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Published: Jul 6, 2022

In the Spotlight - Andrew Hireson, GPO, Eli Lilly


Callum from sharedserviceslink recently caught up with Andrew Hireson, GPO Sourcing at Eli Lilly, and asked him some questions about being a GPO. 

1. When someone outside of the industry asks what you do for a living, how do you respond? 

I do have trouble with this, I have to be honest! When I start to use the word “process” people start to fall asleep. The way I explain my role is that I work in the procurement team and I govern how we do our job and how we operate to do our job. My role is to ensure we are doing it as efficiently as we can be. 

2. What traits do you think are important for a GPO to have, to be successful?

A successful GPO should have strong persuasion skills, a determined mind-set in order to influence people’s perceptions and their views, be a professional at multi-tasking and all the while be familiar with communicating from the top to the bottom of the business. The style of your communication as a GPO needs to change dramatically depending on the individual or department you are working with. You will never please everyone with the changes you make, so you need a high degree of perseverance – and you have to have thick skin. Lastly, your collaboration skills need to be very good, especially when communicating with other GPOs. My P2P GPO colleague and I work very closely together because most of the projects we work on can affect each other’s process.

3. As a GPO, how much budget do you have to play with?

I don’t have a budget. It’s just a case of if you have an idea and you think that it is going to cost, you create a business case and get it approved by senior leadership. I’m working on a new project at the moment - we need extra staff and therefore funding - so this business case needs to go up to the VP of Procurement for approval. With no budget as such, we have to come up with ideas and say what we think we want to do with our existing resources that can absorb it. If existing resources can’t be depleted further, we will then need to go and spend some extra money rather than acquiring it from other areas. While waiting for a proposal to be accepted – it’s like being a politician - you need to do as much lobbying as possible, get feedback and then decipher whether or not it will work. 

4. How much freedom to be innovative and make change does a GPO have? What is the main factor hindering this freedom? 

The main factor hindering freedom is always going to be other people’s views of how things should happen. GPOs may be the owners of the process, govern it and have vision-making abilities, but if senior leadership doesn’t buy into the proposed idea it may not happen. Generally, within Lilly, I can be as innovative as I want to be, but then again it has to be within the parameters of the vision of the procurement department and the way we are heading. My innovation has to map onto that vision. We work on a roadmap basis where we will plan 3-4 years out, so that does help as you can influence the vision at the same time. 

5. When a job is complete, does the company “shut down” the process ownership role, or does it evolve to take on different responsibilities? 

Within our company, my P2P GPO colleague has done a sterling effort of optimizing the P2P process and working with third parties to make it work. One could argue that we’ve done our job, but that’s just not the case. You then start looking at other ways you can optimize. You are always thinking about what that next step will be. In companies like Lilly, there are always factors that affect us from outside the industry. Change is constant and that ultimately affects the way we run our processes. For example, we run a standard shopping cart to PO to Invoice process, but we always need to identify ways we can improve – web-invoicing, master data governance, guided purchasing, etc. The role evolves and you just start to do different things, different projects, find opportunities because that’s just natural evolution and innovation. You do take on some element of different responsibilities but that’s what the GPO role is all about. 

6. If you had a magic wand, what piece of technology would you create to assist you in your role? 

From a procurement perspective, we’ve become technology savvy in what we do. We use electronic procurement tools, we use reverse auction tools and spend analytical tools. We are pretty good in that sense but we have always got processes that could be tweaked to be more efficient. In the procurement world, we run a philosophy called “category management.” It’s the holistic look at spend over a given portfolio of products. However, I don’t think we have good technology to support the category management approach we take. What I mean by this is that we don’t have a central tool that drags in contracts, drags in spend, looks at compliance to your strategy, goes through a workflow that supports your strategy before the procurement element takes place, and, during the development of the strategy, creates a workflow that puts you through an approval mechanism to ensure appropriateness and alignment to the strategy. Unfortunately, category management is a strategy-based principle that is very paper-reliant and PowerPoint driven. I think it can be a lot more technology driven and that’s not just going to create efficiency as such, it will also create visibility. My magic wand would be something that brings everything together and gives everyone a one-stop solution. 

7. What’s your greatest achievement? 

Procurement as an organisation can often be seen as very aloof but this is because we are a lean organization and cannot be engaged in every single purchase. Our procurement staff are based all around the world and, if any of our clients or anyone in finance wanted to do something that involved procurement, they would have no idea who to speak to, who to approach or how to get approval to work alongside procurement. My biggest achievement has been becoming a central point of contact for good and bad. My leadership team often get concerned because I get involved with things that perhaps traditionally I shouldn’t. I’ve explained to them that I am the only person globally that people will come to and ask – “Andy, who do I speak to about doing this?” or, “Can I do this?” My greatest achievement is that I’ve become a central point and the face of procurement. That is both an achievement and a huge disadvantage at the same time!

8. How do you cope with stress? 

Can what I do get stressful? I’m going to say no. Can it be frustrating? Yes! I get frustrated by the stubbornness or lack of bigger picture mentality of some people. People work in siloes - they like their area, they rarely pop out and look to see what’s happening elsewhere. Speed is also an issue, but we are a risk-averse company.  However, we could be bolder on occasion. There have been some difficult situations where I have gone to senior leadership with an idea, looking for an approval, only to be asked to provide more evidence, research or support. This is frustrating, but it’s not stressful. Often it’s probably the right request because their perception may be one I have not considered. My perception has changed for the better here. We go back to the drawing board and start again – there are worst things that can happen. When you work remotely like me, it is also slightly different because you can become detached easily when something goes against you, and then just move onto the next thing.

I get more stressed running my under 11s football team than my work! I love coaching them, but, oh my, can they be a challenge sometimes. It’s actually great training for the workplace because they are kids and you need to find new ways to engage, coerce and collaborate with them. Also I have never seen work as a number one priority. Number one is family. 

Actually, there is one thing that stresses me out - when people send me an email and just write my name with no salutation. Someone not saying hello I find really impolite. Being polite and approachable goes a long way.

9. Best advice you’d give someone about to enter a GPO role? 

Plan ahead, persevere and work upwards as well as downwards. 


Stay tuned for more 'In the Spotlight' interviews here on sharespace. 

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