By: Ronald Hedley
I recently interviewed Miles Baxter. His title is Director, Procurement Services for Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). The purpose of my interview was to get an insider millennial perspective about the procurement industry, which is an industry that is made up mostly of older, non-millennials. I was hoping that people in the industry could benefit from his experiences and subsequent conclusions. However, my first mistake was to lump millennials into one stereotypical group. Mr. Baxter did not accept this millennial stereotype, and promptly set me straight.
“What’s a millennial?” Baxter asks rhetorically. “Somebody that is born between 1984 and 2000? Baxter (born in 1986) says he was lucky to have a cell phone in high school and knows “for a fact that [he] didn’t use a laptop in school until college”, something which “is very different for someone who was born in the year 2000.”
Baxter believes that older millennials, like himself, and younger millennials have very different perspectives. He states paradoxically, “This perspective difference can be even greater than the difference between millennials and baby boomers. [Millennials] can be inflexible when they perceive their company’s technology as old. And a company can be inflexible too, not willing to invest the time, the resources, and the money into technology.” It is challenging for Baxter “when a company is unwilling to change technology, and an employee is unwilling to change a perception. Inflexibility is not about age at all.”
Baxter also believes that experience is as valuable, perhaps even more valuable than technology. “Honestly, I prefer working with older people. They have experience that I can’t google. And I think millennials that are smart, self-aware and forward thinking should be desperate for experience.” Baxter believes that most millennials have grown up with access to technology and data and are, therefore, accustomed to “becoming an expert on something immediately.” Baxter ruminates further, “Older employees offer younger employees something completely unique.”
Baxter discusses how a focus on short-term gratification doesn’t always work in procurement. Here is an example that he gave:
“If I am working on a maintenance renewal agreement for IT, something that often gets overlooked is what happens when that maintenance contract comes up for renewal. The focus is put on the cost of maintenance today (short-term), which is very important. But, more than likely, you’re going to be working with that supplier for a long time. What I try to focus on, maybe in an indirect way, is capping or limiting increases, or saying that pricing at renewal can only increase if it’s in line with market data.”
Baxter will negotiate one of the above compromises because it’s something he gains “in perpetuity” and he enjoys playing “that long game”. Baxter compares the “long game” with playing chess. Think about it. In chess, you sometimes make short-term sacrifices (lose a pawn, rook, bishop, maybe even your queen) to get the desired long-term result: Check mate.
”These young guys are playing checkers. I am out there playing chess.
Baxter believes that procurement worlds are colliding, that millennials and baby boomers are on a crash course. Does that mean doomsday for procurement? Ironically, no.
Instead, Baxter sees collision as being a positive. He offers the example of corporate travel from a recent category analysis he conducted. For a long time, the leisure and corporate travel markets looked very different. “Millennials grew up having access to data and technology, and they started demanding perfection. Out of that demand for perfection, new companies like Priceline, Kayak, Airbnb and ride share companies popped up. Millennials didn’t create the leisure travel technology, nor were they the first to use it, but they were the first to use the technology recreationally. It was easy to implement in their personal lives. Whereas for businesses, at the time, travel technology wasn’t easy to implement. It was very expensive. Millennials went to work or got their first job, and they wondered why travel was so much more difficult to book or manage at the corporate level. They were saying, ‘Hey, I want to do something similar when I book business travel.’ They demanded the same perfection.”
The positive from all of this, according to Baxter? Millennials were the catalyst for change. “Now begins the evolution of corporate travel (worlds colliding). It’s slower, but it’s getting there. I think these worlds are colliding. That’s how businesses are attracting young people.” Baxter believes that the successful millennials are the ones that also understand that change requires experience and commitment (the long game).
I ask, “Is there a ‘Good Old Boys’ problem in the procurement/sourcing industry?”
To answer, Baxter refers to his worlds colliding metaphor. “The more these worlds collide, the less of that you’re going to see. Those are the people that are retiring. Businesses quickly see that (good old boys) as outdated and ineffective. You don’t approach office suppliers the same way you approach IT professional services. It doesn’t work.”
”Incumbency is the greatest strength and the greatest weakness.
Baxter believes that experience can be a paradoxical double-edged sword (see quote above). “Experience is something that is very valuable, but it is something that can keep ‘them’ (an individual or a company) from sharing ideas with someone else, or somebody new. It keeps them from getting off their company-specific island and hearing different ways of doing things. It instills a sense of territory: ‘This is mine. I created the process. This is my baby.’”
Baxter believes that the achievement of success within a company is the shared responsibility of everyone. “There is a shared sense of responsibility here. A company can get someone in the door with nice, brand new, super slick technology, for example, but to keep them there, it’s going to take more than that. I can only speak for myself, but I’m used to having that data and that technology. But, what I crave, what I’m desperate for, is that experience. You need that incumbency there.”
Baxter is looking to add value to BMI. “An attractive organization is one that supports the group I’m in and my role in the company.” He believes that success is a shared responsibility between millennials and their respective businesses. “I keep saying ‘shared responsibility’ because I can’t be at a company that invests only in technology. If I haven’t made sure that the value and the position of the company are aligned with what I believe, it’s not going to be successful.” Baxter believes that he has a responsibility to know the organization and himself well enough to make that determination.
Baxter’s friends call him “Old Soul”. Whether one is born in 1954 or 2000, it’s the soul that seems to matter to him. There is no room for inflexibility, or territoriality. Are you a millennial who values technology and data, who listens, who builds relationships, who cherishes experience, and who believes in shared responsibility? Then you, my friend, are a good fit for the procurement world.
”We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.Pope Francis