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The Big Interview with Tchiya Makasa

Tchiya Makasa is Associate Director at CBRE Global Workplace Solutions (GWS) a division of CBRE uniquely positioned to provide a complete set of services to corporate occupiers of commercial real estate across EMEA.

She spoke with Chizoba Uzuegbunam about her career and what element of procurement she is most passionate about.

How did you get into procurement?

My background was in tourism and I went into events management for an outsourced facility before I started working as a Procurement Specialist at Pitney Bowes, basically raising purchase orders. 

I was bored after a month and decided to resign, but my then Director saw my potential and asked me to join the commodities team. I stumbled into procurement and haven’t changed careers since!

What are you most passionate about when it comes to procurement?

I love carrying out forensic analysis on spend, when I have data and can do analysis, it gives me the facts and helps me know what I can and cannot do – for me, that is where the passion is. 

I like the insight I can get from the data and how I can use that; facts make it much easier to explain to stakeholders.

What do you think are the key focus areas in procurement at the moment?

Right now it is around risk mitigation.  I think Covid-19 has highlighted the risks that exist with products and services, so we have to focus on ensuring that any initiatives we are taking or negotiations we are entering with service providers that we address that risk. 

That is the key area that any procurement professional should be focussing on right now, understanding if they have a disaster recovery plan and if they can deliver – and the impact of not being able to deliver. 

There are strong negotiations coming up as everyone is going to be very risk-averse and that is something we have to take into consideration.

Where do you see sustainability as a procurement responsibility?

I think every respectable company needs to have a sustainability policy to make sure we are looking after our planet. Companies need to communicate their sustainability policies and ensure that any supplier they engage with has a sustainability policy. 

We saw in the first lockdown that the environment could be a better place and that we need to look after it. Sustainability is one thing that procurement can mandate. If companies don’t have a sustainability policy, they should sign up to  commit=that they will work to promote sustainability and that they will include it not only in their supply chain but how they do business as well. 

Tell us about your biggest achievement in your procurement career.

The major one is when I began my career and one of the category specialists had resigned and there was a project that had to be delivered around logistics. My Director asked me to conduct a logistics tender, which I had no prior knowledge of.   

I had to do a lot of research, get a lot of advice from my colleagues and talk to my stakeholders. I was completely honest with them that this was new to me. 

Negotiating was quite hard, but I had a great team and all-in-all we ended up delivering c. $12million of savings, which was huge.  I exceeded my own expectations and was elated.   

I think the other achievement for me was that when I joined CBRE, I had no previous experience in facilities management procurement, however the interviewer stated I proved I was capable of procuring and more than matched their requirement.

Ever since then I have been able to deliver on the major parts of my objectives, optimising costs and delivering favourable outcomes with great feedback from my stakeholders.

Who has been the most influential on your career and why?

There are two people: one was Ean Matthews at Pitney Bowes, who was Head of Procurement. He allowed me to join the procurement team and was always supportive.  Secondly, Philippe Bigeat, who was then a Commodities Specialist, he mentored me by allowing me to participate in meetings, learning from his category analysis and negotiations tactics. Philippe educated me on procurement and Ean shared his legal expertise with me.

I will never forget their support, they helped me get to where I am today.

What skills do you consider essential to be a procurement leader?

For me, to be a procurement leader you have to be an insightful listener, analytical , forward thinker and be democratic. Then you are able to not only guide but to listen and help colleagues be the best that they can be. An insightful listener listens actively to her or his team before responding. 

What has been the best lesson you have learnt in procurement?

It is that you can’t always win and winning isn’t everything. 

Collaboration is key.

What advice would you give to someone who is embarking in a career in procurement?

To always engage in a collaborative manner. I believe that if you go in with a win-win mindset you will have better outcomes.

What does equality, diversity and inclusion mean to you?

Diversity is about embracing everyone’s differences, acknowledging their value and protecting them from prejudice and discrimination. 

Diversity is not just about being an ethnic minority, a woman or an LGBTQ, it is about everyone, everyone is diverse, everyone has something to bring to the table; that is what equality, diversity and inclusion are all about. 

It is also about getting protection from your company and your managers, making sure no one is discriminating against you and that you are being listened to and being heard.

How important is diversity to you and what value does it bring to the procurement team and wider business?

When embracing diversity, it is about embracing creativity and innovation and an array of views and experiences, which is critical for a business to be successful today. 

Most successful companies employ a diverse workforce, with views coming in from different backgrounds, this, in my opinion, is what contributes in propelling a company forward.

People are looking for companies where they will fit. When I was applying for jobs in the UK I applied to a lot of companies. I had four different offers and one of the things I did was look at their diversity track record.

I read about a time where Pitney Bowes had a sales meeting,  back in the 1940s I believe, somewhere in the USA and they had booked into a particular hotel which would not allow one of the black colleagues to sleep there.  The CEO then decided to move the whole team to a hotel that would accommodate all employees regardless of their racial background.

Even though other offers were more lucrative, I went for Pitney Bowes, a company with a commitment to diversity. 

Has your approach to diversity and inclusion had to change as a result of the pandemic? If so, how?

I think it has just highlighted the benefit of having a diverse workforce. 

We can get solutions and support to address the issues and the pandemic has highlighted this for global companies at least.

I received a lot of support from our diverse workforce in terms of engaging with local suppliers when there was a time when we couldn’t get any products in the UK. We had  had to go outside and for those who understood the local language, it was much easier to have that conversation with the suppliers and get what we needed on time. 

2020 has been very strong in terms of diversity and inclusion. Everyone is driving it, and understands the importance of it, especially in the current climate.

What role does procurement play in Diversity and Inclusion?

There are two things, one is ensuring we have a diverse workforce, within the procurement department and then extending that to our supply partners. 

Multinational organisations and have identified that they need to find suppliers that can ensure diversity, in the UK these are SMEs that are owned 51% by an ethnic minority, women or the LGBTQ community and giving them the opportunity to work with a larger organisation. 

Procurement has a role to play by aligning to diversity goals within their company. It is hard for small businesses to be included within big companies, but that can be achieved, by including them and educating them so that they can thrive.

What keeps you enthused about procurement?

Other than saving money? I think I just love engaging with people from different backgrounds and levels, that is what keeps me enthusiastic. Engaging with people is key for me.

Do you have a personal motto that you live by?

When times are tough, try harder!

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Chizoba Uzuegbunam