Interview With Former ISM President Robert A. Kemp, Ph.D., C.P.M.

PurchTips edition #30


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This PurchTips features an advice-filled interview with Robert A. Kemp, Ph.D., C.P.M. Dr. Kemp is President of Kemp Enterprises. Prior to starting this business in 1995, he was a Professor of Management and Chair of the Management Department at Drake University. Dr. Kemp served as President of the Institute for Supply Management, formerly National Association of Purchasing Management, in 1997-98. His article, "Is Your Education Insufficient, Obsolete, or Both?" was published in the May 2003 edition of Inside Supply Management magazine. This interview expands on the topics discussed in that article.

NLP: Why is it important for purchasing professionals to continually develop their skills?

RAK: Our profession of purchasing and supply management is changing every day-more involvement in organizational strategies and operations, increased electronic business processes, more global operations, earlier involvement in design, engineering and operations, more involvement in cost management and calculations of what things should cost and certainly we are expected to know and manage our supply chains better. As our organizations strive to create increased value for our customers, supply managers have to be better. You get better every day by doing something to expand your education or professional development. Those education efforts lead to improved skills!

NLP: If an individual feels secure in her current job, should she bother with developing her skills?

RAK: I know people like this and I think that they are totally wrong. Unfortunately, there are lots of people looking for new jobs today that used to coast along feeling happy and secure in a job which is now gone. Now they are tagged as unemployed and as having been in a dead-end job. Even worse, they are poorly trained to step into a better job. It is truly unfortunate that they let all those education and professional development activities slip past them over the years.

In today's economic and competitive world, current job security is wishful thinking. Even if they are in a dead-end job or about to retire, I think that people should want to be better. If there is such a thing as real job security, a person develops it by making herself/himself so important to the organization that no one would ever think of trying to run that place without him or her. You develop that unique importance by being smarter and more proficient than anyone else.

I can tell you from years and years of experience that the older one gets the smarter you need and want to be!

NLP: What advice do you have for purchasing professionals who feel they don't have time for professional development?

RAK: Today many of us are busier than ever before because we are trying to do more and more with antiquated processes, obsolete technology and outdated operational policies and procedures. We have to get smarter to understand that there can be a better way. This makes education and professional development even more important. My advice to supply management professionals who believe that they are too busy for education professional development is threefold.

First, the situation will not get better-indeed, I believe that it is only by education and professional development that you can get command of the situation and make it better. We must get control of the situation by time management and make time available for education. Sufficient time is just a matter of managing priorities.

Second, the world of education and professional development is changing rapidly. In the old days we had to spend "seat-time" with a professor or speaker to learn something. That is no longer true. Universities, colleges and our professional development organizations have all changed. Education is available online 24/7/365 and it's more available at your site on your time than ever before. My grandmother used to tell my brothers and me, "You can't have your cake and eat it too!" But I do know that you can work like the devil and have a meaningful daily educational experience too! By being creative in program development, you can have team training in your office every day. By doing it online, you can make the program work from almost anywhere on earth.

Third, our universities, colleges, community colleges and our professional development organizations have made all sorts of programs available on multi-media. From activity based costing, to leadership or time management to Zero-based budgeting, it is all out there. Most professional organizations, including ISM publish indexes of universities and college program as well as their own programs. The programs are right at hand-finding them cannot be a copout.

NLP: What advice do you have for purchasing professionals whose organizations refuse to fund training?

RAK: I feel sorry for individuals that work in companies that refuse to fund training and professional development at least on some cost-sharing basis. It seems to me that not supporting education and professional development is extremely shortsighted leadership. How does the company expect to get better?

On the other hand, back in the 1950's when my bosses told me. "Get an undergraduate degree or else!" They didn't pay for all of it! They didn't make any duty time available either. It took ten years and I studied on five continents, but I amassed credits for two undergraduate degrees along with an academic record that led them to send me to graduate school for two years. Revenge can be so sweet!

My final piece of advice here may sound tough, but it is important. Whose career is at stake here, yours or the shortsighted boss?

Ultimately, your education and professional development is your responsibility. It helps everybody, but it is yours to keep, take with you and enjoy. Get your priorities straight, get involved in education and professional development, learn how to write a great resume and find a company or organization that wants, appreciates and rewards smarter people.

Thomas A. Edison, the genius designer from the early 1900s once said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." My final advice is to get past the inspiration and get started on the perspiration!

NLP: Should a professional need to seek education and professional development?

RAK: Absolutely! I believe that persons claiming to be professionals have an ethical responsibility to complete additional education and professional development in their field. To be a profession, an occupational field must have a reasonably defined common body of knowledge, a recognized organization or organizations conducting research to lead and expand the body of knowledge and meaningful certification or licensing procedures. In purchasing and supply management we have several organizations leading our profession. ISM is by far the biggest, but others exist here and internationally with continuing education programs, testing and certification programs along with sponsored research programs dedicated to expanding the supply management profession.

Many professions have licensing and have legal requirements for continuing education. I am thankful that we do not have some sort of a legal requirement administered by the states or some other quasi-official body. Not having a legal requirement puts the burden squarely on each of us and makes continuing education and professional development our individual responsibility.

If we claim to be professionals, we have an obligation to be the best that we can be for those that use our services and advice. Continuing education and professional development offers us the opportunity to be smarter year over year. We should have our individual education objectives and achieve them with or without company support.

Thank you, Dr. Kemp! Next Level Purchasing, Inc. is honored to have the opportunity to share Dr. Kemp's valuable insights with members of the FREE Purchasing Resources Program.

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