Taking inspiration from "Corner Office: conversations about leadership and management" from the New York Times and Inc. Magazine's "The Way I Work", DocuSign is featuring Procurement/Supply Chain leaders in this blog series.
I’m excited to feature Suzanne Harris, one of the most progressive and innovative minded Procurement leaders in the industry.
Current Role: Vice President, Strategic Sourcing and Procurement at First American
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Facebook, QuizUp, My Fitness Pal
What are you currently reading? Re-reading- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, From Good to Great, The Amazon Way, The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership
Q: Tell us about your childhood: where did you grow up and where were you educated?
A: I was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I am a naturalized American Citizen and came to California when I was 7 year old with my family. I was always interested in doing social work, which inspired me to pursue a degree in social work from San Jose State University.
Q: How and when did you get interested in Procurement?
A: I went out in the world wanting to be a social worker – My initial few jobs were in social work. I then took an administrative job at a hi-tech manufacturing company that made mainframe computers. I saw a career path in their purchasing organization. The hiring Manager was looking for someone with strong communication skills and thanks to my experiences in advocating for others, I was hired on the spot. I loved working with engineers and brainstorming how Sourcing can source the best technical supplies available.
Q: What are some of the highlights of your career as a Procurement leader?
A: I really enjoy creating teams, improving and restructuring functions. I operated with that mindset throughout my career and found that success is a natural outcome of a clear mission, properly structured teams and meaningful metrics.
Q: How has the role of Procurement Leader evolved in the enterprise?
A: You have to continuously market your organization. You are no longer only doing deals and working on the minutia. You really have to step outside of that and create a marketing plan that people understand because it explains what it is that you do and what value the team brings to the table. We have had a concentrated effort in the last two years to Market the team and explain what we do and the value we bring. A percentage of enterprise still does not have the full appreciation of what we do. Usually – not always – it’s for us to tell them what it is that we do and how to effectively partner. When you look at the maturity model, the future is to really set the expectation with the business partner that it’s about procurement excellence in support of their business goals. Our vision statement: “Procurement excellence in support of business delivery”.
Q: What are key technologies that speed Procurement and business transactions and processes?
A: We use a modern procurement application, utilize SharePoint for an activity-tracking log to follow the progress of a contract and measure our throughput and we also use SharePoint as our contract repository. Electronic Signatures and paperless organizations are vital to the future. At First American, we are a data organization. We produce data and need to keep this flowing without friction.
People talk a lot about digitization and the pains associated with the paper processes – I was at the Doctor's office the other day and noticed piles of signed papers that needed rekeying into various systems: what a drain on time and resources!
Paper will soon be a thing of the past and it’s disappearing before our eyes.
Q: What is the one thing that Procurement organization must excel at?
A: Customer Service. Identify who the customer is and be transparent. They need to know that you are going to deliver value and you can deliver it quickly.
Q: What do you think is the best reporting structure for a Procurement Organization – reporting to the COO or CFO?
A: Our Procurement function reports to the CFO and that has worked well for us. I got to spend a great deal of time with the CFO on the transformation and restructuring activities and received a great deal of support. I have previously reported to Operations, IT and Legal, but I really appreciate reporting to Finance since they have a keen view of the corporate direction. Finance & Accounting also understands the Risk Mitigation part of the equation better than anyone else and appreciate and understand the savings delivered by Procurement. Finance looks closely at our savings so we enjoy the credibility of having them vet it out before declaring the savings.
Q: When hiring for Procurement teams, what qualities stand out in candidates?
A: We carefully and thoughtfully approach our hiring process, which attest to the strong competency of our overall team. We need ‘hard skills’ but value ‘soft skills’ more. Candidates need to have a customer service focus and affinity for building relationships. We use the word “Savvy” a lot when we think about hiring. For us, “savvy” means that the person can read the room and adjust his/her approach accordingly. This is a certain quality that is not always quantifiable.
Q: What career advice do you give to aspiring Procurement leaders?
A: Be passionate about your job. Demonstrate this passion to your team every day. Treat everyone with respect and empathy. Also, it’s important to be personable and holistic in your approach with managers and colleagues. Lastly be specific in communicating measurable goals and expectations with your teams.
A big thank you to Suzanne for sharing inspirational insights
Suzanne Harris is the Vice President of Strategic Sourcing and Procurement with First American Title Insurance Company and is responsible for the leadership and direction of the department. In this role, Suzanne is responsible for IT Category Management, Corporate Category Management, IT Asset Management, Procurement and the Vendor Management Office. Suzanne joined First American in 2009 and led the Procurement and Sourcing Transformation project to centralize and restructure the department. Today this highly skilled team partners with First American’s business leaders to deliver innovations and savings through supplier relationship management, vendor risk management practices and effective sourcing and procurement execution. Previous to First American, Suzanne held the role of Vice President, Contracts and Procurement for Downey Savings and Loan.