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Supply Chains have evolved into truly customer facing departments- Patrick Afari,GM, Supply Chain and General Services, MTN Ghana

Patrick Afari, General Manager, Supply Chain and General Services at Ghana’s largest telecommunication company, MTN is changing the narrative in the supply chain sector. Over his Supply Chain career span, Patrick has contributed to over US$ 200 million in cost savings, value adding projects and transformational change initiatives.

His outstanding achievements earned MTN Ghana a number of awards at the 2nd Ghana Procurement and Supply Chain Awards 2019; Excellence in Procurement & Supply Chain – Telecom/IT, Most Innovative use of Technology in Procurement (Private Sector) and Procurement and Supply Chain Team of the Year – Gold respectively.

The suave CPO interestingly is an Engineering graduate of KNUST. He holds an MBA in Leadership and Sustainability, is MCIPs accredited and is also a certified Procurement Fundamentals Trainer with the MTN Academy, a Certified International Supply Chain Professional (CISCP) & Certified International Supply Chain Manager (CISCM).

Having demonstrated an unparalleled ability to succeed, he continually set standards of excellence in the Procurement and Supply Chain profession. He was listed among the Top 20 Procurement Leaders in Ghana for the second consecutive time at the 2019 Ghana Procurement and Supply Chain Awards.

With almost 2 decades worth of experience, Patrick shares with Supply Chain Africa Magazine his views on the new wave taking over the industry.

How has technology disrupted the Supply Chain industry mostly in the Telecoms sector?

All telecoms companies thrive on the “positive disruption” that technology brings. Their Supply Chains are in no way exempt. When I started a career in Telecoms over 9 years ago, the buzz-word was the inception of a truly centralized Procurement organization with Category based sourcing strategies. The most exciting aspects then were Electronic Sourcing platforms and Global contracting repositories. Fast track 9 years down and Supply Chains have evolved into truly customer facing departments that ride on modern technologies of Big Data spend analytics processing and AI to decipher a plethora of information gathered literally real-time, to support decision making in our very dynamic business. With in-built ERPs and Data Analytics tools, present-day “disrupting” technology enables end-to-end visibility in Demand Management, Inventory Optimization, Procure to Pay and Logistics-focused Global Trade Management. According to a 2019 Survey by Deloitte, 75% of Supply Chain leaders say developing digital and analytics capabilities are important in their overall Supply Chain strategy. With the impact of COVID-19, I am certain a 2020 Survey will up that number to 100%.

How do you ensure procurement spend is optimized and maximized to drive profitability for the organization?

For a business with over a billion of dollars in revenue, cost optimization is a strategic priority at all levels. Procurement and Supply Chain has moved beyond cost reduction and savings to TCO value management across all streams. For me, the must-win-battles in achieving this are efficient integrated business planning and early involvement of Procurement in all business initiatives. The benefit of a supportive Management that understands the criticality of this and that entrusts sourcing governance to the Procurement team is a big plus. In addition, the importance of PPPs that empower well-trained, dynamic and efficient Supply Chain team members to achieve their mandate for the business cannot be overstated. Last but not least, the COVID-19 triggered new world era has proven the need for building and maintaining resilient supply chains for organizational sustenance first, and then eventual profitability.

How would you rate the Procurement & Supply Chain Industry in Ghana?

I believe our industry is gradually growing, but still has a long way to go to achieve the required level of respect and visibility seen in other jurisdictions. The CIPS and GIPS leadership are doing a yeoman’s job. However, there remains a certain level of maturity the industry is yet to attain, which I believe is dependent on having even greater exposure. Management in both public and private sectors need to entrust Procurement activities and decisions to Supply Chain professionals. Likewise, these professionals should be capable of executing their mandate ethically and efficiently. Until this happens, our industry risks remaining down-rated.

Do you see Procurement & Supply Chain Units being entirely independent?

I believe this depends on the sector in question and most importantly, on the maturity of the Supply Chain teams therein. Supply Chain in FMCGs for instance have matured over hundreds of years towards full independence, while the relatively much younger Telecoms sector may not boast the same prominence.

The discussion for me, needs to be steered around what “independence” means. For many, it may be just a C-Suite leveling of the CPO role. For me though, independence is when everyone in an organization, from Executive Management right down to outsourced partners, understand, respect and support the unique position of Supply Chain in their establishments.

What other career path would you have followed apart from procurement?

Definitely something in Operations management. I get bored quickly, so I need something with a buzz and where there’s never a dull moment. I would most likely always have stayed away from the more “glamorous” options of Commercial, Sales and Marketing.

What advice would you give new entrants in the industry?

I would say, “follow the convictions of your heart, maintain your ethical integrity at all cost and focus on team-work because people do matter”.

In addition, seeing how the current pandemic has thrown the world into economic upheaval, Supply Chain professionals need to embrace and accelerate our know-how in relation to digital capability. Anyone behind the digital curve will never be able to simultaneously deal with all the current complexities; measuring demand, attaining visibility, enhancing flexibility and harnessing transformation initiatives.

How do you address the negativity that has dented Procurement professionals in Ghana and Africa?

The negative perception is sadly founded on a more often than not, equally negative reality. Though this is orchestrated by the minority of our colleagues, the unfortunate truth is that a few bad nuts will forever spoil the taste of the pack. What people fail to realize though, is that it mostly takes two to tango; meaning behind every corrupt Procurement official is an equally corrupt sales agent, or marketer, or accountant, etc. This notwithstanding, the buck does stop with us at the end of the day. As such, we need to continue to play our role as gate-keepers.

How would you describe yourself?

As a fact? A Christian. In my perception? A gentleman too.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe in participative leadership. I invite input from my teams on almost every decision. Wherever and whenever possible, I support an approach of giving out all required information to support them in making decisions that are ultimately in the best interest of our Department, our Executive Leadership and the company as a whole. I dare say in the current new normal work from home environment, such a leadership approach is critical towards staying on course for the long term, while “keeping the lights on” in the immediate crisis.

MTN Procurement Team at the Ghana Procurement & Supply Chain Award 2019

If you had three wishes what will they be?

One, salvation for all mankind. Next, that people would learn how to exist as real human beings; in perpetual mutual love. Finally, that  I had another 3 more wishes to add.

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