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Who wants to report to the CEO?

May 12, 2016

“Why not be the CEO?’

The mood at this week’s IACCM Europe Conference was optimistic – at times one might almost say euphoric – as delegates explored the changes and opportunities that lie ahead. The theme of the event was ‘transformation’, exploring the impacts of digitization and the dramatic shifts that are implied for contract managers, commercial managers, procurement and legal.

Among the many quotes (and I will share more over coming days), one came during an executive workshop on ‘Accountability & Leadership’. We were discussing the findings of IACCM’s recent ‘Future of Contracting’ study, which reveals a widespread belief that within 5 years, many commercial and contract management groups will report direct to the CEO (shifting most notably away from reporting to the General Counsel or Chief Financial Officer). There are many reasons for this, but among them are the fact that commercial policies and practices must be functionally independent and the belief that, increasingly, contracts and commercial must be at the heart of business integrity, operating almost as a ‘conscience’ for the organization in its trading relationships.

As the conversation began, one delegate immediately challenged the idea that reporting should be to the CEO and said: “Why not be the CEO?” Conversation then turned to the question of how many of today’s CEOs have benefitted from a contracts or commercial background, or experience in this role. The number of examples that arose would surprise many, but clearly it is not a high percentage. However, how realistic is this suggestion?

There is no question that the contract and commercial role (when implemented well) offers critical insights to every part of the business as well as to external stakeholders. An experienced and high-performing contract or commercial manager has to appreciate the full range of stakeholder interests, the opportunities and the risks they create, and how they might be reconciled. In that sense, it can indeed offer an excellent grounding for today’s CEO, dealing with fast-moving, often conflicting trends and views. But today, many would suggest that commercial teams are too strongly focused on identifying problems and lack the optimism and creativity needed to lead a business. It is a fair criticism – but the spirit that was evident in Rome this week suggests that is increasingly an issue of the past.

Delegates recognized that the digital age provides opportunities to embed advanced commercial and contract capabilities within their organizations and to achieve this not through traditional ‘review and approval’ techniques, but through enabling and empowerment. By focusing on users, the function will steadily transform the business with high-performing, high-integrity trading relationships – and it is this that will turn contracts and commercial practitioners into the CEOs of the future.

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