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It’s not an easy word, or at least it’s not a word that you will use in your daily life.  I do not hear friends saying “I’m going to procure for furniture tomorrow for my new apartment.”  So it’s not surprising when it was like 17 years ago when I just started working as a distribution officer for the China lubricants team in Shell, my colleague had to look the word “procurement” up in his Oxford dictionary.  Yes folks, there wasn’t Google then.

Turned out there was this young (but still older than myself at the time) executive whose title is procurement manager.  My colleague was embarrassed to go to this manager for a description of his title so he started to make fun of his search results.

“Hey it is something about prostitution!” 

Well we shrugged about it because we both knew Shell wasn’t into the China prostitution business, but it shows how alien we were to the word particularly as a second language.

I still remember my boss at FreeMarkets (now Ariba, a spend management consultancy) talked about increasing the awareness of our profession by putting more spotlight on the buyers.  Why? 

“Who wants to grow up to become a Buyer?”  The teacher asks.

I cannot imagine anyone would have raised their hands.  We are no policemen, firemen or doctors.  No one studied or aspired to be one of us, at least in my time.

I had been working in the oil and chemical industry for about 6 years after school and my last job was a regional business planner for the adhesion industry business unit of ExxonMobil.  I was working 16-hour days crunching reports, tabulating stock inventory while heading the Hong Kong office safety committee which was a very worthy cause but extremely time-consuming.  I was too stretched and wanted to try something new.  I naturally looked at similar business analyst jobs and applied to a few from the weekly Classified Posts. 

The interview was smooth but I didn’t expect to get a call from HR a few days later saying that the lady whom I interviewed with had me in mind of another post in her department.  HR told me it was actually a more senior post.  Sensing my hesitation and disbelief over the phone, I was invited to go for a second meeting with the lady boss.  Turned out she was the Asia head of operations procurement, and she wanted to mentor me as the next strategic procurement manager in her team.  The business analyst role that I applied for was already out of the picture.

“Why me?”  I obviously had no prior experience of the subject and the words strategic procurement meant nothing to me at the time.  I only remember one of the reasons she provided was that she thought I was very “articulate” and would be a perfect candidate for the role.  It was like riding a bicycle, or learning how to swim.

I have to say, now that I am 10 years into this,  it’s not exactly rocket science either .

And that was the beginning of my days with Agilent Technologies (a spun-off from Hewlett-Packard), the birth place of my procurement career.  This Director still remains to be one of my most respected mentors to date.

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