SIG Speaks to Michael van Keulen

Michael van Keulen is the Chief Procurement Officer of Coupa

Michael van Keulen is Chief Procurement Officer at Coupa. He formerly served as the Global Procurement Director at lululemon athletica inc. (NASDAQ: LULU), a $3B+ designer, distributor, and retailer of technical athletic apparel. Previously Michael served as the Procurement Director at VF Corporation (NYSE: VFC), a $12B+ lifestyle apparel and footwear company. Michael is known for leading procurement transformations that generate significant shareholder value.


You have a passion for sourcing talent and developing high-performing teams. How is your approach different than others?

I’m not claiming my approach is different or unique. When hiring, I look for attitude first and procurement experience second. I always say procurement is a seven-step process that can be taught to anyone. What is difficult (if not impossible) to teach someone is to be “naturally curious” and “passionate” about the profession. Procurement is about being bold, going outside the comfort zone and challenging the status quo. This mindset requires people who have high EQ, are agile and not afraid to make mistakes. These traits are even more important when going through a transformation from tactical/operational to strategic.   

In a tight labor market, what’s the key to retaining top talent and keeping them engaged?

Providing clarity in the strategic direction of the function and how this connects to the overall strategy of the company provides the team with a clear sense of purpose. Without that, all else isn’t relevant.  Having a diverse team and offering a clear career path (inside but equally important outside the office) creates a sense of belonging that binds everyone together. When giving the team plenty of opportunities for exposure and learning, I have been fortunate enough to attract and retain top talent while keeping them engaged and delivering a great ROI. 

In your experience leading and implementing procurement transformations, what are three best practices to keep in mind?

  • Transparency - Articulate the direction of the function and the value proposition. This includes communicating clear roles, functional development, and progression. 
  • Engagement – Have the team be a part of the process. This means giving them ample opportunity to provide input and feedback along the way. In the end, transformation is not for everyone, but having alignment (which is different than agreement) is critical to success. It’s a team sport! 
  • Decision-making – Make “no regret decisions” quickly, as this provides clarity and limits room for ambiguity. 

Given your experience in both procurement and finance, what advice do you have for better alignment between the two functions?

This alignment remains a challenge even for a finance guy like me. Finance simply doesn’t look at spending the same way as procurement (expense/GL accounts vs. commodity/category), and unless there are aligned goals and objectives, it remains difficult for procurement to get recognition for the value delivered.   

For example, if procurement is not part of the budget process (savings are often based on budgets), has limited or no spend visibility by financial planning and analysis, or incorrect baseline assumptions made by non-commodity experts, you quickly get into conversations like cost-avoidance, as savings are already in the budget, and/or volume growth was not factored in properly. Procurement also manages risk (environmental, reputational, financial and operational), which is often overlooked and not easy to quantify.  

What is something that you wish more people knew about sourcing and procurement?

Procurement and sourcing have the ability to accelerate the strategic vision of a company. This can be done by uncovering resource inefficiencies but also by driving innovation that fuels top-line growth.  Procurement professionals are commodity and spend experts, and by having the right strategic supplier relationship, there are lots of examples of innovation driven directly or indirectly by procurement. Strategic supplier relationships, driving innovation and having the right risk profiles only become more important as companies continue to seek ways to stay ahead and have a competitive edge. There are lots of companies with awesome procurement practitioners leading the charge. 

Explore more interviews with expert practitioners and executives on our blog.  


Stacy Mendoza, Senior Marketing Manager

Stacy Mendoza is a Senior Marketing Manager with Sourcing Industry Group (SIG). She began her career as an editor for a public opinion research firm in Washington, D.C., where she worked on projects for political campaigns, nonprofits, and major corporations and brands. Since 2014, she has assumed progressive levels of responsibility in leading marketing and public relations campaigns and specializes in content creation, social media marketing, data analytics, media relations and crisis communications. Stacy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from The Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, a certificate in grant writing from The Graduate School in Washington, D.C., and is Inbound Certified through Hubspot Academy. Follow her on Twitter and tweet at @SIG_Stacy.