(11/21/2013) Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it MADE the purchasing professional
Harry Hough, President and Founder of the American Purchasing Society, has had a four-decade career in purchasing. The Society, founded in 1969, was the first organization to offer a national certification program to purchasing professionals. It was started by a group of business executives working in various types of businesses because there seemed to be no professional association that properly represented and promoted the purchasing profession.
His career extends far beyond the American Purchasing Society, and includes experience purchasing at a machine tool manufacturer, an engineering company, and a housewares firm. What is the common thread? Hough learned that these and all other types of organizations have similar types of purchasing problems and need help in professionalizing their purchasing operations.
Hough recently told Buyers Meeting Point's Kelly Barner that he enjoys working in the purchasing function because “I like seeing how things are made.”
When you consider the changes Hough has seen take place in the purchasing profession, you might think that his early career experiences wouldn’t apply, but we are still facing many of the same core challenges. Even with the greatly increased role of technology, the same human tendencies and dynamics remain. Members of the American Purchasing Society often call with questions, and in most cases, Hough and the Society’s staff are able to answer them without doing additional research.
What are the core principles that we can’t be reminded of too often?
“Communication is always a challenge. Procurement often doesn’t realize that proper communication during a negotiation will get them most of what they want. Get suppliers to disclose their needs or priorities and everyone can walk away satisfied,” Hough said.
In order to achieve collaboration, communication must include both speaking and listening. Data visibility is a start, but supply partnerships need to be based on a two-sided understanding of priorities and motivations. This remains true long after the parties have left the negotiating table, especially when challenges arise. “A buyer should discuss a problem with the supplier as soon after it is discovered as practical. A delay in doing so can give the impression that perhaps the problem is not very serious” (Hough, How to Complain and Get Results). Strong communication skills are a must in the purchasing profession, a requirement that has not changed as new methods of communication have come into common use.
Other factors that continue to impact purchasing are culture and the role of government. This is particularly true as an increasing number of supply chains cross national borders. The ability and willingness to adapt to change can just as easily hold a company or industry back as they can propel them to excellence. Bureaucracy slows decision-making and inhibits innovation, especially when government takes a strong role in private industry. Each buying team needs to recognize and properly prepare for the impact these forces will have in their supply relationships.
The more things change, the more they apparently stay the same. Communication remains an ongoing challenge, and as new markets are introduced as sources of supply, the number of cultural complexities increases. Only a persistent curiosity regarding the way things work - their components, assembly methods, and transportation networks – can support a successful, long term career in purchasing. Just ask Harry Hough.
About Harry Hough
Harry E. Hough first studied engineering at Drexel University, then subsequently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA degree in Economics. He later earned an MBA from the University of Chicago. Early in his career, Hough became Senior Purchase Analyst at Ford Motor Company. Later, he was Director of Purchasing and Materials Management for the AIM Companies, Vice President of Purchasing for North American Car, and Director of Worldwide Purchasing for Ekco Housewares. He has given many seminars and has taught at several colleges. Dr. Hough is founder of the American Purchasing Society, the first organization to offer a national certification program to purchasing professionals. He is also author of the Handbook of Buying and Purchasing Management, Purchasing for Manufacturing, and Purchasing Fundamentals for Today’s Buyer.
About the American Purchasing Society
The American Purchasing Society is an organization of buyers, purchasing managers, executives, and others interested in the purchasing profession. It was founded in 1969 and has members from every state and 28 countries worldwide. Its objective is to improve the business purchasing function through education and our certification program. It was the first organization to establish a certification program for professional buyers and purchasing managers and its Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP) program is unique because it not only measures the competence of the applicants through a written examination, but conducts reference checks to evaluate the applicant's business reputation. The American Purchasing Society's educational objectives are achieved through training programs and its educational publications of interest to business and the purchasing community. The Society also conducts research related to the purchasing management and supply management function. Please visit www.american-purchasing.com for more information.