Like many successful purchasers, Carol Lockhart didn't set out to become one-she didn't even know what the purchasing function was before she was hired as a temporary employee in the research-and-development division at Northern Telecom. But that fortuitous event changed her life.
"I was hired permanently-after one day as a temp-by a woman who became my mentor, who soon urged me to take a basic buyers' class," she said. Lockhart observed the purchasers in her department and recognized many of the characteristics of a good purchaser in herself. She was outgoing, professional, believed in relationship- building, and knew the value of a good education.
So, Lockhart took her mentor's advice, completed the C.P.M. program, finished her bachelor's degree, and is now pursuing an MBA.
Female mentors for women purchasers-and mentors in general-are invaluable, Lockhart believes. They can advise women in business matters, such as the importance of holding tougher salary negotiations, and in articulating their value for the company, she said.
Silicon Valley is a strong area for mentoring, with many promising people in the field, according to Lockhart. The availability of mentors seems to differ by region, she said, but added that technology can overcome that if used creatively.
"I think the NAPM could foster a mentoring program for people that don't have access to mentors, perhaps through e-mail. Purchasers could tell the NAPM their particular areas of strengths and weakness and hook people up-it could be a national program," she said.
Mentors educate purchasers about the realities of life in their chosen profession, but this knowledge needs to be backed up with solid academic credentials such as an MBA or a professional certification, Lockhart said. Formal education-as much as can be acquired-can enhance the value that purchasing brings to an organization.
"Our goal should always be to maximize the investments our employers make in us by giving back to them the benefit of that learning," she said.
The value of good people skills-something one can't always learn at school-has not been lost on Lockhart. Relationships must be nurtured, she said, for two reasons: Mergers and acquisitions have diminished supply choices for purchasers, making good formal relationships with vital suppliers crucial; and because it is quite likely that one will have to deal with the same people repeatedly as companies continue to merge.
"I've always been an advocate of advancing supplier relationships, even when I was the only one in the choir singing that song. The days of going from one supplier to another and burning our bridges behind us are gone," she said.
When Lockhart is not busy fulfilling her purchasing duties, traveling for Hewlett-Packard, or completing assignments for her MBA, she spends time with her family, which includes four grandchildren, and kicks back at the gym three days a week.
Lockhart's favorite Web site is CNN. "I'm so busy these days that I can't keep up with world events. It's the best way to get the latest information on the Asian financial crisis, business, and industry news. It also makes for interesting topics of discussion when I chat with my associates. I'm big on building relationships, and sometimes it's the smallest things that help."