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Passion, patience and a valuable lesson for Dale Carnegie – Stéphane Masseran on leadership.

If there's a room where everyone is playing poker and you walk in…and say let's all play bridge that's never going to happen.

Supply-chain expert Stéphane Masseran talks about playing poker, how he ‘fell in love’ with procurement and why strong business performance is a ‘side-effect’ of good management.

Dale Carnegie can tell you how to make friends and influence people. Everyone knows that. But, as memory serves, nowhere amongst the pages of the best-selling business book of all time does he give you the lowdown on how to persuade a roomful of hard-bitten poker players to deal a hand for bridge. And that, Stéphane Masseran convinces me, could well be an oversight on Mr. Carnegie’s part.

The French procurement expert – a self-described ‘news addict’ – who now lives in Brussels, turns out to have plenty of other carefully considered insights into the mysteries of management. A fan of author Sam Harris’s longform ‘Making Sense’ podcasts, he shares the American academic’s analytical approach to any given subject. Take leadership, as an example:

‘To get people to follow you need to do two things: firstly to be trusted, be transparent don’t hide the bad news and, also, really try to understand and spend time with junior members of staff. Let them speak their minds to you and make sure you really understand what they're thinking. If you do these things then, I think, successful performance almost becomes a side-effect of good management. Once people trust you they begin to work for you. Better than that, in fact, they work with you.’

For a man who has – amongst other key roles – been Chief Procurement Director of GSK Vaccines performance as a ‘side-effect’ of good decision-making is an interesting analogy. And feels like the creed of someone who’s focused on people, not just numbers.

Masseran is equally insightful when he talks about procurement. A subject upon which, as you’d expect, he demonstrates real passion.

‘I fell in love with procurement because it falls at what I call the crossroads between the external and the internal components of a corporate organisation. In a normal working procurement role you get to meet and work with all sectors of an organisation – the finance guys, R&D, HR, the marketing guys, the sales guys, and also externally – with many different kinds of vendors, each selling a very different type of product. I love dealing with that breadth and range of differing experience and knowledge.’

Here again, he sees the human dynamic as being the most important component of business success – the key to developing truly strategic supply-chain efficiencies:

‘When you are working with people outside of your department there's an initial lack of trust. People don't want to work with a procurement manager. They feel that it may be restrictive because – done well – it’s about buying smarter which means structural and strategic change. So, you have to be patient. Work for acceptance. It is like if there's a room where everyone is playing poker and you walk in as a new boy and say let's all play bridge that's never going to happen. You have to earn your seat at the table. Then perhaps, over time, suggest a few changes to the rules.’

In essence strategic procurement is still – fundamentally – all about getting the right goods to market at the right price. So, it’s easy to see why Masseran – a man whose approach to management is all about ‘delivering the right words at the right time’ thrives in such a demanding role. Dale Carnegie would, I suspect, admire such instinctive psychological synergy.

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