In this episode of the Sourcing Industry Landscape, Dawn Tiura interviews Greg Tennyson. Greg Tennyson is Chief Procurement Officer, Business Transformation, at VSP Global. With a background in sales and experience as a former college athlete, Greg takes a collaborative, team-oriented approach to procurement.
Dawn Tiura: Hello everyone. This is Dawn Tiura from SIG, and I'm so pleased to welcome you back to our podcast series. And with me today is Greg Tennyson. I probably don't even need to introduce Greg—he's a legend among CPOs and he has an amazing journey, and just a really great background.
Dawn Tiura: I wanna just have a conversation with Greg today. So, for those of you that don't know Greg, you will know Greg. For those of you who don't know him, this is somebody you really want to connect with and have in your hip pocket as the go-to person on everything about the future of sourcing. Amazing man; a great intellect; great history. And with that, Greg, I want to welcome you to the podcast series.
Greg Tennyson: Dawn, thank you. You're so kind. I appreciate the introduction. Unwarranted, but very much appreciated. Thank you.
Dawn Tiura: So Greg, I'm just gonna let the audience decide for themselves. So, why don't we take a little journey through some of your past and then talk about your future.
Greg Tennyson: Excellent.
Dawn Tiura: Good. So let's go back. You are one of those rare-breed native Californians, correct?
Greg Tennyson: I am. Born and raised in Northern California. I've traveled extensively across the globe...India, Asia, Europe, and even within the US...but I've had the luxury of calling Northern California home.
Dawn Tiura: That's fantastic. So, when you went to Saint Mary's of California for undergrad and graduate school, you were on the football team, is that correct?
Greg Tennyson: Yeah, I played Division II football. As I reflect, it was interesting that's actually what led me to college. I really didn't know what I wanted to do...had the opportunity to continue my schooling at Saint Mary's playing football, and while I was there, I met my wife. And she called me to task and [I] really focused on my academics at that point, courtesy of my wife. I have a lot to be thankful for.
Dawn Tiura: So the woman behind the man. There definitely is one there then.
Greg Tennyson: Well, I would say the individual behind me in this case, leading me as well. She is very accomplished in her own right. It's been a great marriage now what—doing the math—36 years.
Dawn Tiura: Oh my goodness. Wow. Right there, that makes you a novelty in and of itself, without everything else. So tell me, after Saint Mary's, after college football, tell me about where did you go with your career choice? Because you didn't start off in sourcing.
Greg Tennyson: No. Interesting...when I graduated, I graduated during a very difficult labor market, and the opportunities presented me were primarily in sales. So, I was in sales for approximately a year and realized quickly that I didn't like cold calling in the medical market. I was selling into the medical field up in Northern California and realized quickly that it was not for me and went to work for Transamerica Corporation and actually that was my first exposure to procurement; contracts; negotiations from the buyer side of the desk. And I realized quickly that I loved it, and pursued a career in my master's degree and all the related certifications. Back in the day, you know CPN, as well as CPCN credentials. And really, again, fell in love with procurement and contracts.
Dawn Tiura: I love that. I love when people say that they fell in love with it, because that's what happened to me. Just a whole new light went on, and it's like, this is such a cool industry and field to be in.
Dawn Tiura: So, you fell in love with contracts procurement [at] Transamerica, but you are so well known for your tenure at Oracle. Can you share a little bit on how you got to Oracle and then just what it was like, because you were back in the early days of Silicon Valley and Oracle was a huge employer in the Bay Area. But you saw it through—just an incredible rise in Oracle. Can you talk about that?
Greg Tennyson: Sure, I joined Oracle in 1998 just after they had done their restatement in early 1990. So, it was an interesting time at Oracle. We were really focused on not only being a relational database company, but building other application suites.
Greg Tennyson: So you know, we were on this journey of Global Single Instance and we had various data centers across the globe. Moving all of our financial applications to a Global Single Instance and then we started down the path of creating regional shared service centers for the finance functions and then consolidating even further into a Global Finance Center based in Bangalore, India. And then couple that with all the M&A's that started up in early 2000 with PeopleSoft, Seabolt, etc.
Greg Tennyson: It was just an incredible run and during that time I was given the responsibility of centralizing the procurement, travel, accounts payable, fixed assets, expense functions across Oracle. Which when you think of the complexities of local legal requirements in countries and then taking that to a Regional Center and then into Global Finance Center, it was just an amazing journey.
Dawn Tiura: Wow. I bet. So you created one of the first shared services organizations back then, wasn't it?
Greg Tennyson: Well, I should say Oracle did. I was part of the shared service center. It was interesting. Oracle did it more to demonstrate the capabilities of their application suite. So we were riding on Oracle in a Global Single Instance in a Global Finance Shared Service Center. We kicked that project off in 2000. I think we were one of the early leaders in the space, and it was just an amazing success. Not only from an efficiency standpoint, but creating standard operating procedures, so how the work got done. We were able to shorten our monthly quarterly annual close to a matter of days, as opposed to weeks, which was the standard at the time.
Dawn Tiura: Wow. So you had over 50 acquisitions, if I recall, why you were at Oracle? Is that correct?
Greg Tennyson: Correct. Some very interesting ones, some of which had procurement synergies, where we were reporting our results back to the street. It was fun to have access to early stage M&A activities, where we were weighing in on not only the synergies, but some of the associated risks. And it was insightful. We were learning some of the negotiations we had done with common suppliers. We weren't as successful as the acquisition in getting the best price.
Greg Tennyson: It was very educational from a procurement synergies M&A perspective, but also validating our negotiations. We actually learned a lot from the acquisitions on how to negotiate; how to manage supplier relationships. So, it was educational on a number of levels.
Dawn Tiura: So in early days would you say football and sports played in to any of your success? Or do you think it was going into sales before procurement? Or both?
Greg Tennyson: I would say a combination of both. Certainly playing sports growing up really focused on teamwork and collaborating in a team setting. It was all about team and not ‘I’ or ‘me’. So there was that. The contribution to my DNA and how I function within a corporate setting. Also, the sales setting really honed my ability to articulate; communicate; sell. It's interesting, today, I'm not about buying procurement. I am about selling procurement services within the organization. So how do we add value...drive the right business outcomes across the company? It is about outcomes. So, effectuating the right outcomes. Developing the right process to support the means of the business.
Greg Tennyson: Fundamentally, it's selling those services within the business leadership—getting in front of them, partnering with them, understanding what their needs are. And you take a step back and a lot of that is how sales engages; they hunt accounts, win accounts. A lot of that experience is applicable in a procurement leadership role as you try to win relationships, win favor with the business and servicing their needs.
Dawn Tiura: You're so right, but you said something very interesting though [is] that you listened to your business units. I think the listening part of sales is the most important aspect. We have so many procurement people who don't wanna listen to the business units; they want to talk to them instead. I think that's a really good trait to hone in on.
Greg Tennyson: I agree. There's an adage out there, Dawn, so fundamentally it is about listening to the needs of the business, learning what their challenges are before you attempt to lead and guide them. I should also add that procurement is not about compliance. It's about driving value back to the business. If you lead with compliance and mandate "thou shall" you are going to alienate the customer at go. So you're right. It's about listening, learning and then leading, but leading in such a way as your partnering and collaborating with them to drive the right business outcomes.
Dawn Tiura: When you left Oracle and went to Salesforce, you were leading the global source-to-settle and travel-to-expense team for a 10 billion hypergrowth company. Can you share what it was like to be at Salesforce during those days?
Greg Tennyson: Hypergrowth is interesting. Compound that with a very entrepreneurial spirit at Salesforce—it was just a fun time. We were growing at 30, 40%, year-over-year, and not only from a revenue employee perspective, but the Salesforce logo and being able to leverage our logo to get better deals, better relationships, partnerships with suppliers. It was just a fun time. It presented challenges that we had to work through with hypergrowth. You'd be dealing with a business unit and before you realized it, maybe that person's no longer there because they've been promoted into another role, so you're constantly reinvesting in your relationships with the business. Making sure you're dealing with the right people, the right influential people, to get to the right outcomes. It was an amazing ride, five years at Salesforce.
Greg Tennyson: It really, if I reflect back, complemented the skill set I was building. Oracle was very, let's say, command and control. Salesforce—very entrepreneurial, hypergrowth, very collaborative. It allowed me to kind of smooth out some rough edges that had been developed at Oracle given the climate and culture there, and to complement that with the Salesforce experience has really enabled me to, in my opinion, be highly impactful now at VSP Vision Services.
Dawn Tiura: Before we jump to VSP, some things I think are just amazing about you, is that you are one of the founding members of the Bay Area Procurement Council comprised of Silicon Valley and Northern California procurement executives. You participate on a number of advisory councils. I know for a few...historically there was Coupa, there's ScoutRFP, DocuSign, FairMarkIT. So, why? Why with all the things you've achieved, why are you advising some of these companies in their startup and early maturity stages?
Greg Tennyson: It was interesting, at Oracle, I really got exposed to application development. How to build out a suite of products. I don't know, it just kind of lit a fire under me as far as exposing me to how to effectuate a great user experience through the technology that you're implementing. And through that journey at Oracle and participating on the customer advisory board at Oracle and really helping them develop their product suite within the source to sell space; it just created this desire to partner with nascent startups to help them develop their products. And it gave me access to influence the road map. So, as we were leveraging the technology at the company, I was influencing the road map for what direction they were going in...the features, functionalities that they were implementing. It created this burning desire to participate with startups. I worked with Coupa pre-IPO, working with a number of companies today— ScoutRFP, FairMarkIT, worked with Tealbook, worked with DocuSign, etc.
Greg Tennyson: It's kind of fulfilled a desire to play in the product development of companies.So, I love playing that advisory role, and you're working with very smart people, very passionate people, people who have a vision and a mission that they're executing on, and influencing not only their product, but how they're going through that forming and storming phase into becoming a public company. It's just a lot of fun.
Dawn Tiura: Your passion for continuing to elevate the industry is so evident, too. That's one of the things I love about your history. So, now you're the Chief Procurement Officer Business Transformation Leader at VSP Global. So, from Salesforce to VSP Global, can you talk about why that transition took place? And let our audience know what is VSP Global.
Greg Tennyson: So, why the transformation, or why the change from Salesforce to VSP: I was actually commuting down to Salesforce living in San Francisco, Monday through Friday. And after a five year period, it just grew weary on me and wanted to get into my own backyard. I was fortunate that VSP's CEO was looking for a transformation leader for me to come and effectuate what I had been doing at Oracle and Salesforce here at VSP and creating a centralized procurement function.
Greg Tennyson: VSP Vision Services is a 63-year-old insurance company that was formed by an optometrist. They saw a need to have more of a collective view of providing a benefit back to the client, as well as the members who need eyecare. VSP has since acquired companies and become more vertically integrated. We're not only an insurance company: we provide frames; we provide lenses; we provide technology to the doctor's office. We also have a direct-to-consumer. So, vertically integrated supply chain across all aspects of what is eyecare.
Dawn Tiura: Oh that's neat.
Greg Tennyson: It's roughly about a 6,000-employee company...revenues of approximately $5.5 billion. We're well entrenched within the US and growing our presence internationally. We have presence in Australia and Europe and other parts—Canada, Latin America, South America—and were really growing our presence right now. So here again, another fun journey to globalize the company and really focus now on shared services.
Dawn Tiura: That's awesome. So now you're not commuting to San Francisco, so better work life balance?
Greg Tennyson: Much better work life balance. Thank you. I’ve got all of about a 25-minute commute, which as you know having lived in Northern California, Dawn, is a welcome relief. When you can say you'll be home in 30 minutes or less.
Dawn Tiura: And you actually mean it, yes.
Greg Tennyson: [And] you actually mean it, yes.
Dawn Tiura: I did learn that when I was living there you never said how many miles. It was always how long it was going to take. It could be five miles could be an hour or five miles could be five minutes. It was always how much time it took to drive anywhere.
Dawn Tiura: So, you shared...and I'm probably going to get this story wrong...but you did vignettes called "Spend It Like It's Yours," is that correct?
Greg Tennyson: Yeah, it's interesting the journey we've been on at VSP and really changing the behavior. Early on, I created a tagline for the initiative, "Spend It Like It's Yours". We took some liberty with the acronym and we call it SILLY. "Spend It Like It's Yours" doesn't naturally equate to SILLY, but created this initiative, we call it SILLY. We created a mascot. We gave the mascot a name, Moolah, money. It's 6'3, 6'4 purple, furry creature. And Moolah shows up at All-Hands meetings. He roams the hallways. He shows up at staff meetings. But to your point, we actually created video vignettes, six of them, around changing behavior, and Moolah was featured. So, there's Moolah showing up in a supplier negotiation. Moolah ordering IT protocols. Moolah trying to book a trip. It's been fun and Moolah has become a celebrity at VSP. Moolah sits outside my office most of the time and people will come by and do selfies with Moolah and post it on the company site. It's been a lot of fun.
Dawn Tiura: That is awesome. It also puts a little bit of fun into it for people, which I think is probably going back to your team and comradery and your sales and all that. Just having fun at work and enjoying what you do.
Greg Tennyson: Yeah, that's an important point. We realized early on that we wanted to be true to our culture, our core values. One of our core values is to have fun. So we leveraged that. And everything that we do around SILLY, the initiative is to have fun and that's evident by Moolah and the videos that we've created. The videos are out on, I believe it's called Vimeo. V-I-M-E-O. If you search on Moolah, you might find some of the hits on the videos we did.
Dawn Tiura: I'm gonna have to do that. Folks, Vimeo. V-I-M-E-O and search for Moolah.
Greg Tennyson: Right. Right.
Dawn Tiura: That's awesome. So you talked also when we last spoke that you're focusing on tail spend, and that's something that is fraught with potential risk because of all the cyber connectivity and things you're not even aware of that could exist in there. How are you tackling this tail spend?
Greg Tennyson: Great question. We are partnering with a company out there, FairMarkIT. They have technology. Today what we do, [is] we give them an extract of our TL spend. They look at it and identify—they cleanse the data, normalize it, and then they identify based on taxonomy that they have potential risk. Or even economies of scale where we could get a better price point.
Greg Tennyson: But to your question, or your comment, from my perspective, it's not about economies of scale driving incremental savings. There are inherent risks in tail spend around engaging AWS, Amazon Web Services, as an example, in what information you're putting out in AWS and having that go, those transactions or that engagement, go below the radar and not get properly vetted. It's not a concern with Amazon Web Services, the underlying technology and their ability to secure that risk. It's more about the information that you're putting out there with a third-party in a cloud or sound space solution and making sure not only the data is encrypted, it's protected at rest, but to make sure that the underlying technology meets the needs of the company and you're protecting data. Because while we're a vision care company, fundamentally, it's about the data that our members, our clients give us and our ability to protect that will determine the long-term success of the company.
Greg Tennyson: You've heard stories about Target, the retail company, and the hacking that went on at Target to secure credit card information. Interesting enough, they went through a HVAC, a heating, ventilating, air conditioning, remote monitoring solution that was set up. And that's how they wormed their way in to get to that data. Personal credit card information has a market value on the black market. Personal health information is exponentially more expensive or more valuable. So protecting PHI, can be and is critical to the lifeblood of a company.
Dawn Tiura: I just think it's scary what they can do with your personal health information if it does get sold on the black market. So, I'm really glad you guys are focusing on that.
Greg Tennyson: The FairMarkIT tool gives you those insights to make sure those low dollar value transactions, which historically aren't given the light of day, that you have visibility to what's going on by GL account, by transaction description, the relationship, the supplier classification, UNSPFC, ASCII coding assigned to the supplier, the merchant code level detail. It's FairMarkIT that drills into that and identifies actionable insights that you can then make sure that you're not putting information at risk.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah. I think that's fantastic.
Dawn Tiura: So, you've been a lifelong learner. You've gone back. You've got certifications. You've continued to stay fluent and up-to-date with technology, but, a question: So CPO, the title didn't exist 10 years plus from now. It wasn't there. It was always Purchasing or something like that. Do you think we've earned the capital 'C' for CPO or is it still a small 'C'?
Greg Tennyson: Great question. It depends. I would say what industry you're in. The culture of the company and I would say in most cases it's probably a small 'C', lowercase 'C' but again, it really depends on the individual who's playing the role, the company that they work at and the industry that they're in that really in the day determines if it's an uppercase or lowercase 'C'...and the reporting relationship that they have…
Greg Tennyson: To your point, procurement...you can never rest on your laurels. You always have to be challenging and making sure you're adding value back to the organization. And that your skillsets are cutting edge. In my opinion, there's probably six or eight skills that really define the procurement leader. It's their attitude. Do they get to make a difference? So having that positive mental attitude.
Greg Tennyson: The ability to communicate and as you articulated earlier, communication more fundamentally is about listening. Listening, learning and then leading. Being a negotiator, that savvy negotiator, being able to develop business relationships, project management aptitude, being able to analyze the situation to determine cost levers, pricing levers, to get to the best outcome. Being a change management agent, driving change in the organization, being that transformative leader and then, end the day—having integrity, being highly ethical in your role, because you know we are put in situations that may call in to question decisions that are made, relationships that are made and being able to take the high road and not succumb to, let's say, the political pressures that may be presenting itself in the procurement arena.
Dawn Tiura: That's so true. So in the future, if you had to give some advice...let's say someone's listening and they want to become future Greg Tennyson...what would be some advice you'd give them?
Greg Tennyson: Well, not to give you a plug but I'm giving you a plug, Sourcing Industry Group, has a great program, SIG University. I would suggest they invest in SIG U and get certified.
Dawn Tiura: Thank you.
Greg Tennyson: Sure. Great program by the way.
Dawn Tiura: Thank you.
Greg Tennyson: Great learning track, and a great way to create a common knowledge base within a team. But that aside, they have to commit themselves to the profession and always learn. Always really focus on the WIIFM, ‘what's in it for others’, and the literal definition of WIIFM is ‘what's in it for me’, but it's not about me it's about them. So really understanding what's in it for others, understanding who your audience is, what their drivers are, their levers, and really drive the right business outcomes for the organization. It is a commitment to continually learn and be certified, pursue a graduate degree in the field and diversify. You can't become steeped in one area, one category of spend, you have to be more of a generalist. So be committed to being a generalist. Diversify your category experiences and really understand the needs of the business fundamentally.
Dawn Tiura: Great advice. So Greg, I just want to thank you for your time today. I'm gonna have to ask you to come back for a follow-up. I'd love to hear from you in another year or so and hear what's going on. Of course, I'm going to see you I hope, in between then, but...So folks I just want to wrap up today. This is Greg Tennyson, Chief Procurement Officer of Business Transformation at VSP Global, and like I said, this is someone you want to reach out to and make sure you get to know him. Just a fabulous mentor and very helpful, as you can tell from this conversation, and very approachable too. Greg, thank you for your time today.
Greg Tennyson: Dawn, thank you. I really enjoyed it.
Dawn Tiura: Me too. Hopefully I'll be seeing you soon.
Greg Tennyson: Yes, at one of your SIG events coming up.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah. Thank you so much. And folks, with that, this is Dawn Tiura with SIG, signing off. Have a great day. Bye-bye.