The Path To Becoming A CPO, Part I

The most recent Next Level Purchasing annual survey of over 1,900 procurement professionals revealed some fascinating results on many topics. One of those topics was the college education and procurement experience required to get to the chief procurement officer level of an organization.

We categorized our research according to five levels on the procurement chain of command: junior buyer, buyer, procurement manager, procurement director, and CPO/Procurement Vice President.

First, let’s explore how important a master’s degree appears to be as one ascends through the procurement chain of command. Here are the percentages of individuals who have a master’s degree for the first four levels:

Junior Buyer – 12%
Buyer – 17%
Procurement Manager – 34%
Procurement Director – 47%

Second, let’s explore how important procurement experience is for rising through the ranks. Here are the average years of procurement experience for each of the first four levels:

Junior Buyer – 3.8
Buyer – 7.5
Procurement Manager – 9.8
Procurement Director – 13.0

So, what percentage of CPO’s/Procurement VP’s have master’s degrees? And how many years of procurement experiences does the average CPO/Procurement VP have?

You probably are thinking that the pattern that you just saw would be followed with the CPO/Procurement VP position having a higher percentage of master’s degree holders than any of the other levels. And you probably think that the average CPO/Procurement VP has more years of procurement experience than the other levels.

And you’d be wrong.

Only 27% of CPO’s/Procurement VP’s have master’s degrees. And the average CPO/Procurement VP has only 9.7 years of procurement experience. In both cases, these are lower numbers than not only the procurement director level, but also the procurement manager level!

You might be thinking: are these findings counterintuitive? Well, we were a little surprised by these results at first blush, too.

But as we digested the results and shared them with experts in the field, we found very little surprise among those experts, including CPO’s themselves. While “paper qualifications” mean quite a lot in terms of promotability up to and through middle management, they mean less when you get to the point of reporting directly to the CEO.

What does matter when rising to the CPO level?

Transformational leadership skills do. Transformational leadership skills translate to the ability to drive change and improvements throughout an organization in the face of challenges. Transformational leadership skills are arguably the #1 career accelerator for getting to the C-level.

That’s not to say that other qualifications aren’t important. They are. And that’s not to say that you can skip four levels in the organization overnight if you simply have leadership skills. You can’t.

But what these results are saying is that transformational leadership skills can get you to higher levels faster than other qualifications.

Stay tuned for Part II, which shares our analysis of the most highly publicized CPO hirings of the past few years.

2 Responses to The Path To Becoming A CPO, Part I

  1. Fascinating! However, it really makes sense when you think about it.

  2. Interesting findings…however the findings do not reflect the reality of ALL industries. As we know, the role of Procurement is significantly different by industry and CPO profiles tend to reflect that difference. A study by industry would potentially lead to more useful findings.

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