Archive for December, 2010

Elevator Speech

It was about 12 years ago when I attended an intensive 2-weeks graduate training at ExxonMobil Chemicals.  A group of us from around the region literally lived and studied together inside a hotel in Singapore.  The training was indeed a survival course of corporate culture, business line introduction, management techniques as well as a whole bunch of soft skills training.  One topic which I still vividly remember until this date, is conducting your elevator speech.

A typical elevator ride in your office building will not last more than 15 to 30 seconds.  If you happen to ride with your friends and colleagues, you normally exchange polite and casual remarks on the weather, workload, and where to go for lunch, dinner or drinks after work.  What happens when your General Manager or the company CEO steps in?  He or she is smiling at you while introducing themselves.  What else are you going to say aside from your name?  Are you just going to report your department or to whom you work for, hoping the executive will ask follow-up questions afterwards?

In the training we were taught to make good use of this brief elevator encounter, and we were asked to draft our 15 seconds elevator speech.  The objective is to make an impression without making a fool of ourselves.  In today’s corporate world, the trainer told us that every word and remark counts, and how confident and humble we are acting in front of everyone is a clear statement of how we want to be perceived and remembered. 

The key to drafting the contents of the speech is to think of the recipient.  What matters for the CEO?  The speech needs to be timely as well because the priorities of the CEO changes day by day.  Merely reporting what team or department you work for isn’t going to make much of an impression, but hearing that you have been leading the transformation team of the most recent global outsourcing project may raise an eyebrow.  Obviously, my thoughts are that it is not a job interview.  I honestly think it’s going be a bit awkward if I start to throw out numbers and accomplishments in an elevator.  It will appear a bit too scripted and inhuman. 

Again, I think personality stands out.  The elevator conversation should be able to help project a lasting impression of what you do and your personality.  If you think you can articulate an idea accurately through your words and gestures, it’s okay to exert an opinion on a task or project at hand even if it is not mainstream.  Of course, if you know you will get easily nervous in a timed scenario, forget about it or you will be remembered as a weirdo or even a whiner.  Leaders love to see how composed and relaxed their employees are, because that is critical management material.  After all, I think preparing an elevator speech isn’t really about the details of the contents.  If you have envisioned this day to come anytime in the future, you will be less nervous if the CEO comes out to shake your hands asking how things are.  You will be more relaxed and composed, and more often than not, your natural charisma is going to come out and dazzle everybody.

So what is your elevator speech going to be?

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Get Off Your Butt!

Setting cost savings targets for the team is a daunting task.  It is always a stretched goal but it has to be realistic and attainable at the same time.  Although it is often the collective hard work of a team or even the entire regional organization, the company will always convince you that your personal bonus is tied to how well you are achieving your cost savings targets. 

Very well.  Let’s be realistic for a moment.  Even though there are plenty of other measurement metrics like customer satisfaction, employee retention, training & development, or policy & regulatory compliance to report, the single biggest and most representative proof of why we are worth our paychecks is how much cost savings we are delivering to the company.  Finance is all about numbers, and we know the rules of the game from day one.

So how to come up with the target is an art by itself.  The more experienced your boss is, the easier and more straightforward that conversation will go.  I have had this past experience that my boss had absolutely no idea what addressable spend is, nor what pass-through costs mean.  There are also financial controllers who mix all things up in one pot, which I can understand since they only care about the bottom line and not the details.  I just cannot imagine some senior procurement executives simply put a percentage of total spend as savings target.  They usually have relatively less experience with services buying and the outsourcing arena.

The key to having a civilized discussion with your boss on target setting is to be entirely fact based.  Get the top 80% spend supplier list ready.  Go through each one and identify what is negotiable and what not.   And with that, check if there is any room for negotiations in the coming year.   Next go through businesses one by one.  Discuss what each of their priorities are next year.  What are their budget plans?  How can we get in and help?   Finally go through the areas which are not attacked so far and explore tactics to engage.  Who should do it and how?  What are the carrots we can provide?  Do we have enough resources for it and does it make sense?

With a bottoms-up approach the conversation usually can turn more comfortable.  Don’t skip the details including inflation and currency appreciation factors.  Your boss may not find it welcoming to hear so many bad news at once, but we have to acknowledge collectively that it’s no longer an easy job for anyone.  I don’t want to be penalized at the later end of the year that I have not provisioned for the risks of the target.  So I make sure I document all my points with as much facts and evidence as possible, in case there are colleagues who have forgetful minds.

My other advice is to set accountability right from the start.  Some accountability are totally within the team in terms of project execution and quality, but a few dependencies are entirely top-down.  Someone needs to get management buy-in, and to what level that buy-in will require depends on the company and/or business line culture.  We all need to get off our butts to knock on stakeholders’ doors to get new businesses.   I have done my very good share of going to people 3 or 4 levels above my rank for new businesses, so I get quite irritated if I see a leader not doing just that when all of us have exhausted our abilities to get roadblocks removed solely due to a lack of seniority on the corporate ladder.

I have seen tons of organizations with low morale mostly due to unattainable savings targets.  Leaders who alienate themselves from team members because they don’t want to know the details or have no intention to dive in to play his or her part only makes the matter much much worse.   That’s usually how companies lose their brightest people, and it’s one mistake no company can afford to bear.


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Civility & The City

I admit I walk fast, and I mean really fast.  I seldom wander around aimlessly on the streets of crowded and densely populated Hong Kong, and walking in the city for me is a mission to get from point A to point B.  Yes I know it sounds robotic and industrious, but to me there’s not much fun rubbing shoulders with thousands of strangers, be stepped on by people behind me, or bumping into people who have no intention looking forward when they walk.  I am rather impatient with people like that and hence walking on the streets for me is like steering myself in a video game: sliding through as many pedestrians as possible while picking the shortest, more direct routes.

It’s exactly the opposite when I am in the countryside.  I want to soak up all the fresh air, scenery and the hard-earned quietness.  I really could sit down on the grass and let my mind ponders, perhaps into absolutely nothing.

Back to the city.  To add to all the craziness, there are plenty of product and restaurant promoters standing in the middle of the most crowded streets holding up large signboards with one hand, and handing out pamphlets that will give you nasty paper cuts if you don’t have your arms and fists protected.   These days, there are also plenty of street donation booths popping up everywhere, usually coupled with supposedly volunteers holding out donation boxes approaching each and every person passing by.  They would sometimes stand guard at all the zebra crossings so that you have nowhere to run whiling waiting to cross the roads.  There are simply obstacles everywhere.

Yes I do have a thing with all the street side donation booths.  Even if you don’t count the possible scams out there, I still do not give out donations on the streets.  When I donate to charities, I will make an informed choice based on reasearch I have done both on the mission as well as to the handling agencies.  I respect those who donate on the streets, but it is just not my thing.  I seriously think it is an invasion of my privacy by anyone trying to stop me for whatever agenda they have.  It is downright harassment.   I will still smile at the volunteers but at the same time shaking my head signalling my unwillingness to slow down.

I don’t mind being approached by innocent tourists asking for directions, because I know how helpless I can get if I am lost in a foreign land.  I get approached in all the weirdest places you can think of, and virtually in every foreign city that I have been.  I don’t know why even when I look nothing like the locals.  Perhaps it’s my hectic pace that convinces people as if I know where I am going?  Though one thing I particularly have a problem with is when they try to grab my attention by patting or even pinching me.  Body contact by strangers creeps me out.  I think it is downright rude and I usually would simply stare right back at them.   What happens with civility these days?

Any don’t get me started on civility.  Countless times have I been stuck in the elevator because people jump right in without waiting for others to get out first.  What’s the rush of 10 seconds?  Same thing with getting on and off the subway and this is witnessed all around the world.   You can see people eating and drinking on the subway and buses all the time.  People are leaning their entire body on railings so that they can free their hands holding up newspapers to read, leaving zero room for others to hold on.  People screaming at the top of their lungs into their mobile phones.   When I see parents praising their kids who literally run pass the line and jump into subway carts grabbing the 4 empty seats for the whole family, I lose all hope in mankind.

I have friends who tell me that I need to contain my rage by avoiding all forms of public transportation and crowded public areas.  They told me driving would be my best alternative.  But seriously, wouldn’t I do a lot more damage with a high-speed motor vehicle?  Who says this city’s driving manners are anything more civilized?

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Sometimes greed is not with the procurement professionals themselves, but with their business counterparts under the same roof.  Our other lines of businesses are getting desperate over meeting their sales targets, and before long, they are eyeing my supplier relationships.  They demand to see my supplier list.  They accuse procurement for not doing their jobs for them.  They want to take advantage of the suppliers’ vulnerability by pressuring them to buy from us.  I don’t think our suppliers are dumb, but it is my duty to set some records straight and to protect my relationships the best way I can think of.  I made my feelings of the topic clear in Part One, and it’s about time I share my two cents worth on what’s the best way forward.

Setting the record straight

In case there are people who start throwing the patriot card my way, I start off by stating that I am all for supporting the revenue targets of all businesses of the company, and I am more than happy to provide relevant assistance to all, but only in an organized manner in view of the limited resources I have and within my team.  In other words, I can’t handle frequent ad hoc requests from just about anyone.

Protecting the company’s best interests

Our supplier list is a critical asset of the company and it makes us what we are today.  We treat all supplier relationships very seriously and in fact we are the only department/function entrusted by the company to maintain this list.  We should not and will not share this list with other internal and external bodies solely for the basis of sales solicitation.  Possible misuse of this list may include:

1) suppliers getting confused over multiple decision makers of the company and hereby jeopardize their confidence of their contractual relationships with us;

2) individuals mistakenly sharing the list with our competitors or other suppliers hence leaking vital proprietary information that will adversely impact the company many folds over the potential sales opportunities;

3) suppliers having the wrong impression that they are forced to buy from us before they can be qualified for renewal or future business;

4) suppliers making accusations at the company that they are penalized for not buying enough from us versus their competitors;

5) suppliers using their buying power to leverage their negotiation power on us, thus demanding higher selling prices.  User departments may fear that their prices are being compromised just because they have been subsidizing other departments who are actively pursuing sales opportunities with the supplier.

Laying the ground rules

How should we then proceed? 

1) Procurement should be the mediating party since we have been trained to balance differing requirements, priorities and needs while aiming for maximum benefits of the company as a whole.  We have been impartial in the past and we shall continue to do so. 

2) Sales departments need to share with us their revenue targets, major promotional plans of any, target sectors, top 30 targets of the year, respective target sums, etc., with procurement assuring confidentiality.

3) Procurement can then work out a plan, prioritizing with the sales teams, of each target’s feasibility and next steps.

4) Sales departments should also develop a standard template for procurement to send out mailings to the targeted accounts, identifying the contact points of the businesses and stating whatever discounts or perks they can enjoy being existing suppliers of the company.

5) Procurement will remain involved in the background as in most cases the relationships with the targets lie with us rather than with the sales departments.

6) Procurement will be kept informed by the sales departments of the status, success and failure of the attack plan, so that we can log down our value-add to the sales departments and to the company.  There shall be management recognition of everyone involved over the entire collaborative process.

Needless to say, before committing to the above, each procurement organization needs to assess how much spare resource they have supporting this effort.  It does take time and diligence.  I have gotten quite substantial affirmations of the above plan in different organizations, as sales teams usually are impressed as to how the whole matter is thought through and professionally executed.  It also helps to set accountabilities for everyone involved, and not only for procurement.

Of course, to be honest, all I really wanted was to get them off our back!

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The use of electronic auctions in procurement is not unpopular these days, though it is definitely more common in the direct materials area.  A few years ago my job was to promote the use of e-auctions and to illustrate how it could become one of the valuable tools for procurement professionals in Asia.  E-auctions in procurement is like the reverse of how we use eBay or any online shopping auction portals as regular consumers.  When we shop on eBay, we are facing a few days or even weeks of deadline to bid for the merchandise we love.  We have to check back often to make sure whether we are still in the lead or if not, keep bidding with a higher offer.  We now make use of the same theory and technology to bring all suppliers together (virtually) to compete for the buyer’s business volumes.  The only difference is that a lower bid will be more competitive, meaning the buyers will award business to the supplier offering the lowest price.   It’s that simple.

Some procurement clients are against e-sourcing.  They think that the suppliers are not ready.  They think that it will send a wrong message to the community saying they only care about price and nothing else.  They are worried about their relationships with suppliers being impacted.  They are also concerned over technological instability, as well as online integrity issues.  These are all valid concerns, but I would say 80% of these concerns are addressable by the procurement clients and executives themselves. These concerns are nothing unlike those already exist with conventional sourcing methods like RFPs, tenders, or face-to-face negotiations.

The technical aspects are easy to be picked up and training on that part usually takes less than a day, but it’s the game rules, pricing setup, supplier pre-qualification and online integrity that will need to be addressed and covered in most detail.  When I teach such topics, I always bring it back to the very basics when I am asked with the above questions.  What would you do if you have these challenges with conventional sourcing?  It’s exactly the same tactics and preparations that we need to do in e-sourcing.  It’s only the negotiation platform that is changed; the sourcing philosophy isn’t.

Sometimes I really have to give it to the Chinese.  We Chinese are very fast learners in general, and we pick up new technologies in a snap.  When I teach in mainland China, I am constantly challenged to keep my local clients fully engaged and interested.  They get the benefits of e-sourcing instantly.  It’s quick.  It leaves the negotiation from between each supplier and the buyer to between suppliers themselves.  It shows their bosses what the most updated market price is.   Although there are clearly constraints of e-sourcing, most local clients I introduced are truly amazed and excited over the 30-minute or so online bidding event.  The buyers clapped, pulled in their colleagues and bosses, and some even toasted with champagne. 

What I am afraid of are the REALLY smart adopters.  One Chinese client asked me to teach them how to register as a supplier so that they could join the event to “observe”.  I wasn’t born yesterday, and at times like this, I had to stop them right away so as to make sure they were only joking and not thinking of intervening an event unethically.  I felt that they understood it, but from the corner of my eye, I swore I could see a few of them plotting the possibility silently. 

I am all for innovation, but don’t step over the line, guys.


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I’m Lovin’ It

Some of us may remember a former Managing Director of McDonald’s Hong Kong was jailed for 4 years and 5 months last year, who was tried for bribery charges 3 years ago.  The 47-year old MD accepted bribes for recommending and approving a Thai food company to become the corn supplier of McDonald’s.   The bribe is said to be 10% commission of total corn sales, amounting to around 330 thousand US dollars.   To cover up for the bribe, the MD advised the corn supplier to answer law enforcement officers that the money was used for a joint venture property investment in China.  The city’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, for all the right reasons and evidence, did not buy the cover up.  The MD was head of McDonald’s Philippines for 3 years before taking up the top post in Hong Kong in May 2004.  According to reports, he spent 10 years expanding McDonald’s business in mainland China.

I have no idea why senior executives would throw away their hard-earned career, naive enough to hope that their illegal acts would not be uncovered.   However I am now told that such dealings are not at all rare in the food industry.  I admit that all I am hearing are rumors with absolutely no proof whatsoever, but I am amazed as to how short-sighted these supposedly professionals are.  Is it all about the money?  Is it about the perceived power as well?  I guess it probably feels great to have potential suppliers begging for your business and even offering to provide certain concessions.  Earlier I wrote about what a fine line procurement professionals could walk while accepting gifts, and here I would like to share a question which a former boss of mine used to raise in an internal training session which I co-hosted.

For the immense support you generated to their business over the past years, your supplier delivered a gift to you during a year-end business function.  You opened it and it was an expensive Swiss branded watch – the kind that you would only reward yourself after getting a sizable bonus at work.  Since the value is way above the company’s gift policy guideline, you reported it to your boss, company management and compliance.  Now suppose that everyone has cleared you of any illicit under-the-table insinuations, your boss told you that the decision is up to you.   Nothing is illegal, and the company has endorsed it as a genuine personal gift.

Would you take the watch?


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Angry Much?

I have my good share of pleasure interacting with and managing angry customers, whether they are internal or external.   Internal customers often deviate from the original purpose of the meeting and instead ramble on and on about matters, people, process or projects that are probably not even under my jurisdiction.  Of course, there are also instances where it was indeed my team’s fault.  I have heard name calling, have seen dismissal faces and also forwarded complaints from country heads sent to them directly from pissed off department heads. 

Procurement after all is a service function.  We don’t get to be as authoritative as HR or Finance or Legal where users are in general feared or at least respected.  Instead, we get blamed, scolded and yelled at for a job that everyone thinks is crap.  We do know a thing or two about handling angry people.

Externally, a client might have been badly burnt by an ex-colleague, or sometimes it’s just a result of bad human chemistry.  Some client teams could also get really offended when we were obliged to recommend or report process or behavioral improvements to client management.  Regardless of the situation, there is no other way but to tough it up and handle the situation face-to-face, man-to-man.

This is probably the worst job of all having to sit in a meeting where you know what the outcome is, no matter how you act and behave.  However this is also an opportunity to shine if you come out in one piece while retaining dignity of yourself as well as your organization or company.  Think about it, do you have one or two names popped up to your head whenever you need to assign someone from your team to handle a messy situation?  I bet there are, and sometimes in today’s virtual working environment, he or she may not necessarily be the appropriate ranking officer, meaning there is no ONE person that is really responsible for the matter at hand to make the obvious choice.  Why do you pick these few people?  What are their common traits?  What are they good at?  Why don’t you pick others?  What are they bad at?  If you are an experienced leader, it will not be difficult to identify the best ways in dealing with angry customers simply by answering the above questions.

1. Do Your Homework

You need to know what the objective of the meeting is.  Are you asked to go in to explain yourself, or are you asked to offer a solution or a fix?  Who will be present at the meeting and what decision-making power do they each have?  Who are you supposed to be, or what role would you take up in this whole mess?  What is the situation in detail?  If it’s not your personal case then make sure you speak with those involved in your team beforehand to get all the facts straight.  If you need to make an offer, get the advance approval beforehand.  Always go prepared.  Nothing is more infuriating to the customer if they are in front of an ignorant messenger who isn’t even prepared in the first place.

2. Be A Good Listener

The meeting is there for the customer to talk and vent their frustration.  Even if you don’t agree with them, listen well with the occasional smile and nod.  Project sympathy.  Hear it from their angle.  Try to gauge what their objectives and personalities are.  Don’t inject your comments until the client is finished.  The situation will usually turn more calm and objective once the customers have the opportunity to get everything off their chest.

3. Be On Their Side

When you are ready to offer solutions, make sure they are in tune with what the customers want.  Do they want exceptional approval?  Do they want speed and flexibility?  Do they want one voice accountability rather than bureaucracy?  What drives their behavior?  If you know that your clients feel insulted by your process, any approach that will help them regain their credibility and glory in front of their bosses will be well received. 

4.  Actions Speak Louder

Needless to say, all angry customers will remain skeptic for a fairly long period of time.  You may be able to calm them down a bit at the meeting, but you can expect to be watched intensely for the next few months at least.  Let your actions do the work.  Make sure you live up to what you have promised, and make sure your other team mates support you in the process.  Let your boss speak with them at a later time to manage progress, before something gets to boil up to another potential fiasco.

5. Don’t Speak Ill of the Organization / Company

A very tempting tactic by many is to be so sympathetic with the customers that the individual begins to criticize his own organization/team/company openly.  That is not smart.  You will be perceived as someone who knows about the problems but do not have the guts or the power to do anything about them.  Then why would the customers want to trust you now?  Placing the blame on your bosses or team mates or management is petty, unprofessional and childish.  You will be surprised how soon words can spread, and I can assure you that these individuals will soon be deserted by both customers as well as their bosses.

An all time asset to organizations around the globe is having the ability to turnaround difficult or angry customers and bring everyone back to the table to move forward.  Don’t take this too lightly.  You don’t get to dismiss complaints as isolated cases too many time.

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December’s Foes?

I have very little expectations over the coming holiday season.   In fact, I’m not sure if it has anything to do with age, but I just find festivities today way too commercial.  It seems that all holidays are focused around elaborate dining, shopping, gifts and parties.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for getting together with my family and friends enjoying cozy discussions over good food and wine.  All I am a bit tired of, is waiting in lines for the cashier and gift wrapping, paying deposits for festive Christmas party reservations, and squeezing through jam-packed subway exits to get in and out of the city’s most popular destinations.  It just seems to be too much work for a few hours of supposedly happy time.

Instead, I strive to make myself happy in whatever ways regardless of the time of year.  Last weekend I paid enough money for a whole new wardrobe that keeps me excited for weeks if not months ahead.  I have also just made vacation plans to get myself out of the city to wind down, at least for a few days, after the new year.  Keeping myself healthy is also what I have seriously started to do since 4 months ago.   The nutrition routine that I’ve been following since has given me so much energy while losing weight.  If I have not accomplished anything else this year, this could be my biggest achievement so far in 2010.

I usually don’t take time off during December because the peak travel season means exorbitant prices on airfare and hotels.  Plus, many colleagues at work are off on vacation with their families and kids and usually the workload and productivity has sunk to an all time low.  Getting to work in this season is actually a delight.  I remember in my old workplace we have this tradition of “Director/VP for a Week” as an excuse to find a stand-in for senior executives who are on leave.  Of course we sugar-coat the exercise to be one golden opportunity for us to showcase our leadership capabilities by literally attending all the senior level meetings and conference calls during the entire stand-in period.  Supposedly, nothing should be left waiting for the executives to come back from vacation. 

I had the pleasure to become Director of the Week one year, though technically, I had it for three weeks.  The originally quiet December work month turned out to be a hectic one since I had to deal with a few emergency personnel issues across the region.  On top of my then existing Greater China responsibilities, I also attended to operational and personnel matters in India, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.  There were a few major decisions that I had to make based on incomplete facts, but I made them anyway.  Certain things could have been managed better, but out of all the circumstances, the acting Director role was a satisfactory one. 

Work wise, December is a month of recuperation.  The year’s cost savings targets should have been met by now (or too late to recover).  Next year’s target is already set with a whole lot of uneasy feeling toward how on earth everyone is going to meet them.  All leaders are plotting their engagement plan with senior stakeholders once they return from vacation in a few weeks’ time.   So technically, there isn’t much that can be done instantly.

Ok, perhaps now I get why so many people are fanatically looking for party invitations, dinner reservations, various shopping expos  and 4-hour waits at the airports.  Since there is nothing much better to do at work or at schools, everyone is working their butts off to keep themselves busy by playing really really hard.  Why can’t Hong Kongers just take a breather and relax, for once?


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The Sale Must Go On

The other morning I went to this Christian Dior bargain sale supposedly filled with merchandise up to 70% off retail.  Last year’s sale was quite good and I got a suit, a few tees and a pair of pants.  This time, 30 minutes after opening the room was already jam-packed with bargain hunters, and there was already a line of about 50 people eagerly waiting to get in.

This year the Dior Homme selection is pathetically scarce.  It looks very much like an outlet sale of leftover items either too loud in color (shocking pink and red), or off-season merchandise.  Women seemed to have better luck scouting for dresses and handbags.  Although I waited in line for an hour, it only took me 15 minutes to finish reviewing the men section.  There was nothing wearable.  I found one suit I really liked and it fitted me extremely well, but there was no pants included.  What did they do with this supposedly 2-piece suit (the tag says so)?  Prices also seem to be higher than last year as well.  I was debating within myself whether I should get the suit jacket as a mix-and-match item, or maybe go to my tailor to have a pair of pants made up.  However once I saw the check-out line of at least a two-hour wait, I put the jacket back on the shelf and announced my departure.

I guess this is a good sign that this year’s economy is so good that they don’t have much items left for end of season sale.  Their HK$15,000 dollar tag is no longer one that needs pondering through.  Our mainland China brothers and sisters are forking out millions of renminbi because our rack rates are like 15% off for them due to the weak Hong Kong dollar.   Who need to wait for sales now? 

On the corporate level I am seeing all of us hurting because of the weak dollar.  The outsourced services I am buying has seen skyrocketed prices and it seems all I am doing lately is to negotiate down a price increase, NOT further discounts.  In procurement these days we are spending more and more efforts on these types of cost avoidance possibilities.  Our finance counterparts are skeptic about our achievement because it may not bring back bottom line savings to the company, but my view is that if we have done nothing, my clients could have paid 15% or 20% more.  This 15% or 20% avoidance takes loads of negotiation and bargaining efforts, but this effort very often goes unappreciated. 

Corporate buying is therefore quite different from personal buying.  For us we hypnotize ourselves of these mega sales and claim victory of the “savings” and bargains we get.  We work for it by standing in lines, researching on-line, exchanging shopping gossips through friends and on Facebook.   In corporate buying we have to measure savings scientifically off last purchased prices.  It works on repeated purchase items, but for the work carried out in sourcing and negotiating for newly purchased services and products, such methodology is not exactly a good reflection of our work.

Well well, in the meantime I am now heading off to another pre-sale event beginning tonight, all for myself!

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Company Travel 101

For almost any regional corporate employee one of the first things they ask is the company’s travel policy.  To many executives who are in the air over 30% of their time, this policy directly affects their very well-being.   Some even ask about it during job interviews so that they can size up the opportunities as part of their consideration.  Again, may I remind everyone that the travel policy is the collective work of company’s top management, human resources, finance and security.  Procurement is only asked to come in afterwards to negotiate the best travel deals for the company, based on set upon travel policy guidelines, and available budget.   We always get blamed or bombarded with complaints and questions from everyone, from secretaries to heads of businesses.

Am I entitled to fly business?

Don’t we just hate rubbing shoulders and elbows with strangers in coach?  The funny thing is that we can accept it when we fly for leisure ourselves, but somehow enduring coach travel for business is simply unimaginable.  Some argue that it’s for safety.  Some says it’s important to get on board and off the plane first.  “Since we need to catch business meetings immediately after landing, we need to arrive in our best physical and mental condition”.  What a load.  Everyone wants to get an exception because they are just too important for the company.  Yes, the company will cripple if they cannot fly business.

What routes can I fly business?

“Only flights over 8 hours are entitled for business class? Ok, Ms Secretary, please book me a trip to fly to Australia onward to Japan then to Manila over to Shanghai before heading home.  Then I can travel business the whole way through right?”  “Why is China no longer a “hardship” country?”  “Have you flown to Delhi before?  Do you know how awful the airport it is?”  Why this, not that, is the most common question we get and we normally politely direct them to talk to either HR, finance, or security.

 What are our preferred airlines?

 In fact this is now relatively less common in this part of the region.  It is easier to identify, say, United for the States, but it is a lot harder to identify one or two preferred airlines that fly to most cities of the region. Having  too many preferred airlines just simply does not make sense.  Instead, companies nowadays adopt the lowest carrier/airfare concept.

What are lowest airfares?

Corporate travel desks are required by management to quote lowest fare options to business travelers with the idea to make sure all staff takes these options automatically.  Yet I still see a lot of cases where travelers still insist to fly their own preferred airlines because of either better timing, better alternation flexibilities, or simply, a much more attractive mileage program that benefits the travelers personally.  I am seeing some global companies requesting travelers to fork over their mileage, or ask airlines to enroll ONE corporate mileage account for all business travels, so that all awards can be used for business, instead of some executives’  lavish first class vacation to Hawaii with their wife and kids.

What are our preferred hotels?

This always strikes up quite a controversy.  You can get consensus easier with the best airline for each country (which usually is the flag carrier because of the best timing and most frequent schedules), but it is almost impossible for everyone to agree with what hotels are the best for each city.  Some insists on 5-star ratings.  Some focuses on their proximity to offices.  Some  wants to stay away from American properties due to recent terrorist attacks.  Some require lavish conferencing and banquet facilities.   Of course, with corporate’s continuous strive to cut costs, maximum city overnight rates have been decreasing year after year, and it just requires procurement’s super powers to conduct regional RFPs for preferred hotels hopefully to please everyone.  At the end of the day, you always end up with a few travelers who make it an effort to scream at you every time they see you.  Very rewarding job it is.

I myself, am just another ordinary traveler.  I want the best for myself and I always dream to stay in the best places, fly business with the best airlines, be picked up by stretched limos, and have unlimited per diem.  However I am also realistic, and I know what the real priorities are.  Those reckless spending days are over.  Instead, I’d rather focus on negotiating a higher paycheck for myself.  Business trip is a business trip.  Admit it, no matter how pampered you are being treated, you will still whine and bitch about it no matter what!

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