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A Career in Procurement Takes Twists and Turns


Editor's Note: There are all kinds of surprises waiting to be found in the MyPurchasingCenter archive, and this interview post is one of them. Joanna Martinez, is a good friend of mine and well known in procurement executive circles. When this interview was written in 2015, she aas the Executive Managing Director and CPO at Cushman & Wakefield. Today, she is the Founder of Supply Chain Advisors, LLC, and the author of A Guide to Positive Disruption (read my review here).

My Purchasing Center recently spoke with Joanna Martinez, Executive Managing Director and Chief Procurement Officer at Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate firm. We asked for her recollections on starting out in procurement, advice for newcomers, and what the future holds for the field. Here’s what she shared:

Your title is Executive Managing Director, Chief Procurement Officer at Cushman & Wakefield. What is do you do?

I’m responsible at Cushman & Wakefield for supplier management and the purchase-to-pay process which includes accounts payable and the whole process of requisitions and approvals and purchase orders. The fascinating thing about my role is that I’m responsible for the corporate spend as you would expect, but we also have a very large business where companies outsource the management of their facilities to us. There’s a huge amount of procurement in that, and so I’m in the wonderful position of working with the client-facing teams and actually working with our clients. So we’ve been able to jettison in and help clients by educating them and bringing new techniques and ideas to them to help lower their costs and run their businesses more efficiently. It’s a dual role. In procurement they talk about “sitting on one side of the table,” usually referring to the negotiating table, “are you the one buying or the one selling?” In my case, I get to sit on both sides of the table. And that’s really awesome! Because it gives me perspective and makes me do a better job understanding different points of view and different strategies.

Several times we’ve had a client with a change of management—a new CEO or new division head coming on board. And the client is suddenly under pressure to save money or do something differently. Improve processes, save money, something that’s been a pain point. And working closely with the facilities management team sometimes the solution is with an improved facilities management process. Sometimes the solution can come from the purchasing organization.  Sometimes because I’m out there looking for new ideas, I can give some ideas to our clients. I’ll see something work with one client and perhaps suggest it to another, keeping confidentiality of course, or I’ll be speaking at a conference and at that conference will see a trend taking place or I’ll hear people talking about something and then I’ll go and try to do that as well.


How did you get into procurement?

I was put in procurement against my will. I was working for Johnson & Johnson. There was a big reorganization taking place and as a result of the reorg my job was being eliminated. The new person running the organization sat me down and said “I came in to shake things up….I’m firing everybody but I am loathe to fire you because you appear to have some brains. However, your replacement has already bought a house!” But he came up with a scheme. The head of procurement for the division wanted to move into mergers and acquisitions but had no replacement. He said, “Look, we think you can do this, but you have to go in and start at the bottom.” It took me three years, but eventually I was the first female procurement director in the consumer company.


Was this early in your career?

I’m an engineer by profession and I’d had a number of supply chain roles. The good thing is that while I was at J&J I lost my job 13 times through reorgs. And each time I got a chance to try something just a little bit different, and I learned to try to embrace the change and not spend too much time being nervous about it. So I had already been in a number of roles (supervisor to engineering role to quality trainer to running third-party manufacturing to running a small manufacturing plant) so I had a really nice base. And he was right, by the way. Once I got in there I loved it. It was exactly the right space for me.


Was he an early mentor?

I think the person who was the head of procurement was the mentor. The first person recognized my abilities and was willing to look at my skills and say, “This is a person we should save.”


Is it important to have a mentor?

The people who really make it to the top have mentors. The tough thing with finding a mentor is you can have someone who is wonderful and skilled and teaches you but then through no fault of their own their career goes nowhere. The best mentors have great careers and career growth. You can have two kinds of mentors in a way—the technical mentor who teaches you the ropes and how to do what you do. There’s always a difference between what you learn in school and how it works in the real world. The second is the career mentor—someone who’s been successful or is rising in the organization and teaches you how to deal with the environment. Every company has a culture, a way of doing things, and a language. If someone says, “Well, this didn’t work, or “We didn’t get things done,” you have to learn the particular language of the company so you understand what the person is telling you.

The millennials who are hitting the workforce are not afraid to ask people to help guide them. They may not use the word “mentor” but they’re much better a asking questions and forming those relationships, For folks in my generation, there was a certain hierarchy you followed and you wouldn’t walk into someone’s office. Younger folks are much better at that elevator speech. You know, they get a chance to spend a couple of minutes in a hallway or an elevator or waiting for a meeting to start and they wind up having some sort of agreement to follow up. They’re great at that.

I am happy about this development because more and more it’s about the network of people that you know on the outside who might be able to come and work on a particular task. I rely heavily on a network of people that I know who work independently. So that when we have a need for extra help in the organization I can call on them. They are people who’ve faced challenges in different companies and I can call on them. We all have to learn and develop those relationships outside and within the company.


Isn’t a request for a 15-minute sit-down really a request for a job?

For a person already in the company there would be no problem. But if someone calls and asks to meet me, I usually take that to mean he is looking for a job. But generally speaking, people are usually willing to help. You’re usually willing to go the extra mile, particularly in this environment, when people are losing their jobs all the time.


Would you do anything differently in your career?

I would have networked better. That’s something I was not good at early in my career. I was very easily intimidated by titles or by someone’s presence or by their obvious success and I think my own brain held me back early in my career. I was relying on getting ahead by doing a good job and having people see that I am smart and did a good job. People did see that, but I didn’t understand that that’s only a piece of it. Part of it is making sure that the right people see it. Networking and having people get to know you as an individual are also part of it.


Does social media make it easier?

I think I have a good LinkedIn profile, but I have difficulty with LinkedIn because of the sales people who use it and the extent to which people use it to just harvest, instead of cold calling first. Sometimes you wind up with contacts who want your info as a way to sell something or as a way into the organization. My particular pet peeve is when I get a LinkedIn endorsement from somebody I don’t know or barely know. Someone recently endorsed me for something I had absolutely no skill in! I thanked them, but they had no way of knowing whether I would be good at it.


As an engineer were there courses that prepared you for a career in procurement?

The answer is yes. The engineering school taught me how to think and that is the single most important thing that I got out of engineering school, how to take a problem, break it down into its components, analyze it and come up with a solution. That logical thought process, that scientific method, has been totally invaluable.


Do you ever regret leaving engineering?

I’m not sure that I ever really left. My mentor taught me to be prepared. So I never just pick up the phone and negotiate something. I’m prepared, there’s analysis, we say, “If they don’t agree to this, what’s our backup plan?”  So though you’re right, I’m not building equipment, I’m not working on the space shuttle, I am really analyzing and stepping back and trying to estimate how much  it takes to make something or provide a service and using that as the basis for the conversation that I have. My title doesn’t say engineer but I use an awful lot of engineering components.


What were some of the bigger challenges in your career?

I’ve been in a reorganization situation 18 times. At the end of one of the first I realized that I had done nothing that entire year, except worry about what was going to happen. I recognized that if I was going to work in corporate America, this was a reality. They say three data points make a trend, well I had three data points by then. Reorganizations are the way things are, and I’d better learn how to cope with that, and do what I have to do to make sure I can still move forward, make things happen, and feel good about the contribution I make, in an atmosphere of uncertainty.

That was a real turning point. If I hadn’t made that mental change, I would have never made it in corporate America. I would have wound up finding something else. I wouldn’t have been able to take all that churn. I decided to be ruthless about adding to my skills. I would constantly understand the trends and the skills that were being sought, and be sure I got them. I couldn’t control whether I was going to have a job when there was an organizational change, but I could control to some extent my ability to land on my feet by making sure I had the right skills, network and agility.


Did you get a graduate degree with that in mind?

I attended conferences. Sometimes I talked to headhunters who called. I looked at job postings to understand what’s important. The same words pop up all the time. For example, at one point there was a big quality movement in the 80s, and I made sure that I was one of the quality trainers at Johnson & Johnson. So I got excellent training myself. I have a big enough network now that I call people in my network and ask, “What trends are you seeing?” “How does the executive of today differ from the executive of yesterday?”


Do you have advice for women in procurement?

First, I would advise women that the best procurement people that I’ve seen are the people who have done something besides procurement, who have a good rounded business sense. That comes from having done different kinds of jobs. The best HR procurement person is someone who has worked in HR, for example. It’s always different when you were the customer. When you’re the customer you do a better job of being the supplier or providing the services. I would encourage young women to not look at procurement and think “I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do this forever,” but to get those broader business skills and do this for a while then move to do something different. Or start out doing something different with the goal of moving into procurement.

Second, every project has a finish line. There are people who are great at doing the project but it’s hard to get them to do the last 10% and finish up. Learning that you need to get it done—it’s not just important to do a good job, but it’s also important to complete it. In general, women want to make it perfect and sometimes in making it perfect, you frustrate the organization. 

For young people entering the profession, networking is important. Something as simple as setting up a 15-minute meeting and saying “I’m new,” and “Procurement is what I do, could you tell me what you do?” People are happy to do that. You’ve made a connection. It’s hard. Some people have the personality to do that. For other people that’s a hard thing to get around.

A few years ago, I worked for a financial services firm where procurement had outstanding penetration. We did really fascinating work in obscure parts of the firm that you wouldn’t have thought procurement would add value. We had a team member who was really gregarious and engaging. His job was to spend a few minutes every day walking one of the floors and looking for someone, or an area, or a cluster of people that had never worked with our team before, and introduce himself and get to know them. With that face time he was able to make an inroad or create the beginnings of a relationship that maybe would help us later on. It started out as a fun idea, but had very meaningful results.


Do you have other suggestions?

Young folks, or any professionals, really, should join the professional organizations for the business they’re in, not necessarily procurement. I work for a real estate firm. I encourage the folks on my team to go to the trade shows and the events that are focused on the real estate community, not the things that are focused on procurement. Participating in procurement groups is fine, but to help them gain a broader business sense and be a better client to their internal customers, it’s a good thing to do as well. Sometimes people get so focused on getting that CPM or CPIM professional designation, but these designations can point to people who are more siloed. You can’t do a good job in this role unless you really understand the business.


It’s wonderful to talk to people who enjoy their work. It’s inspirational.

I really do enjoy my work. The person who put me in procurement was right. It is a good use of my skills. I liked it so much that I decided that this is going to be my niche. I tell people that “I fix broken purchasing groups, or start up new ones.” Twice in my career (not at Cushman & Wakefield) I went into positions where my predecessor had gone out in handcuffs, due to fraud or misuse of company funds. I’ve been in two situations where I took over responsibility for someone who’d been arrested.


Where do you see procurement heading?

With the use of technology and the capabilities of third-party specialists, over time procurement will be more about the networks,  putting networks together, a virtual enterprise to make something happen, and then disassembling that when you no longer need it. In other words, a team comes together to develop a new product to bring to market or bring a new client on board and then disassembles and some people stay and some people move on.  Procurement will be more about nimbleness. Not so much about long-term supplier relationships but understanding the breadth of supplier relationships and the right matches between the business needs and the best supplier.

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