Portrait of the criminologist as a procurement consultant

In this short talk, CFO Services' Jean-Marie Bequevort asks Joran Demeersseman about the procurement project he is working on. Joran is a CFO Services project consultant who graduated in September 2017 with a masters degree in Criminology from the University of Ghent.

Currently working as a buyer for a large industrial multinational, Joran shares his early experience in the field, demonstrating how an assignment in procurement is a fantastic option for young graduates looking for a varied and exciting role.


Interview by Jean-Marie Bequevort, Expert practice leader at CFO Services

Why did you choose consulting to start your career?
Joran Demeersseman: 'My brother in law is a business engineer, but he started his career in consulting. He was my first contact with the world of consultancy. We talked a lot about his job. Despite my choice for criminology, I always had a certain interest in economics and the world of business. The thing is that I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. Starting out as a consultant gave me the opportunity to discover various fields of work that might interest me. Consultancy is a job with a lot of variation, which is something I especially looked for in my career.'

Transferable skills from a Criminology degree

Are there certain skills or competencies from your criminology background that you think are useful in your job as a business consultant?
Joran Demeersseman: 'During my education, we had a lot of courses that involved academic research into criminological and sociological subjects. In hindsight, I can see these cases were a good way to sharpen my project management skills. In the end these research cases were small projects that we had execute by setting milestones and developing methodologies to deliver an end product within the deadline that was set out. Apart from that, these exercises greatly enhanced teamwork, something I still enjoy to this day. I also learned there is most probably more than one solution to a problem. When searching for ways to deal with setbacks, I learned to look at problems from different angles to avoid getting stuck in tunnel vision. I think this particular skill will come in handy in later phases.'

Interesting. What was your first year like?
Joran Demeersseman: 'It has certainly been a great adventure. I started out doing some internal research and by the end of my first month I was in the running for three projects. My manager suggested I take the project in procurement, and I’m glad I did. The first couple of months were a bit difficult. The introductory Young Hub program was scheduled 6 months after I started my project and I had no economic background at all. As time progressed, I grew more confident and learned a lot. The training I received from TriFinance was very helpful.  I also got a lot of support on the job from my colleague who had also worked at TriFinance as a consultant. I still have a lot to learn, but knowing there is always someone to fall back on at the project as well as at TriFinance in case I need support makes me confident about furthering my career in procurement.'

Managing 28 different projects

Can you tell us a little bit more about your project? What do you like especially in that assignment?
Joran Demeersseman:'To be honest, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. I knew that I was going to work in procurement for a large industrial company with a focus on indirect expenditures. In other words, everything except raw materials. My manager told me the role is important and has a measurable impact. He also mentioned it was a strategic position, which means I was supposed to calculate the impact of the investments we were going to make and negotiate with suppliers to get better pricing. Other than that, I didn’t really know what to expect from this project.

'I remember starting out with a small case, just for practice. Soon I was given the chance to finish the negotiations for the purchase of lab equipment my colleague had prepared. After that I was gradually given more freedom and responsibilities and by now I manage a couple of projects of my own.

'One of the things I like most in procurement is the great variety. I have recently handled a large damage claim for my customer and now I’m organizing the catering for a company event. In total, I’m managing 28 different projects at the moment. Luckily not all projects are as big as the two I mentioned earlier. I must admit, though, that I like the big projects the most: projects that span several months and where you go through all the different steps of the process. Being able to bring them to a good end really gives you a great sense of satisfaction. Also, the internal clients that ask for assistance in purchasing equipment for them are generally very grateful.'

The fun of price negotiation

In your role as buyer, what are the different steps of the process and who are your main internal clients?
Joran Demeersseman: 'The process differs from request to request. In general, there are a few different steps to follow. If we were to buy a reactor to increase production, for instance, we first do market research. For big projects, I contact four to six suppliers to ask for quotes. That way, we can get a view on the going market prices and we quickly see which suppliers are overpriced.  But Pricing is not the only parameter to take into account. Quality is always a thing we have to guarantee. Most of the time, we end up with three suppliers we have good experiences with. This can be on our site, but also on other sites throughout Europe. I always contact the buyers from other sites to see if they have information on a certain supplier. After that we continue with the remaining suppliers. Then we negotiate the prices. This is really the fun part of the job.  You can use various strategies. It’s a bit like playing poker actually. When the final offers are in, the internal client still needs to agree with the proposal but they generally follow our advice.

'Some projects also require us to calculate the impact of the investment. Here we calculate future and present values of cash-flows to see if the investment is beneficial. This is the most difficult part for me, but it's a great exercise. My colleague always gives me a push in the right direction, and it’s very rewarding when I can bring it to a good end. Most of my internal clients are people from the lab department or maintenance. For very big projects we work closely together with engineering as well.'

Sounds a great mix of business, negotiation, and analytics in one role! - What’s next on your journey?
Joran Demeersseman: 'I got into procurement a bit by chance, but it’s something that I ended up being really passionate about. I have recently accepted an extension of the contract at my current customer because I think I can still learn a lot about the discipline. I’d like to continue down this path and see the bigger picture.Sharpening my skills and continuing to learn how strategies and processes are set up, I’ll be able to fulfil the ambition I had starting out as consultant: becoming a manager before I turn thirty.'
 

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