CPO interview: Absa’s Vusi Fele, MCIPS | by Kate Ferreira

vusi fele absaVusi Fele is the chief procurement officer (CPO) for the Absa Group. Having got his start in procurement at the Port Authority of SA back in 1997, and having worked in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), aviation, and mining before turning his hand to finance, Vusi brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the important position, and uses this to advance the role and standing of the procurement function both inside the banking group and in the greater business context.

Positioning is key
Within Absa, procurement is a group function – providing services to the South African business as well as the other ten countries in which Absa operates. He oversees nine direct reports at the director level, and by extension the teams beneath them, which includes functions such as supplier risk management, procurement operations, category management, and supplier diversity.

“We provide thought leadership on procurement and category management,” he explains. “We set out to provide not just core services, but sustainable projects and initiatives, and we demonstrate this to the business through monthly and quarterly reporting, and engaging directly with the exco. This means that within procurement we are helping to guide and direct the company, feeding into strategy, and we engaged at a level whereby the business is aware of what you do, and you're aware of what the business does.”

CPOs strategically aligned
On the latter point, Vusi feels strongly that procurement (and CPOs in particular) need to become more proficient and comfortable with broader business concerns. It is no longer enough to focus just on your sphere. Rather, he says, “business acumen is key for a CPO, as is financial acumen.”

“We,as procurement professionals, have for a long time been calling for a seat at the boardroom table, so we need to see (and show) how we can contribute to the business strategy.”

This is first among his “wish list” for CPO capabilities, along with relationship management, partnering with the business, political savvy (in terms of the organisation and knowing how to drum up support for procurement’s initiatives), and “integrity beyond a shadow of a doubt”.

Not only that, but Vusi calls on his fellow CPOs to become revenue focused, and not “just” cost focused. “CPOs must be problem solvers. We are presented with the opportunity to work in different parts of the business at any given moment, so therefore you must be able to provide solutions and come up with options that will drive the business strategy.”

Focus on categories
Another important area for him is category management (CM). He believes that CPOs and their teams require CM expertise, and by smart use of the entire organisations data (not just of spend but of investment too), the procurement function can prove itself an attractive partner and collaborator for all business departments and divisions.

Contract managment forms part of the overall category management strategy at Absa. “We have pre-contracting, during and post-contracting processes as part of managing supplier contracts and their performance,” Vusi explains. “We also have an assurance team who do field visits to support suppliers. We take cradle to grave approach to ensure the supplier is delivering what they are supposed to be delivering and that they can continuously improve and innovate.”
absa banner2Focus on supplier development
Absa is currently at a level 2 in terms of B-BBEE. One of the ways in which procurement is supporting this is through extensive supplier transformation and development intiatives. There are three pillars to this, Vusi says, including transforming them, helping SMEs find opportunities for growth, and finding and developing new enterprises.

“All in all, we've seen a great change in our supply base, and we are working with all our suppliers on major transformation plans so that they find like for like within their own supplier base.”

Looking forward
In the year ahead, Vusi tells us he and the teams are focused on embracing technology and innovation in procurement for its own sake, as well as being part of Absa’s strategy of being a digitally led bank making data-led decisions.

As a leader in Absa, Vusi is also dedicated to developing the skills of his people, saying “We need to develop the necessary skills not just for where Absa is today, but also where we are going in the future.” Vusi believes that procurement within the finance field is still maturing, compared to some fields such as automative, extractives, FMCG, logistics and transport. “We need to catch up with other industries but we are getting there, which means that the capabilities I was talking about above are important to develop.”

Finally, he says that continued learning is critical, and that he thinks professionals in this space should engage with bodies like the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS), and so on, arguing that the procurement profession and the MCIPS designation should be widely and statutorily recognised as a formalised institution, with a board exam requirement just like chartered accountants, because of the procurement’s considerable impact on the business’s bottom line and incorporated reputational aspects.

The above all fall under the broad umbrella of future-proofing not just the CPO role, but also the function itself – especially in the face of trends and movements such as the “fourth industrial revolution” or 4IR (see also our article on 4IR).

Kate Ferreira is the contributing editor of Bespoke's Bulletin - www.bespoke.co.za 

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Posted on March 14, 2019

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