One of the steps toward achieving the Pareto Award of Excellence in Public Procurement is providing written responses to 60 questions covering various award criteria. When pursuing the award for Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., Rick D. Berry, executive director of Construction and Procurement, submitted documentation totaling 1,500 pages. "I wanted to make sure they had all the information they needed," recalled Berry.

The approach paid off when Old Dominion University was accredited as the first institution of higher education to achieve the Pareto Award, designating that the university met criteria so challenging that only six public agencies have earned the accreditation since the award's inception in 2003. The Pareto Award of Excellence in Public Procurement, comparable to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, is named for the political sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), the father of scientific procurement whose Pareto Rule says roughly 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes.

Pareto accreditation is awarded for five years, and obtaining the award requires rigorous adherence to a three-phase award process. Candidates must complete a self-study and then provide responses to those 60 questions covering areas of leadership, strategic planning, customer focus, process management, technology and information management, and performance review. The final phase involves an on-site peer review. Only public procurement agencies that have been accredited with NIGP's Outstanding Agency Accreditation Achievement Award (OA4) are eligible for the Pareto Award.

The road to Pareto success

"We decided we wanted to make procurement at Old Dominion University the best in the country," said Berry. "You get there by making sure your policies and procedures are excellent and aligned with the strategic plan of the university. It took years to do that."

Achieving excellence also involves making sure the right people are in place to get the job done. "I looked at the people who were here and their skill sets," Berry said. "I was able to train the people here and hire new people and get quality staff members in the organization. That's why you need the help of human resources."

Berry added that staff development is an ongoing process. He continues to encourage employees to pursue higher education, such as working toward graduate degrees, to seek certifications, and to get involved in professional organizations at the state and national levels. Even during the tough economic times, when cost-of-living increases are hard to come by, Berry has continued to reward employees for excellence through job reclassifications and a bonus program.

"Our philosophy is to hire the right people, train them properly, compensate them properly, empower them and they will excel," he said. "That's generally what we do, in partnership with human resources."

In his quest for procurement excellence at Old Dominion University, Berry called on the experience he had gained in strategic planning during his 25-year tenure in procurement in Virginia Beach, Va., and on the time he spent exploring the subject in graduate school: "You have to make sure everything you do relates back to the strategic plan, including hiring, policies and procedures, work assignments and performance measures." Strategic operations also include an emphasis on continuous process improvement and on benchmarking best practices. "It's a journey," said Berry.

Having achieved the desired level of excellence at Old Dominion University, Berry proceeded to the next step: To receive acknowledgment of that excellence, which comes through accreditation. He said, "O.K. now, I know we're good, but how can I make sure my boss has something to show everybody what we are achieving?" The first step was to earn the OA4 award from NIGP, which involves meeting a detailed list of criteria, a self-assessment process and a detailed application to document policy, procedures and organizational structures. Old Dominion University is one of about 70 organizations that have achieved the OA4 accreditation. The next step was to apply for the coveted Pareto Award and to join the elite group of six organizations nationwide that have achieved the top honor.

As executive director of Construction and Procurement at Old Dominion University, Berry oversees a 12-person staff in the procurement area and another 12-person team in the construction field (led by Dale Feltes, director of Design and Construction, who reports to Berry). The procurement staff includes three managers who handle procurement, inventory control, surplus property and contract administration.

Procurement and beyond

The site visit required for Pareto Award accreditation was exhaustive. "They sent a team down for a variety of interviews, through individuals, focus groups and meetings with vendors," said Berry. The team interviewed 50 people and asked a variety of questions about the HR plan, the customer satisfaction plan and the university's use of technology. The goal was to measure the appropriateness of the organization's structure and confirm that procurement's mission, goals and objectives are consistent with the university's strategic plan.

"They go beyond procurement to look at the leadership of the organization," continued Berry. "The wonderful thing about the Pareto Award is that it starts off in the procurement area, but it's also an award for Old Dominion University; it shows that they value procurement. It is a holistic approach to buying, support and excellence. The university does it right, from the president all the way through. They allow me to do a good job, and they expect me to do a good job. Excellence is expected here."

Ensuring customer focus at Old Dominion University includes considering the vendors they buy from and the departments they serve as the primary customers for procurement. They emphasize collecting a lot of information related to performance and workload measures. "We have spent more and more time on surveys to see what our customers think of us," said Berry. "They will tell you where you are strong and where you are weak. A lot of people don't like surveys, but they are a great tool."

Old Dominion University has also excelled at increasing participation of small, minority and woman-owned businesses in recent years. The institution won the Virginia Governor's 2009 SWaM Champion Award (for Small, Woman and Minority-owned business).

Business process improvements related to procurement at Old Dominion University include both re-engineering processes to make them more efficient and automating them to make them faster. Processes that have been re-engineered in the last year include:

  • Electronic receiving, to eliminate errors in receiving reports and to facilitate timely payments.
  • The p-card program, including automating the card-holder log program, which eliminates errors, saves time in data entry and minimizes paper documents
  • A new contract administration program, including additional training for contract administrators and better monitoring to ensure contractors are being paid through the contract and auditing. This program has found $111,000 in errors in the last six months and resulted in refunds from various departments.

"We want to make sure we are adding more value," said Berry. "Procurement can add value in many ways, from writing good contracts to negotiating and managing the contracts."

Related to technology, the university uses the state's electronic procurement tool, which handles most business (more than 90 percent) through electronic solicitations and electronic purchase orders. "We are working with the state to improve the system, which is state-wide, and to get better reporting and contracting tools," said Berry.

Albert Hall award winner

NIGP's 2010 Forum in San Antonio was a big event for Berry, who also won the 2010 Albert H. Hall Memorial Award, the Institute's highest honor. In presenting the award, Rick Grimm, NIGP CEO, recognized Berry's "ability to convert vision into governance and policy." As a leader of NIGP, Berry has worked for a more open process to elect leaders and to afford opportunities for members to serve on committees. Today, NIGP board members are elected by the membership through a competitive process and more than 150 members serve on 13 NIGP Committees and task forces.

Berry served as president of NIGP's largest chapter affiliate in 1992 and as president of NIGP in 2000. "He is perhaps best noted for his passion for teaching and mentoring students," said Grimm in presenting the award.

Berry has had only three jobs in his adult life. He began in the procurement profession as an entry-level buyer in Virginia Beach, Va., in 1975, and stayed with the same employer for 25 years as he worked his way up to chief procurement officer. He also expanded his education during the same period, progressing from an associate's degree to undergraduate and graduate degrees, all courtesy of the city's 100 percent tuition reimbursement. Berry credits Giles Dodd, Virginia Beach assistant city manager, as his mentor who understood the value of procurement, saw his potential, allowed him to make mistakes and was his inspiration during his 25-year tenure at the city. Berry also credits Bill Davis, the purchasing agent who hired and trained him at the tender age of 24.

During the dot-com craze, Berry went to work briefly (about 15 months) for DemandStar, an e-procurement company, but returned to the public sector with his job at Old Dominion University, where he has been since 2002.

"You need to love the profession," said Berry. "You can't excel unless you love it. Education is also important, so you can understand the leadership theories, organizational theories and management theories. Get involved in professional organizations. Look outside your organization and be exposed to other people doing similar work. Develop a network to share information."

Berry concedes that professional involvement comes at a price, which includes having less time to spend with family. He acknowledges his family's support, especially wife Karen, as an important element in his professional success. "I could not have done any of this without her," he said.

About the author

Larry Anderson is the editor of Go Pro.

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