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Bob Kane: an “Old School” CPO with a “New School” Style

Ardent Partners is pleased to welcome Robert “Bob” Kane to CPO Rising 2016 today in Boston, where he will give a talk on Managing Risk in a Global Supply Chain. Join this session to hear the unique, but timely, story of a “start-up” CPO and his approach to supplier development and supply risk management.

In many ways, Bob is the prototypical procurement executive of today: he has built a long and successful career in supply management atop a foundation of formal education, constant learning, and the adoption of modern technology solutions to drive successful procurement operations wherever he goes. In essence, he is a “seasoned” procurement professional who has taken a “new school” approach to doing business. The analyst team at Ardent Partners was fortunate to sit down with Bob earlier this year and hear him tell us about his career and where he sees the profession going.

From Walking to Running

Bob earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a dual major in Procurement/Materials Management and Production/Operations from Bowling Green State University. He began his career working in the aerospace and defense (A&D) sector for RCA and GTE Government Systems (now General Dynamics Mission Systems), starting out as a production buyer and quickly climbing the ranks, all supply chain, procurement, and strategic sourcing focused, to where he is today. Along the way, Bob earned his MBA from Rivier University in New Hampshire, focusing on Management and Operations, which would position him well for the later part of his career.

Hitting His Stride

Bob ascended to Director and Chief Procurement Officer at GTE/General Dynamics, where he was in charge of managing its Global Supply Chain Operations, including 150 people and nearly $2 billion in spend. After 11 years in this role, he decided to leave the company and the A&D industry altogether and diversify his experience commercially. Bob joined Weyerhaeuser, an international forest products company, as its Senior Director of Strategic Souring and Supply, to redesign their supply chain and strategic sourcing focus, over $3 billion annually in responsibility. Next stop was into renewable energy with TPI Composites, currently a global leader in large, utility-scale wind-blade production for wind turbines, as the Corporate Director of Global Sourcing, Supply and Supplier Quality/Engineering. Bob successfully managed supply chain sites in China, Mexico, Turkey, and the U.S., manufacturing between 2,000 and 3,000 utility-grade wind turbines annually.

After four years at TPI, Bob was lured back to the East Coast to join Ogin Inc., a Boston-based renewable-energy startup that manufactures smaller wind turbines for niche markets, such as distributed energy markets where larger, utility-scale turbines are impractical. He is the Vice President and Head of Procurement, Strategic Sourcing, and Contracts, and was recruited for the role based in large part on his experience in the renewables, as well as starting up or transforming organizations that could have strong, scalable global supply chains. As a startup, Ogin faces the traditional challenges of being pre-profit and more sensitive to market conditions and risk than larger, more established and diversified enterprises. But that is where Bob comes in.

Since joining Ogin more than three years ago, Bob’s mission has been “to develop a scalable global network that can satisfy demand regardless of the country where we’re going to be doing business.” He has helped transform Ogin’s supply chain by taking a total cost of ownership approach, which entails moving the manufacturing of locally-produced parts to lower-cost countries where they are produced at higher economies of scale. It also means outsourcing the assembly of large components and drop-shipping them directly to sites where they are needed. As a result, Ogin has been able to develop relationships with suppliers that can provide the organization with the goods and services that it needs, and then evolve with Ogin as wind-turbine technologies and the renewable energy market evolve.

Old-School Procurement Meets New-School Technologies

Since Bob began his career in supply management more than thirty years ago, he has seen a migration from mainframe computers and “very crude ways of aggregating data” to more modern and sophisticated ways of managing operations. Along the way, Bob has been a technology evangelist and a bold, early adopter of solutions focused on improving processes and visibility for procurement. For example, he and his team at General Dynamics always knew how much they were spending with a supplier from an AP perspective, but they never knew what they were buying from a procurement perspective – a problem that remained until the late 90s/early 2000s when automated, digital spend management solutions began to come online.

Even then, Bob and his different teams still had to work with many different systems as they attempted to gain a single, enterprise-wide view of their spend. Deploying enterprise-wide supply management solutions helped them transition to things like electronic bidding and contract management, which helped to automate, remove paper from the process, and operate with fewer people. It also allowed them to more cost effectively manage people and processes.

As a result of his orientation towards technology and his specific efforts to automate and modernize procurement operations, Bob always looks to hire people with technical as well as business skillsets. He believes that finding the right people is critical to success and believes that a comprehensive interview process is the best approach. Sometimes it can take time to determine if someone is a good fit for a specific company and environment, and Bob would much rather invest the time at the beginning with a lot of testing and evaluation to find the right candidates rather than find out months into a project that the alignment of a new hire is off.

Final Thoughts

Industry veterans can usually tell a good story of how they got to where they are from where they began. As a leading CPO and procurement leader, who started with mainframes and now drives process automation with modern technologies, Bob’s CPO journey across different industries, company sizes, and opportunities has given him a unique perspective on the procurement profession and the role of the CPO. Today, working in an environment where sustainability and technology collide to produce renewable energy, Bob Kane is the man to lead the charge at home and abroad for markets and suppliers that can help to propel his company forward.

Catch Bob deliver his presentation, “Start Me Up: Managing Risk and a Global Supply Chain” at 2:00 PM EST in Estabrooks Room here at the Harvard Club in Boston’s Back Bay!


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