to me about the products or the services or the components that I was helping to procure. And it was just those types of conversations and asking a lot of questions. I took a couple of small classes, like how to configure some Cisco routers and things like that, but more, it was just sitting with those engineers, being invited to various luncheon learns with the vendors and things like that, and then asking, continuing to ask questions. I had never heard of a mainframe before the second role, and that was a big component of the business. So, I had a great VP that I worked with here in Denver that really took the time to explain how it was used and what components fed into the pricing, and what was important from a negotiation standpoint, so just really had some excellent engineering and IT mentors that helped me learn the business.

Yeah, I think IT sourcing is still kind of a hot role. I know when I’m on LinkedIn or talking to people, I feel like I hear about companies who are looking for and hiring IT sourcing professionals, so it seems like it’s a pretty good space to be in still. But I know I hear people say all the time, I’d love to get into that but I don’t have a tech background or I don’t have an IT background. I don’t think that is a barrier to entry. I think if you’re if you’re willing to ask those hard questions or ask those types of questions, and you have kind of a learning mindset, you’ll pick it up quickly, especially if there are folks at that company that are willing to spend 15 minutes with you, you know, on a I don’t even say on a regular basis, just to whiteboard out and explain things. You just have to find the right people and build those relationships with those folks internally that you can say, ‘Hey, can you teach me more about firewalls or things like that? Yeah.’

So, you pivoted into operations. You were there a couple years. What did you do next?

So, as part of my role there, I ran an RFP for an IT financial management tool. And there was a company that participated that I really enjoyed talking to, enjoyed the people that we were working with during the RFP process and then during implementation. I reached out to them about, you know, ‘Hey, any interest? I really like the company, I really like the product and the service you’re providing. We made something work.’ I became, so I did contract management from the sale side, just negotiating primarily the T’s and C’s of our contracts, and then ran a professional services team of a really great group of implementation folks and product advisors that guided our customers towards best practices and industry best practices, and things like that. And it was there for three years, just under three years, maybe.

Okay, they received some private equity funding, as you know, a lot of smaller companies do, and the middle management there was asked to leave, and so I did, and that’s when I really did, I knew at that point I wanted to get back into vendor management, sourcing, and procurement.

So, you did something that I think is a little bit risky, and that you joined a company with, in essence, no procurement department.


So, why did you do that?

During the interview process, the folks that I interviewed with really had I don’t know, you could tell they were really good people. They were interesting, the services that DHI provides is helpful and needed. And I really thought it was an exciting time to join, so I could actually build out the function, I could select tools, and really I could continue to do what I like to do, which is build those relationships internally with all parts of the business. With my background in primarily IT sourcing, I looked at it as a benefit to really get to learn marketing, and perhaps product, and then other areas of the business, although that’s probably the majority of our spend at the moment.

You joined a company that knew they needed a procurement function, which is a huge step. There’s organizations that I feel like sometimes I get shocked, where a company is, you know, 100 million plus in revenue and has no sourcing or procurement function, which is baffling to me, but it happens. So that was a good step, they hired you. You are one person. There’s a lot of contracts, a lot of suppliers, many different stakeholders. What did you do the first year? Kind of walk me through the process of how did you assess and prioritize and build out what your role was going to look like.

Okay, so I mean, the first thing I did was I pulled some spend reports, just looking who are the big vendors that we used. Did I know of some of them, which on the tech side I did. I started reaching out to all those different team members, joining. I didn’t know what a DOT what the adoption would be like, right? Would there because everybody was doing their own deal, so I didn’t know if there’d be a lot of pushback. And that’s really what I was expecting, but that was not the case at DHI, everybody was welcoming and talked about how much they needed help and they needed this role to succeed, so they could focus on their day-to-day. That really helped drive the business forward.

So, I took, I was able to help take some activity off of their plate, just getting spending time again with different folks in those teams, getting to know their vendors, the services that they needed, the products that they were using, and then figuring out how I can help. And there was a lot, right? And that growth is still continuing. I’m still learning new vendors and products and services that are being used across DHI, but I’ve, I hope I’ve built great relationships with the different business teams and leadership, and folks that I support on a day-to-day basis. We have really good back and forth, we collaborate when we’re planning some difficult conversations with some vendors. We have a plan of, I don’t say a plan of attack, but a plan of kind of what we want to ask for, how we can come to an agreement, you know, where are we willing to give and where do we really want to push, and things like that. So it’s really having that partnership with those business teams and driving towards the same goal, and maybe playing a little good cop bad cop along the way, if needed. But it’s, it’s really progressed.

First year, we, I had an in-place contract management tool that was helpful to have, but it didn’t contain everything. I put a new one into place for a year or two years, we just rolled off of that, because I really needed an intake tool. I was managing requests for help, whether it’s a new deal, a renewal, or an NDA or whatever, just through teams or emails or drive-bys or things like that. So, I’ve, I’ve put that intake tool in place nine days ago, it’s had some good adoption so far. So, we’re kind of in the slow period at the moment for new deals, but we’re doing some renewals and things like that. So, it’s really helped me out and provide a, a better level of service, but I don’t want to say self-service, but just a place where they can go into requests, get some status updates, and things like that. And then I hope to build on that in the future, for phase three, four, five, whatever, whatever’s next.

So, one of the things I would argue is prioritizing stakeholders and suppliers is really difficult, and it’s way more than just the amount of your spend. So, how are you prioritizing where you’re spending more of your time and energy versus other projects or stakeholders?

That is a tricky spot, because I think folks within the roles are hearing the same thing, ‘Oh, this is urgent, you know, we need to expedite this,’ everything is expedited, right? So, it’s, it’s really trying to uncover, okay, what’s the actual timing? When is the required due date? You know, I mean, renewals, those are easy, but for the new deals, it’s trying to plan what’s important, what’s a big impact. We’ve got a couple of larger project slash engagements going on that are taking priority at the moment, that are impactful to the business, that are taking good priority right now away from some, away from some smaller deals or maybe less important deals, but we’re, I’m still striving to get those through and completed on time as well, but having that intake tool where I can and set my priorities is supremely helpful.

So, what’s taking priority? They understand the different business units understand what’s driving that prioritization.

I would argue risk is really important. The spend may not be as large, but if it has a significant impact to the company’s security or financial risk and also impact to revenue, I’m in the direct materials world and there may be a three cent bolt that a company buys and maybe they only spend ten thousand dollars a year, but that may take priority over a multi, you know, million-dollar contract if that bolt will prevent the production line from running if it’s not there. Absolutely, and I think that’s where good communication across those business teams in leadership is important because you can understand those impacts and schedule accordingly.

So, we have a comment from Larry Lang. ‘Hello, Larry.’ Larry is joining us from Canada today. Shout out to a fellow Procurement Foundry member.

He says, ‘Planning for difficult conversations is extremely important.’ So would like to have you, Craig, maybe elaborate a little bit on this.

Couldn’t agree more, especially you know, I think right now in our realm within, you know, let’s say some SaaS providers and things like that, they’re, you know, we have those annual increases come renewal time. Some folks are attempting to raise those really high. Working with the business teams before that to say, okay, have they provided any better service? Are we getting additional benefit from the tools that we’re renewing or things like that that would make that increase more palatable, or is this just an increase because of inflation or things like that, right? You know, some of the economic impacts that are hitting everybody at the moment. Being able to plan for those conversations is making those conversations not easy, but we’re able to deliver the message in a more constructive manner.

So, you’re a team of people who are live with us today. I would consider Lone Wolfers, but maybe they have a couple team members, lucky.

We have here’s one who’s laughing at our Lone Wolfer. Haha. So, I’m not sure if Gvido’s a Lone Wolfer or not, or just likes the title, but what advice do you have for people who are wanting to figure out how to prove or show their value to the executive team, so you can one, keep your job, but also potentially get budget? I’m sure many times you think throughout the year you’d love to have a couple more people on your team, but you have to build out a business case for that.



Absolutely. I knew for me where we are as a company at the moment, headcount would be great, but really for me, the two, the two that were important were, so getting the right first set of tools was really important. I really needed the, the intake request to manage, the, the, the things coming in from the internal teams where they needed help, whether it was a requester in NDA or whatnot, and then being able to have the contract database to where I could look up renewal periods or notification periods and things like that, just to manage the renewal book of business as well.

I did have to build a small business case for the tooling because all we had all I had in the budget when I started was a legacy contract database that didn’t really meet my needs. And so, I had to, to build on that dollar amount and show where that could create additional value across the team. With as being a Lone Wolf, being able to provide some of that self-service type of activity helps free up some, a little bit of my time to, to do more of that tactical type of work.

What skills do you think are important for a Lone Wolfer or somebody who’s on a very, very small procurement team?

So, I’d say first of all, you have to be a little bit of crazy and like a little bit of chaos, a little bit or a lot of crazy, maybe a little bit of crazy but a lot of chaos, because it’s, it’s the, the demand is fast and furious, they’re, you know, it’s, without a tool, it got difficult to be able to prioritize and to just remember everything. You know, I worked, I did a small thing in Excel. I did a small thing in Smartsheet, which helped, but really to be able to manage approvals and, you know, whether I’m getting budget approval from FP&A or legal approval on T’s and C’s and things like that, I really needed something to track all of that just to maintain my peace of mind. Being able to communicate and have difficult conversations with either internal folks or vendors is important. I think in this business, in, in our, in our business, there, there are times where you get frustrated. Trying to maintain a level head, I think, is key, not burning bridges because at some point you’re probably going to need some help, maybe from a vendor that you’ve stopped using, but then perhaps they have a new product that comes and solves a problem for you. So, you can’t burn bridges. You have to be able to maintain a, a civil relationship. Maybe not a positive one, but at least a civil one.

Would you be open to sharing some of your personal goals for 2023?

I always think it’s really interesting to hear what different procurement leaders are prioritizing and focusing on.

Sure. So, I mentioned with the intake tool that I have, that also has a contract management system attached, there are, there’s a spend management function in that as well. I’d like to be able to ingest some of our spend data and have some higher level conversations with our business teams about where their spend is going, who the big spend in those different departments are, you know, do we have the right allocation, are there some vendors in there that may have a little bit bit of risk where that where we may want to shift some money around to spread that risk across maybe some more vendors, and just being able to provide more actionable data to those folks is really important for me for the next, I would say, for 2023.

What can people in your role do to better leverage technology? So, you’ve mentioned a couple of times this intake system that you’ve rolled out, which has been really important for you. But I think a challenge that people have is there’s so many systems and software out there. It can almost be overwhelming to figure out like, I don’t even know what I need, I don’t even know who I should be looking at and then buying and implementing is a whole another can of worms about actually getting people to change their ways and use something new. So, maybe you could talk a little bit about some of your experiences with leveraging technology.

So, I’m going to give a huge shout out to the Procurement Foundry and the different Slack channels, especially the Lone Wolves. So, conversations that I have on there, you know, within the Lone Wolf Channel, we were talking about different intake tools and different contract management tools and things like that and, um, were those meeting, you know, let’s say, were those meeting people’s needs or did, was there a, a portion that it wasn’t covering and were you getting that elsewhere? So, really using that community knowledge of, of what’s available in the marketplace really helped me focus in on a few vendors to consider, and then hearing different experiences with those vendors really helped me align with who I wanted to target.

Using technology, I will say I’m a, I’m a bit “eh” at Excel, but I did get better doing that in some of the IT finance roles I’ve had. I had and so, my Excel skills are getting better. That’s another goal. But just being able to to read and communicate the data appropriately so leadership and business teams can take action on it are really important. Especially at renewal times and impacts the budget with those annual increases and things like that. They, they make a big difference if you look at it over the large vendor community, right? So, you think, oh, this eight eight percent increase on this really small software deal doesn’t really impact the budget that much, but if every vendor is going to do that, that’s a large impact. So, we have to to manage that and and help keep that at a palatable level.

Thanks for tuning in today. If you missed anything, you can check out the show notes, you can find us by typing in ‘What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast’ in Google. To have optimal search results, make sure to add ‘Another Supply Chain Podcast.’ This brings us to the end of What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder, and we’ll be back next week.