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Helen Mackenzie

Helen Mackenzie: An Odyssey of Excellence

Effective people and leaders tend to have a degree of self-awareness – the ability to acknowledge and understand the things that make you who you are. They’re in tune with their beliefs, personality traits, values and emotions.

Individuals with strong self-awareness understand how their actions impact those around them and proactively take responsibility for said actions.

Procurement professionals are able to shift out of tactical mode to start thinking—and strategically. Strategic thinking involves stepping back to consider the bigger picture rather than focusing solely on the immediate problems at hand. Standing out with the attributes is Helen Mackenzie, Head of Community Outreach at Art of Procurement.

In an interview with Insights Success, Helen shares valuable facts highlighting her professional tenure and the journey in the niche.

Below are the excerpts from the interview:

Briefly describe your professional journey up until now. What challenges did you face along the way?

Like many people in procurement, I didn’t start there. Procurement found me. After university, I trained as an accountant working in local government. I then had a brief spell in policy and corporate governance roles before heading back to financial services for a senior leadership position.

It wasn’t until 2010, when I was given the lead for procurement covering while a colleague was unwell, that I discovered procurement and fell in love. And once I’d found procurement, there was no way I was going to let procurement get away from me, and my love affair began.

The challenge for me at that point was getting up to speed with what good procurement looked like. I didn’t want things to be ok; I wanted them to be great! I wanted to transform the team that I was leading so they could deliver an ambitious procurement vision.

We also needed to develop influence within an organisation that didn’t understand the value that great procurement could bring to them. So, it wasn’t just about what we did. It was about how people saw us. That’s a challenge that I think is common to many leaders in procurement – we get the role, we understand the value we can bring to the business, and then we need to inspire the team to step up, engage with our stakeholders and deliver.

What significant impact have you brought to the procurement industry?

During my time as a CPO, I was able to drive forward change both within my own organisation and across the public sector in Scotland. I was part of a cohort of leaders in Scotland that had a vision for where procurement could be – a vision for how procurement could achieve policy objectives, could contribute to the economy and well-being and deliver significant value to the Scottish taxpayer.

And we were successful! Procurement has and continues to make an impact in Scotland, and that is testimony to the group of leaders that I was privileged to be part of. The other contribution that I’m very proud of was a project where my team and I pioneered an innovative approach to enabling citizens to participate in the procurement process.

We put the community in the driving seat throughout the process of putting contracts in place for public transport, involving them in sourcing, supplier selection and contract management. It was one of the first times this process had been tried, and we received international recognition for our work.

Tell us about your company and its foundation pillar.

I’m currently part of the team at Art of Procurement. AOP is proud to host the world’s longest-running podcast in the procurement space. In fact, we just achieved 1 million downloads for the podcast in March 2023.

We also create content for the procurement community through digital events like webinars and written content like white papers. It’s content that’s designed to inspire and inform procurement leaders so they can take action to move things forward, add value and make an impact.

How does your company promote workforce flexibility, and what is your role in it?

Art of Procurement is a small and fully remote business. My colleagues are based in different parts of the United States, and I’m based in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland over here in the UK. So, flexibility is key.

Through our content, we’re continually communicating ideas and themes relating to the procurement workforce. We recognise that we’re entering a period when procurement teams may need to change to be more flexible so they can respond more effectively to the needs of the business.

A lot of our content is aimed at introducing and exploring ideas around workforce flexibility and supporting procurement leaders as they navigate that landscape and develop responses that work for them and their teams.

What is your take on technology’s importance, and how are you leveraging it?

Technology is becoming a must-have aspect of procurement. OK, we’ve had eProcurement systems in the past, and we’ve had sourcing platforms, but now the landscape of procure tech is extensive; it’s not just in these lanes. I saw a diagram the other week that documented a huge number of procure tech providers, so technology is right at the heart of delivering procurement these days.

CPOs need to be able to leverage procure tech to create value, and one of the things that we do at Art of Procurement is to explore, through our content, how tech can support procurement. In fact, we have an annual event dedicated to the topic called Digital Outcomes – that’s how important we think it is.

What will be the next significant change in the procurement industry, and how are you preparing for it?

I delivered a presentation earlier in the year at a procurement conference where I made the case that procurement is in its adapt-or-die moment – imagine that! I think the next significant change for us is already here. As I said earlier – technology, new business models and the emerging talent landscape for procurement mean that change is coming whether we like it or not.

We need to be on the front foot to respond to that change proactively so that procurement is setting the agenda, not being driven by objectives set by someone else. The best way for procurement leaders to prepare is to understand what’s out there, think about it in the context of their team and have an opinion on the best way forward and the best business model for the best technology to be deployed. And then take action!

What are your goals in the upcoming future?

My goal for the coming year is to develop my role as the lead for community outreach here at Art of Procurement – getting more experience of podcasting and hosting sessions at our events and discovering more people who, like me, are crazy in love with procurement!

What advice would you like to give the next generation of aspiring business leaders?

Think! Change is coming, and you need to keep abreast of it. Consume content – whether it’s reading, attending webinars, or listening to podcasts, you need to know what’s coming, and, if you are an aspiring business leader, that’s even more important now.

But it’s not good enough just to consume content; you need a viewpoint on what’s ahead. I think those business leaders who have ideas, who are prepared to articulate them and who are prepared to take a risk to drive change are the ones who will prevail.

If I’d been nervous about my vision for procurement when I became a CPO, if I’d been hesitant about trying to drive the change I knew needed to happen because I thought it might not be right or I didn’t have all the information or the idea I’d had might not work, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the results that I have in my career. And I wouldn’t now be my dream job at Art of Procurement supporting the procurement community at this exciting time.