Wouter obtained at Tilburg University a bachelor degree in Business Economics and a master degree in Supply Chain Management. He has over 5 years of experience in Procurement and digitalization, and is passionate about E-Sourcing, E-Auctions, and Sourcing Optimisation. As a Sourcing Optimization professional, he facilitates the evaluation and develops potential supplier allocation scenarios based upon a complex set of business constraints that often must be considered in the awarding of procurement contracts.
How did you get into this field – was it purposeful or by accident?
It was for sure not purposeful, as I initially decided to obtain a bachelor degree in Business Economics at Tilburg University in order to become auditor eventually after graduating. That has been the plan ever since going to high school… until I figured during my studies and first internship at one of KPMG’s technology advisory teams that rather started working at a big multinational company, instead of being an auditor/consultant supporting these type of organizations.
With accountancy, auditing, and also external consultancy initially out of the picture, a conversation with my uncle, who had been working in Procurement and Supply Chain Management for the vast majority of his career, turned out to become a decisive moment for my future career. We discussed how much I enjoyed my role as External Affairs for Study Association Asset | Account & Finance where I had to maintain company relationships and ensure enough sales was realized by the means of recruitment activities or job vacancies posted on our career portal. It was my uncle that made me realize that if you enjoy conversations and pitches around sales, you better be on the purchasing side of the table – as you’ll be the one that eventually takes the decision on where the money will be spend instead of trying very hard to convince the other party why buying your product or service is their best option.
With this new ambition for my early career I started to obtain my first working experience in Procurement at Philips, while graduating for my master in Supply Chain Management.
Then before graduating I already got approached by CRH to join the E-Sourcing Team within the Procurement Technology department. And by doing so I got the opportunity to combine the best of both worlds from my first working experiences as I continued to work in the exciting realm of Procurement, and yet got to support the internal organization in becoming more efficient and effective in their sourcing practices via the means expanding the adoption of E-Sourcing Technology. I quickly learned that rolling out digital tools must go hand in hand with a strategy and vision, as it turned out to be much more people-oriented than I initially thought.
In what ways do you hope to influence or transform the industry?
I hope to simply inspire colleagues, suppliers, and industry peers that E-Sourcing can be applied in every category, every country, for any type of organization – and that when applied in a fair and transparent way it can be extremely beneficial to every party involved. I get a lot of joy out of training, supporting, and developing people around sourcing and digitalization. I do not believe that an individual can influence or transform an entire industry, but I am convinced that with the right long-term oriented mindset procurement teams and their organizations can thrive in the future. Over the last years when talking with industry peers it became clear to me that a lot is being said or written about Procurement and digitalization of the industry, but there is only a limited set of organizations that has truly embedded this in their procurement strategies and established a good organizational foundation for this. I hope that I can continue to learn and develop, but also that I can keep sharing my knowledge and expertise around the fascinating world of E-Sourcing with others. I feel like a lot of organization are only harvesting the low hanging fruit when it comes to adopting E-Sourcing technologies, and that there is a whole world to gain when it comes to effectively and more extensively applying tools, especially features such as Sourcing Optimization or E-Auctions.
Who are the mentors or role models who have guided you in your career?
That must be Niklas Klarnskou and Sébastien Gibelli. I met both at my CRH job interview during an assessment day back in 2017. Seb surprised me, as one the questions he asked during that interview was whether I played video games… Taken by surprise, and not really knowing what to answer, I simply stated that I loved it when I was younger but did not find enough time and joy to do this at a later age. The reason I was asked this weird question is something that still guides me (and our entire team) today, as the “video gaming mentality” is something that every team member lives by. In becoming better at video games, you must click every single button and try every potential alternative strategy, in order to find out how you can win the game and increase the chances of that by following the most effective tactics available. Learning digital tools is not that different from this, there’s no better way to learn a system by simply trying out everything and being super curious on the impact of every feature of that particular technology. Trial and error will eventually result in understanding and skills. That video game question is one that today still triggers a laugh, but still is extremely valuable in our recruitment process in the search for new talent to join our team.
Niklas has been the manager of the team ever since I joined CRH, and I have to say that he had a big impact on my development which helped me achieve initial successes in my career. His vision on the future of procurement, and how you strategically can apply digital tools to help organizations achieve incremental value, has been an inspiration throughout my entire time at CRH. I am precious of the experience I got, and thanks to his genuine interest in me as a person, I see him rather as a friend than a manager. This is something that I have valued a lot, and is something I seek to establish with my E-Sourcing team members.
What is something you wish more people knew about the sourcing and procurement industry?
That the knowledge that sits in the truly skilled procurement team can be extended and realized beyond the procurement function. Procurement is placed in one of the most valuable areas within a business, as we get to engage with all kinds of stakeholders externally and internally in many different functions. Effective procurement managers can sometimes, easier than others, act as the spider in the corporate web for a lot of different topics as Procurement often is exposed to many different ideas from suppliers. I wish that many more businesses would tap into this knowledge potential and engage Procurement at an early stage in many more topics compared to what we see in general today.
Looking ahead, what trends do you think will emerge in the sourcing and procurement space?
There’s no way around sustainability that is on top of the priority list for many organizations worldwide. Working in the building materials industry myself, it’s quickly noticed that some of the sustainability challenges that have to be overcome are extremely ambitious and sometimes could come across like mission impossible at a first glance.
I think it is great that a company like CRH has the ambition to operate carbon neutral along the cement and concrete value chain by 2050, and have set an aggressive target for a 25% absolute reduction in group-wide Scope 1 and Scope 2 CO2 emissions by 2030 (on a 2020 baseline). It is encouraging to see how many businesses are stepping up their game in this battle against changing climate. The world may be behind today, but that does not mean we cannot win the race in the long run.
In procurement we get to play a key role in this race. The only way to overcome these challenges is with the use of digital tools and the key here is superior data quality with business insights into current and proposed emission levels, not just for our own production and transportation but in every step along the value chain.
Sourcing decisions will get more and more holistic over time, a good example is already on our tenders where we seek to lower the CO2 emission and incorporate this data as part of our scenario optimization as a key awarding criteria when awarding business.
If not already applied today, supplying partners to many businesses will soon no longer be able to secure a contract without having a clear and structured approach towards decarbonization. I believe that technology like E-Sourcing will play a vital role in this development, as it can help the sourcing professional to identify the optimal allocation inside the awarding of a contract. The challenge with the increased need for technology, hereunder E-Sourcing tools, will be the requirement to upskill system operators. Procurement organizations will quickly face the dilemma of Make or Buy of these competencies. I foresee on the one hand companies heavily investing in tech-savvy internal supporting teams like in my own company, or in “E-Sourcing-as-a-Service”-like consulting partners for long-term oriented collaborations.
What advice do you have for those who are considering a career in sourcing or procurement?
My best advice is to find a job in sourcing and/or procurement that enables you to work in the style that you prefer, individually or in a team, with enough room for improvement of your working area as well as yourself. Secondly, I recommend that you find the right manager, this is key to your success and further development. Try to look for the type of managers that show passion for what they do and show a genuine interest in you as a person. Difficult search but worth the effort.
Another important piece of advice that I would like to share, which my manager told me, is especially valid at an early stage in your career. It will take you one year to learn the basics of your role, in the second year you will start to perform to the expected level, and in the third you can start developing yourself further, as you see the actual impact of your decisions made in the second year. Thus, when you are new in a position, please take the first 6 to 12 months as a minimum to get familiar with your role, your responsibilities, the common ways of working and identify who your stakeholders are. It is only after an initial period of getting familiar with these areas that you can start performing at an expected level. There is a whole working life in front of us, so better to take more time for the right decisions and career moves than to listen too quickly to tempting offers from the outside world.