Authors note: If you are not a fan of J.R.R Tolkien, do not read this article. You will probably hate it. On the other hand, you may wish to take a risk and read the article. Why not? Perhaps Gimli said it best, “Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.” (Lord of the Rings)

David Carminucci is currently Procurement Manager at Swedish Match. He has over 28 years’ experience in Fortune 500 companies. He has over 20 years of supply chain/procurement experience with consumer products in the niche areas of food, beverage, and tobacco. His technical background involves work in research, development, engineering and product development. He has been a member and board chair of several non-profit organizations. He is also a J.R.R. Tolkien devotee.

The Quest Surreptitiously Begins

When Carminucci was in high school, someone suggested that, because of his diminutive size (they didn’t use that term), he couldn’t make the high school baseball team. His humble response was, “We’ll see.” Carminucci not only made the team, he became the starting center fielder. “I have always been fast and had a great arm. I always believed that there wasn’t a ball I couldn’t catch.”

“Even the smallest person can change the course of history.” Lady Galadriel (Lord of the Rings)

Carminucci is very aware of the connection between baseball and procurement. “I truly believe there is nothing I can’t do. You’re often put in interesting, challenging, seemingly insurmountable situations. If you don’t think you can do it, you’re likely not going to. You’ve got to be a positive thinker, and you must understand business. You’ve got to realize that your procurement is very much a service function.” Carminucci hits a home run with the following observation: “If you can’t demonstrate value, you have no business being in the organization. It’s not about hitting a grand slam every time. It’s singles, doubles, triples and an occasional big hit. Like baseball, procurement is a team sport. Show what you can do and then demonstrate it. I can show you that I can contribute and add value and become a trusted partner within the business.” “If you trust nothing else, trust this. Trust us.” Arwen (Two Towers) Carminucci loves to read. J.R.R. Tolkien is his inspiration. “I’ve always been intrigued by Tolkien’s work. It’s mystifying and interesting. Hidden in there are life lessons. I admire someone with his creativity and energy. I’m amazed that someone can come up with a series of books and characters that deal with relevant life situations. He created a whole different world with a lot of relevance.” Is Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring in Lord of the Rings similar to the quest to find and develop the quintessential procurement/supplier relationship? Was Tolkien speaking directly to Carminucci when he wrote these poetic words?

Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.

Lord of The Rings

Paths to Tread

Carminucci believes that a procurement professional needs to be able to make the
difficult decisions. “While you’re integrating these people [suppliers] into your business, don’t forget that you’re in the business to turn a profit, as are they. You must be constantly gauging and benchmarking because complacency can set in, and that can be dangerous. I’ve been in many situations where I’ve had to say, ‘It looks like we’ve lost the competitiveness in this relationship. I’m going to have to benchmark and get back to you. If I am not happy with the result, we may have to have some difficult conversations.’”

How does a procurement professional facilitate those difficult conversations?
Carminucci says that, “You need to break down the barriers. You must have forthright, candid conversations about what equals business success. You can’t be afraid to have those conversations, and you must open yourself up to candid answers. You may come to the point where you both reach the same conclusion, that this isn’t the right relationship for either party. And that’s ok.” Carminucci believes that a positive result is well worth the struggle. “If you don’t try, you’re never going to put anything in place.”

“There is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.” Sam Gamgee
(Two Towers)

I asked Carminucci, “What do you look for in a supplier?” Without rumination and, with a bit of a chuckle, he quickly shared the following list:

1

Be financially sound

2

Have a good reputation

3

Understand your industry

4

Demonstrate wherewithal

5

Know your needs

6

Be a cultural match with your organization

7

Be competitive

8

Have good product

9

Have good service

10

Be forthright, open, honest

Did Carminucci chuckle because he knew what all procurement professionals know? That creating the list is easy, and that the real challenge is creating and developing the perfect procurement/supplier relationship? Our saga continues…

Through Shadows

As our interview progressed, it became apparent that, while knowing what to look for in a supplier is valuable, Carminucci believes that a procurement professional, who is seeking a supplier, must possess his or her own unique set of skills. He or she must be keenly self-aware and must understand business. “You have to have good interpersonal skills. No question about it. You need to have business acumen, combined with a passionate business owner, general business manager approach to things. It requires really understanding the supplier’s core competency. Then, you must break down the barriers to enable that to happen. And sometimes you need to be willing to break those relationships if it’s not the right thing for both parties.”

To the Edge of Night

Carminucci also believes that developing a positive procurement/supplier relationship is a mutual responsibility. “In my opinion, business is about forming successful mutually beneficial relationships that enable the companies involved to achieve their overall objectives of making a fair and honest profit in an ethical fashion.”

“Great heart will not be denied.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Carminucci elaborated further, “These relationships [procurement/supplier] have to have a lot of trust. You must have validated mutual value and benefit. You really must validate it. You can’t just talk the talk. You have to walk the walk. You must be willing to take on challenging situations. You’ve got to be very candid. You’ve got to be forthright.”

Carminucci has an eclectic background. His experiences and education have shaped
his career: “I went back and got an MBA in management organization, with an emphasis in economics, while I was employed. That really influenced me a lot because, prior to that, I had spent most of my professional life as a marine biologist, chemist, biologist, scientist. Prior to getting an MBA, I dabbled in a few business courses because I really liked this business [procurement]. I thought that, with a little bit more of a business background, I could contribute more. The experience of getting an education while working was very powerful because I had some great professors and fellow classmates who, like me, were in the working world. It really showed me the value of education because I could apply it to my professional career.”

“True education is a kind of never ending story, a matter of continual beginnings, of
habitual fresh starts, of persistent newness.” J.R.R. Tolkien

The Quest Continues

Like most quests, success is not measured at the end of the journey, but, instead,
success is measured by the lessons that are learned along the way. Frodo destroyed
the ring in the end, but, more importantly, he discovered his courage. He was a little man, who found that he could do the seemingly impossible. He never quit. The journey made him a better person. Carminucci may never be able to attain the perfect procurement/supplier relationship. Such a feat may even be an impossible task. But, in his quest, he has learned a lot about himself, which, in turn, allows others to learn from him. Will other procurement professionals continue the journey? Do they have what it takes to carry on the quest for the perfect procurement/supplier relationship? Their journey awaits…

Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.

J.R.R Tolkien(Fellowship of the Ring)