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Procurement for the Naturally Curious: An Interview with Autodesk’s Kevin Dowd

Taking inspiration from "Corner Office: conversations about leadership and management" from the New York Times and Inc. Magazine's "The Way I Work", we look forward to featuring Procurement/Supply Chain leaders on this blog series. 


I’m excited to introduce Kevin Dowd, Senior Director of Global Procure to Pay at Autodesk, a prominent Procurement leader in the Bay Area. I have known Kevin for many years as a colleague and a friend and it was a pleasure to trace his professional journey to becoming a Procurement leader.


Vital Stats

Location: San Rafael, CA

Current Role: Responsible for global purchasing, Accounts Payable, and the Employee Expense program

Current mobile devices: iPhone

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Trip Advisor, Golf Shot GPS, Vivino

What are you currently reading?  Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em : A Guide to Getting Good People to Stay


Q: Could you tell me about your background? What influenced you early in your career?

A: I grew up in the Bay Area, in Larkspur. I received a BA in Business Management from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. I also received a Masters in Finance from GGU three years later. I was active in sports throughout my childhood and still am, but at a slower pace.  I’ve been in the Bay Area my entire life except for two significant stints – four years in San Diego for surfing and junior college and one year in Guatemala, Central America where I worked at an orphanage. It was a transforming experience.


Q: How did you get interested in Procurement?

A: I started at PG&E in a clerical role in 1981 before graduating from college.. There I met people in Procurement and interviewed for an entry-level purchasing manager position. I ended up spending 23 years at PG&E where – for the last 6 years - I led a combined organization of about 150 employees performing procurement, travel, engineering records management, and reprographics services.  Next, I started the Sourcing organization at Blue Shield of California, followed by Kaiser Permanente where I headed Capital and Facilities Purchasing.  I get motivated by identifying areas in need of improvement and by partnering with my team members to make necessary changes.


Q: What do you like about Procurement?

A:  The thing I probably find most attractive about working in Procurement is the fact that it touches literally almost every area of the business. As a result, employees working in procurement have the opportunity to learn a great deal about the company and to influence decisions that impact the company’s financial condition and its ability to compete. 

Procurement employees, unlike employees in many other areas of the business, are also afforded the opportunity to work on many different types of projects and to deal with many different external companies during the course of their careers. 


Q: PG&E, Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente – these are highly regulated industries. How has the compliance climate evolved in the last two decades?

A: Dodd-Frank, SOx, privacy and data protection requirements in the US, and even more so in Europe, have had a dramatic impact. We have very strict controls today and negotiations have become increasingly complex. This makes for an interesting challenge and an opportunity for Procurement leaders to address.

One example is gathering Information Security data from suppliers. We work with our internal Information Security group and our Legal team to make sure that all new services coming inside our firewall clear this hurdle. Aspiring CPOs must be very aware of Information Security and know where to find the experts and to select competent suppliers.


Q: In your current role, how do Information Security and Procurement come together to serve the needs of the business?

A: Through three touch points. I have two attorneys on my team who handle data usage and IP protection; when there are concerns or they get beyond their level of expertise, they involve Legal. In the IT organization, there are a couple of designated resources who administer a high level questionnaire for suppliers. Based on the answers, they may perform a full assessment with over 100 questions.   We jointly work to improve the process and make it more efficient.


Q: How do you see the CPO (Chief Procurement Officer) role evolving?

A: CPO role has become much more strategic. At PG&E we had a $2.7B annual goods and services spend during my tenure, but buying goods and services was simple, relatively speaking.  It has evolved greatly and influences many enterprise decisions. A good CPO previously was someone who was a good people manager, someone who could hire and nurture talent. Today, a good CPO must also know what’s technologically possible. For example, in my current role, I have responsibility for global Procurement and Accounts Payable. I spend 70% of time thinking about AP optimization, outsourcing options, how can we help cash flow, dynamic discounting, cloud solutions vs on-premise software. You need to be much more tech savvy and hire people who are tech savvy. Now you need people who are change agents, not just administratively strong.


Q: Where do you see procurement talent coming from in the future?

A: Universities with supply chain management programs – Michigan State, MIT, Arizona State, and Stanford - are all a good source. Other California options include Cal State East Bay, University of San Diego, and Fresno State.  Supply Chain management curriculum includes demand management, pricing and negotiations, and a number of other supply chain related courses.   I’ve hired about 15 new graduates from Supply Chain programs over the years and most have stayed in the profession and done well.  Another good source is law schools.  I’ve found that a blend of Legal and Supply Chain minded people works very well.


Q: What abilities do you look for in senior Procurement leaders?

A: It depends on whether the hire is an individual contributor or a manager. For individual contributors, I often look for strong industry background. As just one example, I recently  hired a person with a very strong Telco background, but no purchasing experience – we taught her strategic sourcing and other purchasing related skills and she was very successful.  That said, I consider good procurement/sourcing people to be fairly fungible, meaning the skill set they have typically transfers across categories.  For senior managers, I look for strategic sourcing experience plus a demonstrated ability to identify improvement opportunities and to drive change. I want people who are who get things done and who can influence senior stakeholders by understanding the business and being well prepared.

I think it’s also imperative for those managing others to have a strong understanding of contractual terms and conditions.


Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I look for excellent communication and interpersonal skills. I suppose you could call it a “no big egos and no jerks” policy.


Q: What advice would you give to aspiring Procurement leaders?

A: Begin by becoming an expert in sourcing and procurement. There are many strategic sourcing methodologies taught, but almost all of them include the same basic steps.  Learn them and practice them. Secondly, understand contract language.  Attend ICN or ISM contracting classes and learn what the terms and conditions mean and how they work together.  Work hard, harder than your peers, and take time to build relationships and to understand in sufficient detail the needs of the departments you support. 


Thank you Kevin, for sharing your insights and passion for Procurement! 

Readers - Share your thoughts and questions for Kevin in the comments below!

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