Hello and welcome to the Procurement Game Changers, the podcast for leaders that make a difference.
Today we’ll talk about how to find the right profile for your procurement group. And to discuss that topic, I have the great pleasure to receive Aslan Akyol. Aslan is the Chief Purchasing officer and a member of the executive board as Stash.
Aslan has 30 years of working experience with many companies. He’s currently with Stash, a grocery delivery company that delivers groceries within 10 minutes to your doorstep with no minimum order value and at supermarket prices. We’re glad to have you with us today. So welcome to the show Aslan.
Thank you, Hélène. Thank you for reminding me to your podcast and I hope I could contribute something meaningful to it.
I’m sure you will. So Aslan, could you tell us what led you to procurement?
Okay. I think. I guess probably my mother must have contributed somehow. She always negotiated everywhere I remember and whether she knew the language or not.
I mean, she came to Switzerland more than 20 years [ago]. She was about 22 years old I guess. And she was trying to negotiate down everything and that’s probably why I applied at the end as a young man in purchasing for my first job with engine material purchasing at Swiss Technical Services, which then became SR Techniques.
I found it super interesting. And then that’s why I guess after a few years I was able to take on larger projects. And when I remember some examples were the tendering and negotiations for the Airbus A340 fleet with Pratt & Whitney Engines and the Rolls Royce engines. So that was really fun and I remember a lot of work and nights and the weekends and we have chosen the Rolls Royce at the end for the A340 fleet of Swiss Air.
And also of course for me very interesting was the maintenance contract call for tenders on the JT9D-7R4 J2 engines of the Boeing 747 at that time with KLM Dutch and Japan Airlines.
I met a lot of people and experienced different cultures from all over the world. And nevertheless, I had to decide enough, 11 years. I’m gonna change my industry. And I went into telecommunication back in 1999 to diAx, a new player on the Swiss telecom market, founded, roughly after the liberalization in 1997.
And that was really because leaving a really deep marginal flight maintenance industry and then go to telecommunication was a little bit of culture shock for me. Whereas before I had to fight for every cent and diAx people were talking millions as it were cents. And that’s why for me it was like: wow. Everything was normal.
A few millions, it’s normal. And within a very short term of two years, I guess then almost more turnover than the SR techniques of the 60 years in business. That was really for me, incredible at that time for a young person. And I was responsible, there, for the network area. And my first, I’d say, my first big success was in the UMTS tender back in the year 2000.
I had to organize 60 half-day meetings with Nokia networks and Ericsson networks and that was just jumping around. And at the end, I guess even asking me to set up a strategic purchasing department of Sunrise after the merger back in 2001. And the UMTS tender negotiated PowerPoint presentations, that was also something which I really remember. So you were negotiating of millions, even billions which was only on PowerPoint and nothing existed.
Everything was just on PowerPoint. And really exciting years. Nevertheless I thought why not go try another industry again? And so I was really lucky to go after 11 years to Migros. And Migros is the largest retailer here and private employer in Switzerland, approximately a hundred thousand employees and 15 times the turnover of Sunrise.
And the second culture shock for me at that time after the fast-moving and dynamic telecommunications, Migros was like a snail compared to Sunrise. And it was starting the head of supplier and contract management then take over the strategic procurement department in 2014. And then transform it [in] 2019 by bringing it really on par level with the FMCG companies.
Because Migros had no clue about what is the profit per square meter and what is the profit there. And that’s why I guess what shelf meter, I mean sorry. And that’s why we had to take new software into it, data analyst, business analyst and then actually transform the whole department and getting new people. And I guess that was quite good success at the end.
So said I promised what I had to do back in 2019 and then I wanna do something really fun. And now I landed at the startup Stash, the quick commerce industry in 2021 and now here I am.
Yeah, thank you for sharing. It’s very interesting to see how from one industry to the next, there might be some differences and, as a procurement leader, you have to learn about them and still you’re still doing the same work. And that’s something that we will discuss.
I’m riding our bicycle as well because the executive board has to go once a month, and ride also, and deliver out all the orders from our customers
That’s quite the difference.
So in the background you see actually our bikes and driving and then trying to find within 10 minutes. So we have to feel also what’s gonna happen really at the front.
That’s interesting. So we’re going back to the topic today and we’ll start with the fact that compared to other functions like Finance, Marketing, IT or HR, procurement is always fighting for more visibility and/or attention from the executive committee. And indeed procurement is not well understood by executives. It’s not taught in school.
The students there learn about Finance, Marketing, Strategy, even Technology but not procurement. So most executives, unless they are in the super supply chain function, don’t know much about what procurement does. And as a result, most companies don’t hire the right profiles and they often end up with the wrong teams.
So what are the mistakes to avoid? how do you find the right profile for procurement? That is what we’re going to discuss about today with you Aslan. So first question. In your opinion, what are the pitfalls when hiring people for procurement roles?
When I remember really back all these years now I guess for me it was always the typical phrase, in an advertising for a vacancy for example: there are many years of purchasing experience in this and that industry. For me it was all like, it’s not a qualitative statement. Just as little somebody would say, I have leadership experience.
Also this is not a qualitative statement. That’s why that [it] was always a pitfall looking for people just being in that industry. And I have also some examples from men in the financial industry where I’ve seen that these people, unfortunately, had nothing to say there. But to be honest, on the other hand, the question is really only valid if purchasing really has to be successful in that company. Because we are somehow faced with the reality of companies. Like who decides really what success of purchasing is or should be really.
The executives who have little knowledge of procurement or the fear to lose decision power and reputation on the market. I have a very interesting example. I remember back a head of marketing communications, his name was Bert and he was really, I mean, he was really throwing curses at us and said that he will hardly find a good job on the market after we have negotiated to advertising agency fees down by 30% and we will be responsible if he never finds a good job on the market and so on and so forth. So really interesting things.
Right people for Procurement groups
What is the right profile for procurement? And I’m talking about soft skills, hard skill. So what is that profile that you’re looking for?
I guess the right profile can’t be really advertised. It is like an experienced interviewer could find the right person out from an unusual but interesting CV for example, and also from face to face interviews. That’s why I personally owned it. HR only filtered the applications when it was really obvious but the person just wanted to have an application for the job center.
So I actually I address but I want to be in purchasing or for example. But my philosophy I guess was really when you know how to buy, you can buy everything. Of course there are exceptions.
I mean jobs where you need physical or natural skills, sense of taste and sensitive senses of smell when you are a coffee or cacao buyer or for example also when you have to buy ingredients and flavors for example the perfume industry. But I guess for me it was the mix of people. It was also important and it’s Meredith Belbin actually once described his nine roles of good teams.
And there was a resource, he called resource investigator, team worker, a plant planted like seeding and growing. He wanted to evaluate, shape, implement whatever, complete or finisher. Actually I took it simply cause I’m not a professor. So I always had a vision person. Sometimes it was me, sometimes [it] was another person.
And that work [is] very important. I also have a very good example. An [implementation] person being able to implement everything and also person who’s analyzing it, in a structured way. And of course, someone that is the good soul of the team. So the person who can always have the ability to connect all the team members even if they are totally different. And I guess these are five roles you should have in a very successful purchasing team.
So you mentioned that person who is a networker. So that’s interesting because in a previous podcast, we discussed about the importance for procurement to build a network internally and with suppliers. So could you develop a little bit that, and you mentioned that you have an example so maybe you can give that example to explain more of that role in particular.
I remember when I started back at Sunrise in the telecommunication industry, the key account manager of a big telecom network infrastructure provider. That guy had, I’m probably remembering correctly, that guy had 216 direct contacts to the company. He knew everything much, much better than anybody in the company.
He knew exactly what the CEO is doing, the CFO, what the CMO, the CTO, whatever. And he knew what strategy we have. So he knew and actually everything. And so how can it be that a supplier knows much more than anybody else in the company. But that’s why I said that’s clear. He was an incredible professional networker.
But that’s why I had one guy, my team then, which I hired coming from Siemens. And that guy was like, he was everywhere. Every party, always, you have to go because you have to control what our marketing guys say, what our network people say. You have to go to supplier events and get information, collect them.
And from that time on, actually we add the best and the first knowledge what’s gonna happen on the market before anybody else in the company. And that’s why I guess it’s important to have a network.
No it’s interesting. It’s like underground business intelligence. If I hear correctly.
What are the specificities for the right people?
Well is this… So we see that you have several roles in your teams and then you need to identify, even on paper, those profiles might look the same. They might not fall into the same role and then at the end you need a team that makes sense. Right.
That’s what I hear from what you said. And I have a question though, and you mentioned that briefly before the fact that there are limitations to on certain categories. So I would just expand that as this. Is it true for all categories beyond those limitations that you mentioned? And then are there specificities in the profile that you seek for a company like yours today for Stash for instance? Are there some specificities today?
I guess first of all, for us actually it is really important to see trends here to emphasize how customers [behave]. And also as a startup actually you have to sell hope. Okay? So you never know when your money is away and the bird rate is too high, whatever. But that’s, for us, important. Nevertheless. I guess, to the first part of your question about: is it all categories?
As I mentioned before, also you can’t really do that everywhere. Because when you are working in government, for example, it might be different. When you’re working in the financial industry, it might be different. When you’re working in, for example, the tobacco industry, it might be different again.
That’s why I guess you have to know really what industry you are. What are, let’s say, the most important points you have to consider for your own function? And that’s why you can’t say, yeah, category, IT is everywhere the same, it’s not. So even it might be totally different when you are working in government.
Yeah. So it’s kind of a foundation that you can build on. Be clear that what is important actually is beyond the right profile on paper, is to make sure that that person has the right mindset, the right attitude to procurement and then that you have the right roles for your team in your industry, in your category, in your type of company.
That’s what I understand. So it’s kind of: be flexible. There is not one fits all team that works for everyone. And you said before, based on your goal, you want to be successful as a procurement team. That’s kind of the ultimate question. I hope as procurement leaders we want to be successful, right. I hope that’s the case, but yeah, that’s not always.
And some, sometimes actually it’s really like the feeling you might have as an interviewer. I remember a guy actually. He was harvesting kiwis and whatever in New Zealand and before he was working in a bar as a waiter, wait no, it was a discotheque, right? A disco, club and a nightclub.
He was working as a waiter and collecting money and saving money for his world trip, whatever. And that guy, he could not speak English at that time. So he went on a world tour without being able to speak English.
And I said like a guy actually on the world tour, getting back and finding always a solution for every situation in his life or on his journey might be an interesting person.
So I invited him for an interview and that guy became one of our most creative executives in my purchasing team. And still, he’s still the most creative person I know actually working or used to work in purchasing. Yeah, actually no, nobody probably would have invited him to an interview. Really nobody.
How to headhunt those right people/profile for procurement?
Yeah, I hear you. You have to see really beyond the profile on paper. So on that, I can totally, I agree with you totally. I don’t think that someone would have hired me in procurement if I said so before because of my profile, but here I am. So where do you find the right profiles for your procurement role? Is it your network? Do you have spontaneous candidates, internet platforms, headhunters? How do you go to find these profiles?
Oh, I probably, I used all of them really based sometimes on the time constraints you have. I used headhunters. [It] was the right choice. I used sometimes thousands of interviews until you only have your right candidate for the challenging job. I mean, I remember also there a guy, also the interesting example, he was actually unemployed when I invited him for the interview.
He was unemployed. He came for a very, very small company. Maybe 15 people. We used to purchase I guess little screens or whatever for the car navigation system. That said, if somebody has to struggle every day: we’ve been tiny and getting still never nevertheless being able to get very good prices, very good conditions, whatever from Asia.
Although you are very small and you’re struggling and doing and working and fighting. I invited that guy. He was half Spanish half German, I guess.
And first interview was like, he was very nervous, but he seemed very clever, very smart. The second interview I told him, I felt he was really nervous at the last time and he said, Yeah, yeah, are you right? And in the middle of the second interview I said, Hey, you are half Spanish right? Yes.
Okay what would you say if I say now: step on the table and dance flamenco for me, please. And this immediate answer was like: Yes Mr. Akyol, if you dance with me, of course, I will do it.
And I said okay, you’re hired. So it depends [on] the attitude, how fast he can react and that’s much more important than somebody he would be totally astonished. Very interesting question. That’s why I guess it’s really the feeling. It’s not clear what is the best choice.
Yeah. So that’s why it’s hard. You have to go around, do interviews and meet people. We said that before, it’s not what they have on paper. It’s really the mindset, the attitude. That’s what I understand.
And he’s now really head of worldwide purchasing of a really big banking company, bank.
So the attitude was all it was. So if for newcomers to the procurement community, and I know that there are quite a lot that are listening to you and watching the podcast. Do you have any advice on how to grow as a buyer when you don’t have the technical knowledge of the product or the service that you’re supposed to buy?
I guess remembering that, what Steve Jobs once said? Stay hungry, stay foolish. Okay it’s not the same but it’s somehow valid also for the part of a buyer as well. I always listen carefully and ask a lot.
The more you ask, the more you know. Listen and ask the supplier, listen and ask your colleagues and sometimes listen and ask yourself: am I doing really the right thing? But I guess I found out that many people do not listen because they want to make the case and do not ask because they then believe their competence will be questioned. But I guess we found listening carefully and asking you don’t learn that was somehow the same way at school.
That’s very true. And I agree with you on that fact that you can learn every day, even if you are an established leader or a seasoned professional, you can still learn even about your own subject matter because things are changing, new methodologies are coming in. So it’s always an opportunity to learn more or educate yourself on things that you might think it’s not right. And then to discover it is all the other way around. So I think this
So besides recruitment, what is the most challenging task for a procurement leader? For instance, what is the most challenging task for you right now in your current position?
I mean in the current position of course it is really, it’s the money, okay. It is to sell hope. It is getting the, let’s say, very good conditions or similar conditions like the big retailers, or without having, even without having a percent, 1% of the volumes you can order. I mean, this is something which is the most challenging.
How can you let the companies deliver to each of our warehouses we have everywhere in the cities. And that’s why I guess that’s the most challenging part of it. How to convince, how to convince the big players on the market to deliver attractive prices to the products actually.
That’s my personal, very challenging.
No, no, I can relate to that. Trust me. Get the big players to trust a small startup. Yes, I can do that.
Correct, correct. And then to the first part of your question, actually the most challenging is probably being accepted at eye level with the other executives. Still, many people believe that everybody can buy as they do in the supermarket. And there also, I remember a very good statement of a former CEO which I had. I was like typical. The typical: hey you play the back cop and I’m the good cop.
And that’s why, I was in an elevator with the CEO and he told me that sentence as well: Hey Aslan ya, how? Yeah, bad cop, good cop. And then hey, I told him that he can ask his wife to play the bad cops if he wants and I don’t need to play. I know what I want and how to convince the suppliers. He frowned slightly, smiled a little bit cheaply and the door of the elevator opened.
So that was a typical really example where while most of the executives have always the same. And nobody would say that, for example, to a marketing guy, nobody would say that to a financial guy or nobody would say that to a CIO for example. It’s always like everybody: [it] must be I’m easy. I mean I’m going to the supermarket and buy. Okay.
That’s why. And seeing in the TV and Hollywood movies: bad cop, good cop and always that, okay, yes. This is the most challenging to explain, or say to. Having also that eye level. I mean nobody would answer the CEO: Go and ask your wife. Okay. So you have to have also this, let’s say what you call it, a standing really. And also believe in yourself in order to have such an answer to your own CEO
Right People for procurement – Key Takeaways
Oh yeah, absolutely. Now it’s time for the takeaway. So if there was one thing that you want our listeners to remember from that conversation, what would that be?
I guess especially that’s for the recruitment for procurement. Don’t believe what you read. Just believe what you personally see or hear or [the] reactions you are faced with in an interview or a video call. So take your time to find the right role or right person for the position you need in order to have an effective team and not just fill up the vacancy because you’re looking now already for eight weeks. Yeah. that’s a takeaway.
It’s better to wait.
Yeah. It’s all about mindset, fit with your teams and yourself, and attitude. I think it’s a very good way to summarize what we’ve said in that conversation. Thank you. Thank you for your time. That was very interesting and I’m sure that our listeners will be, as you were mentioning before, I think that they will feel that they are not losing their time. Thank you.
Hope so. Okay. Thank you all. Bye
Now it’s your turn to tell us about your experience and new challenges when hiring the right profiles for your procurement group in the comment section. Don’t forget to subscribe if you want to be notified when a new episode is out.
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So happy sourcing to you all and au revoir.
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