15/02 2021 // International
Interview: "Success is a question of attitude"
As a former board member and chairman of the BME, Horst Wiedmann has helped to shape the procurement association for many years. In an interview with the career portal BME-JobSource, the 62-year-old procurement manager explains how the job profile has changed and what excites him about the young procurement generation.
Mr. Wiedmann, you began your career in September 1972 with training as an industrial clerk at Fichtel und Sachs AG in Schweinfurt. After completing your training, you joined the procurement department. There you were responsible for purchasing production materials for various product groups, including stamped and drawn parts, cold-formed parts and plastic parts. What did you learn there as a newcomer that is still relevant to your day-to-day work?
Horst Wiedmann: Even as an apprentice, I learned that more commitment makes you stand out from the crowd. If you only do your job, you remain unseen. So right from the start, I sought more responsibility than I was given and made an effort to think outside the box. Among other things, I always submitted many and usually successfully implemented suggestions for improvement to the company suggestion scheme - until I came to the attention of the Board of Management as a result. It wasn't long before I was promoted to group leader.
You were just 17 years old after completing your training. That time was characterized by local purchasing and classic, hierarchical structures. When you look back today, how has the industry and in particular the job description of purchasing and supply chain management changed?
Today, we are much more team- and project-oriented. The manager has much more the role of a strategically controlling moderator than in the past. Back then, the boss's order was not to be discussed - today, we generate optimized approaches by discussing the order and its fulfillment in the team. Not least because our supply chains are global and we have to operate in this worldwide network, in many cases digitally. However, the Corona crisis in particular proves that we have taken "global sourcing" too far. The risks associated with low-cost country sourcing across continents are currently being keenly felt. I believe that after Corona we will change our sourcing and supply chain strategies. How? Towards "GloKALization - the localization of the global." A bit like before.
According to the premise "Only change is the constant" How have the requirements for buyers changed over the course of your career?
The requirements have not only changed. There has been a complete paradigm and role shift of purchasing to a more strategic business partner at eye level. Purchasing has changed from being an order processor to a strategic value-added partner. Today, automated procurement processes are used to manage "smart supply chains", ensure transparency and efficiency, prevent risks and work in an agile manner. Today, we are network facilitators and innovation managers. We have to pay much more attention to strategic aspects and forward planning.
If we change the perspective and look at the suppliers. Have the requirements changed there as well? How does supplier management differ from then to now?
Sure, quite massively. Today, contracts are awarded by a cross-functional team after an international comparison of bid prices according to TCO criteria. There is no longer an uncoordinated, automatic decision in favor of the supplier who "has always supplied the parts". This is especially tough for smaller, non-global suppliers. And if you ask me about the role of supplier management - actually, it didn't exist back then. That was the responsibility of a squad in the quality area that took care of supplier quality. Today, quality and delivery service are taken for granted. Supplier management has a much stronger role in preventing quality, delivery and financial risks. In the event of environmental disasters, supplier management is the rapid reaction force. Especially recently, supplier management has been given another important task: to ensure sustainability in the supply chain and to identify necessary changes in the purchasing strategy towards "zero emissions".
Is there also something that has not changed at all? For example, which key competencies are still relevant today?
I believe that it is still essential to see the supplier as a long-term partner. There are always moments when not only the supplier depends on the customer, but also the customer depends on the supplier and needs the supplier's support. Social competence is therefore as relevant today as it was in the past. Of course, one must perceive one's position, i.e. that of one's company - but with respect, appreciation and recognition towards the partner.
Were there political or historical conditions that influenced the profession? I'm thinking here of the European Union or trade wars, for example. Which period was the most difficult?
You know, there have always been difficult times and economic crises, of course. But I take my cue from Chinese. There, the same character is used for "crisis" and "opportunity. Challenges make you grow - and sometimes, like today in the Corona crisis, the growth potential is greater.
What experience did you learn the most from as a young professional? Was there ever a misstep?
I was a young buyer in a project with a top management focus. I had to represent the product group of fine blanked parts. I had to deal with all the welding technologies available on the market. Although I had nothing to do with these technologies at the time, I virtually trained myself to become a welding expert. It was all about hardening depths, flatness and parallelism. For this project, I went into enormous depth, both technologically and commercially. So deeply, in fact, that I was able to discuss the matter with developers, production specialists and top management at eye level and assert myself. This intensive involvement with a topic and the resulting success was one of my most important experiences. And I still keep it that way today.
What made the world of purchasing not just a job for you, but a calling?
What is the difference between a profession and a vocation - I believe that a profession becomes a vocation when you enjoy what you do and are committed to it. So what you like to do, you do with joy, you don't feel it as a burden. So you do it frequently and intensively and don't let occasional failures put you off, but use them to learn how to do it better - then it's fun. This way, in the long run, you will successfully do what you like to do. This success in turn brings recognition. Success and recognition in turn make you happy. Being happy with what you do turns your job into a vocation. Basically, it's very simple. Provided that one does what one likes to do with commitment!
Is there anything you would like to see in a buyer's profession?
The world is undergoing digital and radical change, and we need to actively shape this change together. Purchasing and supply chain management as we know them today are outdated models. My wish is that in the future, as a network facilitator and innovation manager, the purchaser will be able to pay much greater attention to strategic aspects and advance planning and become a more strategic value creation partner in the company.
Mr. Wiedmann, international experience is one of the common requirements for newcomers in procurement. You have managed many international projects during your career. What valuable experience and insights did you gain there? Which of these do you see as essential with regard to the requirements for the junior buyers of tomorrow?
I think all too often international experience is confused with intercultural competence. Our supply chains are global and we need to be able to work in a worldwide network. To do this, it is important to understand how colleagues from other countries and cultures think and act. This can be learned through international assignments, or through international projects. But the important thing is intercultural competence. I was able to learn that hierarchical position has a completely different meaning in Asia than in Europe or America. In Korea, for example, I called in the high-ranking general manager of our Korean plants, who was not a specialist, to conclude a critical negotiation that my team had prepared - on a hierarchical level with the company owner.
What was the most challenging purchasing project you worked on?
I was lucky enough to experience and manage many challenging purchasing projects. Setting up plants in the USA, post-merger integrations of Boge and TRW Automotive, and corporate reorganizations. I also have fond memories of TAKE 5, a program to reduce purchasing prices by five percent. At that time, the usual rate was -1.5 percent per year. During that time, we pulled out all the stops, which you still know today. Proactive change and communication management, idea management including suppliers, supplier conventions, value chain analyses, 360 degree workshops, etc. - only the tools were called something else back then.
Many young professionals would like to follow in your footsteps and become purchasing managers themselves one day. In three words - what makes a good manager for you?
Motivational skills, entrepreneurship and willingness to change.
Role models and mentors play a crucial role in career orientation. Have you had a mentor yourself?
Be aware of this: The biggest critic is often the best mentor - he reflects to you the points where there is potential for optimization. And I have had many real mentors and critics in my life.
What was the most intelligent sentence a boss said to you?
A human resources executive once said to me: "Mr. Wiedmann, with all the dynamism you display, you also have to turn around once in a while to see if the others can still follow you.
What sentence would you like to pass on to our young professionals?
Networking is as important as performance - engage in networking! The BME, for example, is the ideal platform for this.
What do you hope for from the young generation of managers now coming out of university? What impetus can the young generation provide?
Be the trendsetter and pace-setter when it comes to change. Be the creative and courageous lateral thinkers and rebels. On the one hand, with the right sense for the maximum possible radicality in your own organization. On the other hand, they must actively generate the willingness within the corporate culture to embrace new, unconventional impulses. That's what I'm hoping for.
In the course of your professional life, you have accompanied many young talents. What career tips do you give to young talents?
Always embrace change, stay flexible, bring more commitment than expected, and cultivate your network.
What criteria did you use to select your junior staff?
Willingness to perform, ability to perform, creativity, flexibility and social skills coupled with assertiveness were very important for me, but also voluntary commitment in addition to school and studies.
But also rely on your empathy! In over 1000 job interviews in my professional life, I always knew from my gut after 5 minutes whether a candidate would fit in or not!
With its Young Professionals Initiative, the BME has its own program for promoting young talent with over 1,200 students and young professionals. You yourself are also a BME member and have been active in the association on a voluntary basis for many years. Why should you get involved in the BME as a young professional?
As I said before, networking is as important as performance - network! Likewise, I mentioned that more engagement makes you stand out from the crowd. Volunteering with the BME is the ideal platform for both aspects!
How can the association help young talents with their career planning?
Success is a question of attitude. To make a career, you have to be flexible and perhaps even change your department or even your employer. To do this, you need a network that spans companies and industries. And that is exactly what the BME offers you. Furthermore, you should be prepared to work analogously to the process engineering "pilgrim step method" with forward and backward movements - in other words, to consciously move down one position at times in order to then move up two positions.
Finally, would you choose a career in purchasing again?
I am and was happy with what I did. For me, procurement is and was a vocation, not a profession. In this respect, I decisively say YES, I would choose purchasing again - and for my voluntary commitment to the BME!
We thank you for the interview.