SIG Speaks to Steve Hughes, Chief Procurement Officer, College Board

Steve Hughes, Chief Procurement Officer, College Board

Over a career spanning more than 30 years, Steve has held senior procurement and operations positions with large and small, public and private, and for-profit as well as non-profit organizations. He joined College Board in 2016 after serving as Vice President of Global Sourcing at National Geographic Society, and prior to that, as Vice President of Supply Chain Management at Vertis Communications, a national printer of advertising circulars and direct mail promotions. Hughes started his purchasing career at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City following five years of military service as a U.S. Army officer at Fort Bragg, NC with the 82nd Airborne Division, where he completed 40 military parachute jumps.


What are some examples of the challenges and rewards you experience as CPO of the College Board?

As a CPO, the perception in most organizations I have been a part of is that Procurement is a bureaucratic bottleneck which stakeholders try to go around or engage only as necessary to get tactical transactions processed.  The challenge I have faced over and over again, including at the College Board, is transforming the way all levels of the organization think about the procurement function from being a shared services cost center to a strategic resource for the organization that optimizes the value we receive from our supply chain. 

While there are rewards in seeing an organization gradually change it perceptions of the procurement function, the greatest reward is the privilege of developing a team of procurement professionals who ultimately make that transformation happen through their efforts to build collaborative relationships with stakeholders.

In your experience, what are common misconceptions people have about working with procurement?

That Procurement only makes decisions based on price and the procurement process slows down a business owner’s ability to get their work accomplished.

How can sourcing and procurement professionals change those misconceptions?

It starts by making sure you have the right people on the procurement team. You need folks that love the procurement profession, are outstanding negotiators and believe they can influence the overall success of the organization. In other words, leaders. These folks can dispel the common misconceptions by showing that a fully engaged procurement professional leads to better outcomes for all parties.

Looking forward to the next few years, what projects or goals are you most excited about?

We just completed a two-year journey in June to implement a best-in-class digital suite of procurement tools that include spend analytics, sourcing, contract management, SRM and P2P.  Now our focus turns to optimizing the use of these tools and identifying opportunities to use AI and RPA to automate some of the tactical processes that slow down throughput.

As a U.S. Army Officer in the 82nd Airborne Division, you completed 40 military parachute jumps. What did that teach you about building trust and relationships?

You must be willing to take risks that push you outside of your comfort zone if you want to grow personally and professionally. Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane while in flight helped me overcome a fear of heights and instilled a trust in others, for example, the person who packed my parachute, the person flying the plane, the person who gave the commands to exit the plane over the drop zone. In other words, my success is not dependent solely on me. It has been a life lesson that my personal life and my professional career have been more influenced by those who supported me than what I could accomplish on my own.

How did you military service impact your career overall?

The military entrusted me with more responsibility as a newly commissioned officer and college graduate than most civilians will have in their entire career. My first assignment as a tank Platoon Leader was to supervise 20 soldiers and be accountable for $20 million worth of equipment as a 22-year-old. You quickly learn the value of responsibility, accountability, service and sacrifice.  As a result, I found that when I got out of the Army, I was better prepared to solve problems, make decisions and provide leadership.

What resources do you recommend for sourcing and procurement professionals to stay on top of changes in the industry?

The most critical quality I look for in my procurement staff is a curiosity that drives them to never be content with the status quo. The goal is to be a continuous learner. That means sourcing and procurement professionals should be well-read, schooled and traveled to glean as much information from their industry suppliers, customers (internal and external) and peers, as well as organizations that serve our profession. It is not a matter of one or a few resources that make the difference, but rather taking advantage of all the resources you have at your disposal to learn and grow.  It will make you more valuable to your organization, more promotable with respect to your career and more confident in new situations.

Steve Hughes will join the Eastern Regional SIGnature Event at The Harvard Club of New York City on September 12. His executive-level presentation will be about building a common language for procurement professionals, sales, and internal and external stakeholders. To see the agenda, list of speakers or register, visit our website

Stacy Mendoza, Digital Marketing Manager

Stacy Mendoza is a Digital Marketing Manager with Sourcing Industry Group (SIG). Stacy began her career in market research as an editor for Hart Research Associates in Washington, D.C. Since moving back to Florida in 2014, she has worked in marketing and public relations, specializing in content creation, media relations and crisis communications. Stacy is a passionate volunteer who donates her time to help nonprofits develop marketing strategies and awareness campaigns. Stacy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from The Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. Follow her on Twitter and tweet at @SIG_Stacy.