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08/07/2010

Professional Buyers

In times of economic upswing and recovery, the procurement of goods is becoming even more important. But there is often a shortage of qualified junior buyers.

By Eli Hamacher

It was actually by chance that Josip Tomasevic started his career. Having completed his studies, the mechanical engineer started to work for a producer of prefab houses. When his boss had no longer the time to handle purchasing, he assigned that job to Tomasevic. "Appetite comes with eating", the native Croatian remembers well. His job was extremely diversified because of his contacts with numerous in-house departments but also with the company's worldwide suppliers. "Every day is different." In his early thirties, Tomasevic became head of Central Procurement at the Maschinenbauer Gildemeister where he was responsible for a staff of 76. Four years later, Claas, the specialist and worldwide leader in agricultural machinery hired Tomasevic as the head of Corporate Purchasing in Harsewinkel where, after Claas had taken over a tractor manufacturer, Tomasevic was to combine, inter alia, the two purchasing organizations. In contrast to the conditions at many other medium-sized companies, the purchasing department at Claas had already been well set up. But it is generally true that the smaller the company the worse its purchasing department. "Up to sales figures of € 100 million, very few companies are able to successfully set up this area efficiently ", says Thorsten Makowski, member of the management board of the Berlin-based purchasing consultancy Valueneer. In a recently conducted study by his consultancy, only 39 percent of the interviewed purchasing managers indicated that they had the optimum number of employees.

Lack of esteem
About one third of them had open positions in their purchasing departments for which no sufficiently qualified staff could be found. "It used to be that those not wanting a career went into purchasing. And those who wanted to end their career also went into purchasing", says Gerd Kerkhoff, Managing Director of Kerkhoff Consulting GmbH. He also knows that there are hardly any faculties which would train industrial buyers. Reason for the low esteem would be that many companies disparage their purchasing as a mere procurement department. Especially in the crisis, companies will thus give away important chances. "Purchasing is the most valuable cost leverage because there is no other way to realize savings faster", as the consultant Gerd Kerkhoff knows. So it will become ever more important for companies to efficiently set up their purchasing departments and hire top people for them. "The demand for qualified buyers steadily increased in recent years; qualified recruits are scarce. When the economy picks up momentum again, we will urgently need the specialized know-how of buyers with top training", says Holger Hildebrandt, General Manager of the Bundesverband Materialwirtschaft, Einkauf und Logistik (BME – Federal Association of Materials Management, Purchasing and Logistics), who advocates that, as is the case already for sales and marketing, more colleges should firmly establish the subject of purchasing in their curricula. At least, the training deficiency has one benefit: "Good people can make a career relatively fast", as Tomasevic knows from experience.

When WMF, the internationally active seller of coffee machines, kitchen utensils and cutlery, is looking for buyers, there are primarily two qualifications required: Purchasing and product competence. "The particular industrial sector plays no major role. It is especially important that a buyer has excellent know-how in purchasing and knows well the relevant product groups and thus knows all about the pertinent markets and suppliers", says Markus Frank who, as Director Corporate Purchasing at WMF, keeps a close watch on when and from whom orders are made and at which terms and conditions. Most of the time, buyers come to the company with a degree in business management or economics and they already specialized during their college period. Also indispensable are excellent dedication, great flexibility and communication skills. To help promote employees to change from order processing clerks to professional buyers, the company regularly organizes team trainings and coaching as well. In addition to technical know-how, they will especially need communicative skills. Frank: "Communication is a major driver for success." Things will not go well if, for instance, the development department does not understand what purchasing is doing or how that department works. "Regarding new invitations to tender, the purchasing and technical departments must collaborate already very early on in the process", Kerkhoff is convinced. That's why buyers should already have a good basic understanding of the goods to be procured.

Talented communicators wanted
For 25 years now, Georg Sasse has been Strategic Purchasing Manager at Maschinenfabrik Bernard Krone. When hiring someone new, one of his standard questions will be where the candidate feels he is positioned vis-à-vis the supplier. "If the candidate considers himself stronger, he is not a good team player and will thus be unsuitable", says Sasse. Important would be that both sides negotiate at eye level. Meanwhile, many companies have set up elaborate continuing education programs – for good reasons. Sasse: "Purchasing will greatly increase in importance yet because, with core competences being outsourced, companies will be doing a lot of additional buying."