Niche or Generalist – That is the Question

Published: 22 April 2016

It’s almost 400 years to the day of the passing of the great William Shakespeare. Those famous words from Hamlet “To be, or not to be”, strike a chord amongst many procurement professionals as their career starts to take shape. 

Do you stay deep and narrow as a real category expert or branch out to take on a wider, but more generalist position? The answer to this frequent dilemma is largely found within your overall career goals and aspirations. 

This also depends upon what type of organisation you want to work for? A large global business is more likely to have an established category management structure in place whereas a UK focused or SME business wouldn’t necessarily have the volume of spend to justify such a structure.    

It is highly unlikely that any aspiring CPO will climb the corporate ladder having remained isolated in one specific category area. Therefore the path to CPO will be aided by moving between companies and industry sectors; expanding your exposure to different category areas, processes and systems implementation, perhaps an overseas assignment – all helping you gain a more rounded view of the world and the procurement function in general. 

However, not everyone has the burning desire to reach these dizzy heights. 

By remaining within a category and building up your extensive knowledge in this area,  you will  become attractive to other large similarly structured blue chip businesses looking to bring in your profound knowledge in this space. Your development could come in the shape of managing a bigger team, perhaps across a wider geography with a bigger spend or into a business where your specific category area is crucial to the success of the wider business. 

If you are keen to break the mould, look for category areas that have similar issues;  moving from Legal Services into wider Professional Services for example or Telecoms into IT Hardware. 

A well-structured procurement function should proactively encourage the rotation of category areas. This will minimise the impact should they lose a very experienced member of the team who has built up a wealth of deep and narrow category knowledge, whilst also helping to promote career development opportunities.  

A move into a wider managerial Procurement Manager or Head of Procurement position in the SME world will give you significantly more exposure to the wider business than you will ever get from remaining in a large global corporate. You will have a far greater impactful position; possibly reporting directly into the board or MD of the business, with an ability to influence and shape the procurement function to the needs of the business far quicker than in a larger more complex structure.

Whichever route you chose, both paths offer great career development opportunities at a time when procurement continues to go from strength to strength. 

Richard Guest is a Consultant in the Procurement & Supply Chain Practice.

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