Govlist Leaders Series: Marcheta Gillespie, Chief Procurement Officer

Marchetta Gillespie

“I’ve always, first and foremost, been an advocate for the level of service that we provide to our agencies”

Marcheta Gillespie – Director of Procurement, City of Tucson

Marcheta is the Director of Procurement for the City of Tucson. With of 25 years in public procurement, she was the 2013-2014 President of NIGP and served on the Board of Directors for 10 years. She was the first Chair of the NIGP Talent Council and Chair of the NIGP 2.0 Task Force, an historic project of governance model transformation.


Tell us a little bit more about your background, and the story of how you got to be where you are today.

Marcheta: Thanks for asking me to do the interview. I’m happy to share my story and any information to help others in my profession. I started in procurement 25 years ago, graduated from the University of Arizona and was looking for a position leading into a career and stumbled, literally, across an interview opportunity with then director, Wayne Casper, of the City of Tucson for a position as a buyer. I didn’t really know what that was but I read the job description, it sounded interesting and it was an opportunity to stay in Tucson, which was of interest to me.

So, interviewed for the job and got hooked. Really just had a great opportunity over the years with city to take on new roles and increasing responsibility and so went from a buyer back in 1991, working my way up through the organization to the Director of Procurements and has really had a great career at the city. Along the way, my mentor encouraged me to get involved at the national level and so I started out by getting involved in committees and different opportunities as they presented themselves. Eventually became a member of the board of directors for the National Institute of Governmental Procurement and became eventually, the president. Currently, the chair of the Universal Public Procurement Certification Council.

Along the way have had a chance to be part of major movements in the profession including the development of the values and guiding principles and the establishment of the best practices for public procurements and various things along the way. I’ve been very blessed to have been involved in lots of different opportunities and really been able to give back to my profession through those opportunities.


When you arrived as a buyer, what was some of the challenges you faced and how did those evolve over the years as you got promoted and turned into more of a leader of the organization?

Marcheta: I think when I came into the city, of course, that was back in the day when the internet didn’t really exist. There’s been lots of opportunity to grow, particularly in technology. I was fortunate enough to come in an environment that was very manual and I was probably one of the younger staff members in the office, one of the first, actually, that had come out of a university program so the city was really looking to bring in more college graduates and also to look at pursuing projects that began moving the profession forward.

I was able to get involved in projects that first started introducing, really technology, into a very manual, paper driven process. I ended up being the project manager that implemented a E-procurement solution into our department, brought in online vendor registration for our contracting community, automated very manual labor intensive processes. Over the years, just was able to be a key participant in development of policy, more introduction of standardization, professional development and advocating for staff to become both professionally certified and eventually moving to require that our contracting staff must now have a degree and then certain levels of staff must be certified as well, before being able to progress through the various positions of the city.


Let’s fast forward to 2017. What do you see is some of the challenges that your organization faces today?

Marcheta: An interesting timing of the interview, the City of Tucson is actually looking at a lot of transformation, some necessitated by the financial challenges that many organizations face. Certainly not unique to Tucson but also, I think, just a sign of the changing times where we certainly have had a long history of being very knowledgeable in our profession and our space but now I see much more movement across the country to transforming business services in general and partnering much more closely with other business services.

Whether that’s our financial services, whether it’s human resources, information technology are really working much more closely with our clients to look at how we enhance our professional services to our clients and looking at different models of how we deliver those services. That’s actually something that we’re in the midst of at the City of Tucson and I think our business in the next couple of years will look drastically different from what it’s looked like in the past.


Would you feel comfortable sharing some of the models that are on your mind as potential options that might come out of that process?

Marcheta: I think the city right now is looking at merging some business service functions to create more alignment in streamlining and looking at really reduction of any duplications of service and putting us into a model that allows for seamless integration with business services overall for our customer. I think we all appreciate that our customers are experts in whatever they do whether it’s putting out fires, chasing bad guys, providing water service or taking care of our parks. We really need to make their interaction with business services, whether it’s financial, human resources procurement, budget, risk management, any of those areas, we need to make that as easy and straightforward as possible for them.

That means we have to change how we’re providing our services on the business end and that might mean developing teams of support rather than separate spaces of support from various separate and distinct functions. We have to maintain the integrity of the function.

Certainly my role is to protect the integrity of the procurement process, not only protect the city and the citizens of the contracting community but we have to do it in a way that customers don’t necessarily need to know exactly where procurement starts and stops and then where finance starts and stops but that for them, they’re just getting that holistic service from us as a team rather than as separate units.


What are some of your goals or aspirations with this organizational transformation or rethinking of the way that procurement works? Have you thought about what you’d like procurement to look like in the end?

Marcheta: Well I definitely have some very specific goals and objectives but we’re also wanting to insure that we stay very open to the fluidity of how this project, as a city, ebbs and flows. I think we have a general vision but as we get into the specifics and we start laying the reality on top of the theory, I think we’re going to need to be flexible and adaptable for that. We are pursuing and have been working on some very specific projects such as re-engineering our RFP process, streamlining other processes around that, looking at simplifying, and in some cases eliminating, non-value added policy, enhancing our documentation and then, also creating different tools, obviously many of them technology based, but just different tools that help, again, help our customers do their job without necessarily needing to be experts in ours, in our discipline. So how we do that, again, to work closely with customers so that we understand their needs and can provide them tools and then make adjustments based on real life application of the new processes and the new policies for the new tools.


What do you anticipate being some of the harder parts that you are trying to tackle?

Marcheta: I think one of the more challenging aspects of this magnitude of change is certainly the people and the relationships. We have a lot of folks in our organization, folks within our procurement function, that just throughout the organization, who have a great depth of skill and depth of knowledge but may not necessarily be equipped to work through major change and be open to what that change is going to lead to. We also have a lot of knew people, both in, again, in procurement and in the organization, who aren’t grounded necessarily in the ways that we’ve been doing business and are going to be more opened to new solutions and new ways of doing business.

We really have to find a way to match both the very skilled and very experienced individuals with those individuals who have, perhaps, more open vision to how we can do things differently and strike that balance between the two, right, we don’t want to lose the experience and the skill and we don’t want to lose the new energy and the new vision and, to some degree, new skill sets and new comfort levels with technology. I think the biggest challenge is how do you bring all those perspectives to the table to create a passion and an enthusiasm for the change because I think that helps drive the change. The people who are excited about an opportunity are going to help further that vision much more readily than the individuals who are working from a frame of fear and resistance.


What are some things that you’ve done to help the cultural transformation side?

Marcheta: Again, this is a perfect time because we are actually just at the beginning stages of this so we’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I think, number one, is I have to make sure that I, as the leader of the procurement group, I need to make sure that I am sharing information to the greatest extent possible and being very transparent about what this change could be and helping individuals connect to what their role is and what the opportunities that exist in the future state, are for them. How do I translate what this might mean to resonate more readily with all those different groups. How do the new people engage? How do the tenured seasoned individuals engage? How is everybody part of that solution? Really making sure that our team realizes that we’re going to be more successful with them and with their ideas and that they’re going to have ample opportunity to introduce all of those ideas.

It’s really just being as open and transparent and being very focused and intentional in our team building. Not just with the procurement staff, but also with our customers. We want them to know we really want to provide the possible level of service for you and with you. We want your ideas and there are not no sacred cows. We’re not going to push back on new ideas, no matter how wild and crazy anyone might think the idea is, there’s always going to be value in every statement.

Again, the vision of where we get to might not look exactly like what we think it looks like today but as long as we keep moving forward and finding efficiencies and making progress, we’re going to keep it moving. I think the other key is to show progress along the way. We don’t want to drag it out forever. We want change to take years. We want to show quick wins. That, I think will help encourage people to stay motivated, to work and continue to progress rather than waiting for years to see any type of progress.


Could you share some ideas on quick wins that might be easier to change for leaders in other cities?

Marcheta: There’s always going to be quick wins around policy changes or procedural changes where they are informal policy or procedures that we ourselves have put in place and aren’t necessarily based in ordinance or in charter or in those legislative areas that do require time. Unfortunately at the city, much of our framework of policy is fairly high level that recorded in a formal ordinance or formal legislation. Much of it is just policies and rules that have grown over time and sometimes they come out of situations that occurred 20 years ago and we have a rule in place for fear of what might happen again when in reality we are overly concerned about a risk and we have an undue hardship or unnecessarily complicated procedures that we’ve put in place to avoid something. I think part of our profession’s certainly is protect the organization and look out for our financial and legal risks but sometimes, I think, we go overboard.

I think the quick wins comes from going through, for example, our RFP process and realizing “Wow, we’ve been doing our process pretty much the same way for many years.” Once we really dig into the details of the steps and the forms and the data and the roles, we recognize we do have numerous non-value added steps that we’ve added over the years that we can eliminate completely. Sometimes it’s transitioning to something that’s more automated, putting that technology in place, or even something where we’re transferring an activity from central procurement to our customers or perhaps even just a contractors and freeing up some of our staff time to make sure that our procurement people are focused on the most value added function and getting the highest return of investment of their time in that process.
I think that’s going to be the quick wins for us.


Technology have come a lot in this conversation. What type of role do you see technology playing in supporting and amplifying the change that’s going on right now?

Marcheta: Huge. I think what we hear as we’re talking about transformation here at the City of Tucson, technology is no longer an optional piece of the puzzle. It is an absolutely critical piece and that we have to, and have been certainly here at the city, incorporate it as just a matter of practice in all conversations because it’s not just about “how do we take this particular step and automate it?” It’s about how do we utilize new technology to sometimes completely change how we’re delivering a particular service and, I give you just a simple example, here at the City of Tucson, we’ve utilized technology in our parking meters. Now someone doesn’t need to worry about putting coins in a machine, you can actually pull up an app on your phone and pay the space and the meter and that’s just a whole new way of looking at how that service has provided changes in the community and the fact that the community is huge. I know I appreciate when I pull up I don’t gotta worry about change that I don’t have.

I just pay with my phone app and who would’ve thought, even five years ago, that that would be how we’re handling that service in this community. I think the same applies for procurement. It’s not just taking what we do now and automating it, it’s looking at a different way of delivering the service with the available and emerging technology.

For us, we’re looking at even developing some tools that don’t exist because we see both the efficiencies and the value add of doing it through a piece of technology rather than in person. I think a good example that many agencies have already transitioned to, it’s just that the basic pre-bit conference or pre-proposal conference, traditionally everybody shows up in a room, it’s a hardship, if you will, on the contractor, especially if they’re not local. It’s a hardship on customers who may not be located in the same building and moving more towards a webex type platform where everyone’s able to have the opportunity to engage but not requiring them to have a physical presence to engage.


This has been a great conversation and I’d love to just ask one final question which is: If there’s one or two pieces of advice that you would want to share with other procurement leaders, who are in similar positions, what would it be?

Marcheta: Wow, you know, I’ve always, first and foremost, been an advocate for the level of service that we provide to our agencies and to our community which includes our contracting community. I think it’s incumbent upon the procurement leadership to always remind both themselves and their team and their agencies, that we are a service provider. Our business is about relationships. Yes, we have processes and we deal with dollars and negotiation and the contract documents but first and foremost, I think we are a relationship business and we have to always ensure that our stakeholders understand that role and that we understand what their needs are and how we can best serve those needs.

Then secondary to that is as professionals in procurement, it’s incumbent upon us to always work toward growing our profession both in the position that we serve in the organization, getting that proverbial seat at the table, making sure we’re part of the C-Suite of representatives that contribute at the highest level of discussions in the agencies but also remembering to support and encourage people in our profession to continuously grow and develop in that profession. Whether that means pursuing their professional certification or whether that means contributing to the development of the standards in our profession or just serving as a mentor to advocate for new people and especially the younger generation coming into our profession.

We’ve got to give back. I’m fortunate that I’m in a great profession that very much believes in giving back but we definitely need to continue to spread that message because there are so many of us around the country who aren’t engaged in the profession and we want to make sure they know that they have a very large network of professionals who are here to support them.


Well this has been a thought-provoking conversation. Thanks Marcheta.

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