The RFQ Exclusive: How to advance your procurement career with Frank Cuomo

Ben Winter: Here we have Frank Cuomo, VP of Procurement at Univision. What is your best piece of advice for young procurement professionals who are just starting their careers?

Frank Cuomo: So, the piece of advice I would probably give them, is that you should look for an opportunity, either where a firm is building out a sourcing procurement practice from scratch where you can learn and help build an end to end process from nothing. That's probably the best way to learn because then those are building blocks for your future development and that'll help you along with your career to determine what component of procurement and sourcing that you like. The other option is, if you can't join a firm that is going to build a sourcing procurement practice from scratch, you go to one that has a well established one, who also prides themself at trying to be best in class. Because if you want to learn about procurement, you want to learn what it's like to be best in class or strive for that. Now, many firms say they have best in class, again, that's an interpretation. That's subjective to the person who's overseeing it or who's reviewing it but again, you could learn more from working side by side with someone who is operating a hopefully best in class source to pay process. But again, I personally prefer the option of building something from scratch and taking guidance from people who are best in practice out there in the industry and building something right. The worst case is to take over something that's already in place, disconnected, decentralized, disjointed, and try to connect the dots while trying to fix it and bring it up to the 21st century.

Ben Winter: Absolutely.

Frank Cuomo: So, that would be my advice.

Ben Winter: How can procurement professionals on the job market continue to be successful in their search during these turbulent times?

Frank Cuomo: So, just like anything else out there, whether it's turbulent times or good times, procurement people, there's a small circle of procurement expertise within the marketplace. There's usually one, what I call CPO, there's usually one head of sourcing, one head of operations in each organization, then you have people under them. So it's not like you're hiring an accountant where a firm could have 200 accountants. There's only so many procurement people. So, the best way to have a successful search for a new opportunity is through networking. Sending your resume into a bunch of sites, that's something you have to do. Is it extremely productive in my career? No. You know, 99% of the time no one's even going to look at your resume. It's going to immediately, once it lands in that pile, that electronic digital pile, it makes its way to the bottom.

Frank Cuomo: The best way is networking with people you know. Networking with your key strategic suppliers, because they know whether there are procurement openings in their client base, or whether there's not and they can give you a personal recommendation if your work is solid. So, that's what I recommend, networking through your procurement contacts, your senior finance contacts, and your key strategic supply contacts.

Ben Winter: And I like that advice because it's regardless of whether it's turbulent times or good times. That's the way you should do it, right? Networking is always the best way. Human contact versus just hoping some recruiter looks at your resume and it resonates with them, and then all of a sudden you're in. And that's a great piece of advice.

Frank Cuomo: I've got to tell you, since 2004, every job I've been at, and there have been multiples. Not because of my fault, but because the firm's either getting bought out, or going bankrupt, every position has been made available to me, based on networking.

Ben Winter: How do you identify an area where technology can help transform your procurement process?

Frank Cuomo: So this goes back to my original point of the first question. When they start their career, where do they want to work? So, by me starting off with a firm that had no procurement department, and we were able to build that from scratch, that allowed me throughout the years to use that cookie-cutter template, to define where do you look to take advantage of a digital transformation within the source to pay process? And again, anywhere that there is a lot of manual effort being executed. Internally, with your firm to a supplier, when there's PO execution, or invoice processing coming back, those are ripe areas for digital transformation.

Ben Winter: Interesting.

Frank Cuomo: You want to build an end-to-end sourcing to payment process, that is virtually touchless, including any bidding, including tail spend.

Ben Winter: When you look at those long flowcharts that I've seen you show before, how are you going through those and figuring out, "Hey, I could take this, this portion and probably automate it" or "This has too many human touches." What are you looking for in the, in the data?

Frank Cuomo: So again, you, as a result of our internal and external audit requirements when I first came on board at Univision, but I've done this at every firm but we'll, we'll talk about Univision, my latest pit stop. We built Univision's procurement practice from scratch. And what we did is for every high-level process and subprocess, we built that a Visio workflow, along with a standard operating procedure document. And what we did is, once we did all that, is in, in the last few years, we started looking at those Visio flows and determined, is this manual? Is this systematic?

Frank Cuomo: What is the data source? What are we using to achieve this step or this subfunction within the subprocess? And everywhere where there. Excuse me, everywhere where there was a manual step, we looked at it—can that step be replaced by a systematic solution, using some level of strategy? And, what we have done throughout the last couple of years of this, we put in supplier onboarding, using third party providers, which is somewhat systemic. We put in a working capital program, where we are earning rebates and managing payment terms 90 days out, that's our default, systematically. We deployed our tail spend program, which virtually, I'm proud to say, is end to end, which is basically touchless. And yet, producing cost savings for us at a desired ROI.

Ben Winter: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Frank Cuomo: So again, you look at where all of the manual work is, and if you're successful in streamlining that, and implementing some type of digital mechanism to do that same function, you now free that bandwidth capacity to perform more value-added activity, which either brings a reduction in costs from a sourcing perspective, or reduction in cost from an operational execution perspective. Either way, you're saving the firm money. What you need to do is have an extraordinarily good relationship with your accounts payable manager and director, because the end to end has to be looked at as one long process, invisible of organizational silo and structure, and you have to look at it from a process structure perspective, across organizational lines. That is the most advantageous way to streamline things and to carve out cost.

Ben Winter: Working cross-functionally is crucial for procurement’s success. How have you successfully worked at other departments throughout your career to ensure that your department is as impactful as possible?

Frank Cuomo: So, procurement has many functions. Has sourcing. Has procure-to-pay. Has analytics. Well, we, again, I've been fortunate enough to expand that role, in that by me working in a cross-functional manner with other organizational departments such as legal compliance. Such as accounts payable. Such as T&E. Sourcing is a separate group other than my own, procure to pay. What we've been able to do again, as I said earlier, look at the entire end to end. Upstream versus downstream. Now we're starting to engage finance, operations. Why? Because a lot of our purchases from a retirement perspective. We want to have an impact there because again when we retire assets, we can negotiate a deal with a third-party provider to actually buy out our retired assets, so they could repurpose them in the marketplace. So again, we've taken the potential suggestion of an initiative from a sourcing perspective, looked at providers, vetted them and onboarded them to execute that initiative, executed the required requisitions of purchases to get the goods of services in that initiative, specifically the contract was negotiated. Got those goods received, delivered, implemented, paid the invoices, and then years later when the goods were ready to retire, to be retired, we've engaged through finance, ops what's the value on the books, when there's zero value, and if we're looking to get rid of it. Let's get some salvage value for those fixed assets. Next thing you know, we're turning a, a fully retired depreciated item into a profit center.

Ben Winter: That's amazing. And what about other go to market teams like the marketing team, sales team? How do you try to work with them? Because obviously they're less closely tied to procurement, but are still very important to have a good working relationship with.

Frank Cuomo: Okay, so my first answer was really related to the entire source to pay process. So now we'll talk about our stakeholders. So, one of the things, and this is very hard, for every procurement department has this challenge. If they tell me they don't, then they're really not doing a good job.

Ben Winter: Yeah. (laughs).

Frank Cuomo: They're just probably buying pens and pencils. The reality is, a truly good procurement department has to be there to provide guidance, support, input, feedback, but not necessarily be the decision-maker. And what you do is, we showed value by reaching out to all of our business stakeholders across the firm, whether it's marketing, whether it's engineering, whether it's network productions, digital, and say, "Hey, we see that you're working on certain initiatives with certain suppliers, and we see you have agreements in place, that's great. What we'd like to do is on the next renewal cycle, where possible, we'd like to potentially help you mitigate some additional risk. And again, you could keep using the same supplier, even if we go out to RFP, we'll understand that you want to keep the incumbent because of those intangibles that are valuable to you." But by having us participate, we could be the good cop versus bad cop scenario and be the bad cop. And we could at the same time work on commercial terms, which have nothing to do with the actual scope of the initiative. But, what we'd be able to do then is say, "Hey, let's look for favorable terms. Let's negotiate, e-payables participation, where we could generate rebates for the firm. Nothing else changes other than payment terms and participation in payables." That alone can drive a 1% value to us in the form of a rebate at the end of the year. And again, by us pointing out the value to them, and even if they let us assist them with the bidding, and we tell them, "Look, whatever money you save, you get to repurpose in your budget. It will not be removed from your budget." They will listen because if you think of repurposing savings, they have a lot at stake.

Frank Cuomo: Because now, the projects that maybe didn't get funded, they might be able to fund some of them with those savings. So again, you have to understand what's important to them, and figure out how to communicate what you want to do with them, working jointly, in conjunction with them, versus them thinking, "Here, look, this. Save money, take it out of my budget." You have to go with an olive branch approach, not a sledgehammer, and say, "Hey, this is the procurement policy, but regardless of the policy, we think we can do the following things for you." They have to give you the benefits.

Ben Winter: So really understanding like, making sure that they're comfortable without losing the business continuity and the business value, and then also driving what you're gonna get on top of it. I think that's a great sort of way to engage and approach stakeholders. It's something that I know procurement professionals struggle with throughout, right? It's the, one of the toughest parts is, I have a stakeholder and I have a business process, and how do I make those two work together? And I think that advice is really helpful to people who struggle with that on a daily basis.

Frank Cuomo: It's interesting because I'm here six years, in Univision, and we went live probably five months after I got here, with our first procure to pay expansion. And then by the end of the year, so it was a total of eight months, we went live across the whole firm. It took me a year and a half to really start winning over from a credibility perspective, some of the stakeholders, but what you do is, when you win over one, you use that as the internal advocate for the next one.

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