SupplyManagement

8 August 2013 | Andrew Allen

Sub-saharan Africa has become one of the world’s great economic success stories. It is the second-fastest growing region in the world after Asia and, according to the International Monetary Fund, it will see growth of more than 5 per cent this year, compared with 3 per cent worldwide.

But is procurement missing the party? Academic Douglas Boateng indicates this may be the case when in a recent presentation he described the function as undervalued and under-rewarded across the region.

Professor Boateng, of UNISA Graduate School of Business Leadership in South Africa and CEO of consultancy PanAvest International, says government and industry increasingly accept the need to bring procurement into the strategic decision-making chamber. But, he adds: “The pontifications have unfortunately not really been matched by real corrective structural adjustments.”

In his view, procurement professionals receive less recognition as well as worse remuneration than counterparts in other business functions. These factors make it hard to attract talent. Lower pay also raises the risk individuals will act unethically.

The solution? Boateng calls on industry leaders and government policy makers to take “decisive steps” to “ensure respectable recognition for the ethically and performance-driven procurement and supply chain management professional”.

The remarks will strike a familiar chord for many procurement professionals in Africa. Chabeli Ramakatane, CEO of Bareki Consulting, South Africa, tells SM: “There is progress, however, it is not at the pace we expect. The highest-paid procurement person here is poorly remunerated compared to the highest-paid finance or marketing person.

“There is definitely a leadership vacuum. Even where you find capable leaders they might not be empowered to do what is necessary.”

At the heart of the problem is organisations’ reluctance to appoint a CPO who reports directly to the CEO and who has a strategic remit. Instead procurement tends to be located further down in the structural hierarchy led by a purchasing manager. “Fewer than 20 per cent of companies or large public sector organisations have CPOs,” says Ramakatane.

Naomi Kinyanjui, civil projects operations manager at Ardan Risk and Support, Kenya, agrees the function has typically been pigeonholed as a back office transactional role. “With regards to it being under-rewarded, that has been true to a large extent,” she says. But she believes that private sector organisations are increasingly beginning to pay their purchasing staff a fair market rate as they realise procurement can add value to their businesses.

Phillip Dahwa, managing partner, The Global Procurement And Supply Chain Management Practice, Zimbabwe, believes that if procurement is undervalued, this is precisely because the function has not yet earned its stripes. “The calibre of most procurement professionals is questionable in most instances,” he says.

While the professionals have technical skills they tend to lack business acumen, softer skills and leadership competencies. This, in turn, has denied them the chance to shine at the highest levels of their organisations, he believes. “The challenge is now for the professionals themselves to prove that they can add value rather than just purporting to be undervalued,” he says.

Skills shortages pose a problem for procurement everywhere, but Tom Woodham, director of Crimson & Co consulting, which works with many multinational clients in Africa, believes the talent pool in Africa is particularly small. Not only are there fewer business graduates in the region but procurement, like most business functions, is lagging behind many other regions in maturity “by about 20 years”. Nevertheless, Woodham does not consider buyers – at least in many of the larger multinationals – to be more poorly paid than colleagues in other business functions. In Africa the lack of prestige attached to procurement rather than lack of pay is the most serious obstacle to attracting the best talent, he believes.

“FMCGs and multinationals really struggle to find people to bring in both in terms of previous experience and of people with an interest in procurement.

“These companies spend an awful lot of money training people and they find they have to start from a lower base than they would in Europe or elsewhere,” he says.

Ulrike Kussing, at PwC in South Africa, believes companies are increasingly seeing the value in supply chain management. “Now there is more of a focus on looking at things end to end. The stance has shifted from the past where it was viewed more as a logistics function,” she says.

Nevertheless Kussing says that while supply chain managers can rely on modern technology and increasingly good infrastructure, problems such as facilitation fees and unreliable delivery times present a major challenge for supply chain professionals.

She is not alone in seeing significant grounds for optimism in the region.

Woodham says: “A lot of multinationals out there are changing their focus. Previously they would have brought in expats to fill vacancies. Now they are training and developing local people.”

For Ramakatane there is one factor that will guarantee procurement’s rise up the corporate ladder in Africa – that organisations will sooner or later come to realise the significant cost savings that can be achieved by implementing a strategic sourcing model.

“We expect organisations in both private and public sector to realise that the only place left to achieve savings or to improve the bottom line is in procurement,” he says.

Does low pay cause corruption?

“Most procurement professionals are not bold enough to stand up against fraud and corruption,” says Phillip Dahwa. “They facilitate corruption in an attempt to win the hearts of their bosses.”

It is a controversial viewpoint but one that African procurement professionals will understand.

Chabeli Ramakatane says the lack of visible punishment for buyers caught accepting bribes is a major incentive for fraudsters. He believes low pay bears some responsibility for the prevalence of bribery, as well as unmanaged conflicts of interest, inadequate screening of suppliers and just plain greed.

Naomi Kinyanjui says it is inevitable that low pay leads to increased temptation to engage in corruption.

However for Ian McNally, vice president of Efficio, it is not always clear where cases of ‘supplier loyalty’ within companies are due to corruption or rather “loyalty to a supply base that has delivered service and where the relationships are strong and long lived”.

“What we have seen is that in most cases, a clear, open, transparent, fact-based approach works with stakeholders in the same way as it works in a European or North American context,” he says.