Jim Townsend: What next for an experienced CPO?

After a career as CPO for one of the world’s largest companies, Jim Townsend considers the exciting next career steps for Chief Procurement Officers

Jim Townsend has been CPO at one of the biggest companies in the world, and has three decades of experience at the highest levels of the procurement world.  His CV includes positions at Rolls-Royce, GE, Anglo American and most recently at Walgreens Boots Alliance where he was Chief Procurement Officer until July 2022 when he decided to step back and consider the next phase of his life.  

Speaking to Procurement Magazine from his kitchen, Jim is relaxed but enthusiastic about the potential for a rewarding Indian Summer for his career and that of many other seasoned procurement industry professionals who have a diverse range of skills to offer.  His question after a lifetime of achievement, is that if you have been a CPO at one of the world’s largest companies, what comes next? 

“I pretty well achieved everything that I'd wanted to in my previous role. I’ve had a very fulfilling career so far, I've worked for four great blue chip companies and delivered billions of dollars in terms of the benefits over the years and we've made some amazing transformations,” he says.

His sabbatical has given him the opportunity to consider the myriad of options available to experienced CPOs and making the right choice of what to invest their time in next.  

“I'm probably going to work for another five or ten years and I need to make sure that I choose very carefully a role that is truly fulfilling. It needs to bring me some new experiences and give me something new to learn and adapt to. I don’t want a ‘rinse and repeat’ of what I've done before, quite frankly, because that's a really easy thing to do.”

Having worked in all corners of the globe and guided transformative changes in procurement functions at household-name organisations, Jim is aware just how many strands of a business a CPO will have experience of.

“As a CPO, you typically interface with all of the areas within a business, and you have a pretty good understanding of how the business works,” he says. “One of the challenges can be you are not always as close to the products and the services offered, but what you lose in that, you gain elsewhere in terms of understanding how it all fits together.”

This is where the ‘what next’ question comes into play, as there are so many considerations for an executive in that phase of their career, such as what you find rewarding, what you still want to achieve, how long you plan to work for, and your own personal circumstances. 

He considers the options that are available, like becoming a CPO in a dramatically different area, a move into the public sector, branching out into a COO role, advisory and consulting, non-exec directing, or building up a wide ranging portfolio of activities.

“Another one I would say people should consider is advising and supporting procurement technology companies, and helping them navigate the procurement world. To bring leadership context and connectivity to that kind of growing company or alternately working with some advisory firms, either providing advice or working as a senior consultant, bringing forward all the great experience you have.”

It is this experience he argues that can open many other doors, like considering interim CPO placements that will bring with it diverse challenges and keep you fresh in new industries.

It is these new challenges that keep Jim motivated as he considers the next phase of his career, and he knows it is the underlying ambition that will drive many other senior procurement managers as they reach a later phase of their career.  

“Being a CPO is very much influence led and this sets them up well for a broad range of senior leadership teams, be it as a Chief Operating Officer or Transformation Director,  I think that it’s really important you reflect on that and don't pigeonhole yourself as just a procurement person. Look at yourself as a transformation person.”

As Jim reflects on his next step he is grateful for having the opportunity to take a brief sabbatical to make the best decision for himself and his family and is reflecting on the opportunity as an overwhelmingly positive experience.  

“Be really honest with yourself about what your motivations are and ask yourself what you really want to do. I think we each have to put aside our C-suite ego, and all of the accoutrements that go with that, and consider in a few years time you want to be able to say you really enjoyed that.”

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