Syngenta Group: How Indirect Procurement is Stepping Up

Syngenta Group: How Indirect Procurement is Stepping Up

Gerardo Aguilar gives a first-hand insight into Syngenta Group’s evolution of indirect procurement and the initiatives behind it

How to provide enough nutritious food to feed the planet’s burgeoning population is one of today’s greatest dilemmas.

How to go on doing it, day after day, year after year, decade on decade, without sucking the nutrients out of the soil and turning Earth into a desert, adds another layer of urgency to this very real game of life.

It is a double-headed challenge that Syngenta Group, a leading science-based agtech company based in Basel, Switzerland, tackles daily.

It is also a challenge the Indirect Procurement Function wants to support Syngenta Group to overcome.

Step forward, Gerardo Aguilar.

Gerardo, who hails from Mexico, has a background in engineering and post-graduate studies in marketing and business administration.  Gerardo is Syngenta’s Global Head of Indirect Procurement.

Having moved to procurement more than 20 years ago, Gerardo has a wealth of experience, having lived and worked in Mexico, UK, The Netherlands and now Switzerland.

“My career has taken me to different countries, working with multinational companies including EY, Philips International and Novartis leading to interactions with people all around the world with different backgrounds, different styles, different practices,” he says.

“This life journey has taught me how to adapt to different cultures & contexts. It helps me to easily engage with my stakeholders and my team. Staying connected is key for us since we are located in different countries facing different challenges and different perceptions.”

Gerardo adds: “At the end of the day, our success as a function is due to the commitment and hard work of all Indirect Procurement team members around the world.”

Well positioned to be the best

In terms of his employer’s potential, Gerardo is convinced, saying: “Syngenta Group is well positioned to provide farmers with the best technology and expertise to increase productivity and grow healthier, affordable and sustainable food.”

Gerardo, whose professional experience focused on management, strategic sourcing, cost optimisation and transformations, says: “At Syngenta Group we transform agriculture, with tailor-made solutions for the benefit not only of the farmers, but society and our planet.”

Syngenta Group was created in June 2020, to unite the power of the four business units that were pulled together – Syngenta Crop Protection, Syngenta Seeds, ADAMA and Syngenta Group China.

Each has different specialisms and, by uniting them, Syngenta Group’s aim is to produce an oversight of and expertise in all aspects of the agricultural innovation industry.

Gerardo explains that this gives Syngenta Group sharp insight into the industry’s problems and potential solutions.

An ambitious mission

As for Syngenta Group, its mission statement does not hold back, with a vision that if ‘farmers are prosperous, agriculture becomes more sustainable and consumers have safe, healthy and nutritious food’.

Gerardo says: “At Syngenta Group, we work with large or small farmers to address the different challenges that we are facing. And today, as we know, the challenge is about crop productivity.

“We have more and more people in the world, so how do we increase that crop productivity and also crop health? That's also very important.”

He adds: “Our mission in Syngenta Group is to be the most collaborative and trusted team in agriculture, creating long-term sustainable value for customers, employees and people around the world – and the most geographical and culturally diverse business in the field.”

“We are looking at technology and how we can leverage the power of data to help farmers feed the world in a sustainable way for the future.”

Accelerate – by word and by deed

Gerardo’s indirect procurement team of some 200 people located in 32 countries took centre stage when Syngenta Group introduced its Accelerate Programme.

The programme was a three-year business-led initiative driven by indirect procurement, with the aim of doubling the productivity gains that were being delivered before it began. It also aimed to embed a ‘productivity mindset’ across the entire company.

Gerardo says: “The programme was set up as a call to action to get people, not only in indirect procurement, but outside in the business, to have this productivity mindset and together deliver double the value that we were delivering before.”

He adds: “A key part of the Accelerate Programme was to make sure we didn’t only look at the price of what we buy, but that we started looking at the demand. What are we buying? How are we buying it? Do we really need all specifications?

“Do we have some substitutes? Can we actually review the scope? Can we analyse the cost drivers behind what we are buying and then make an informed decision on whether we really need them? Yes or no?”

If any of this even hints at sacrificing quality, it should not.

For, as Gerardo says: “In most of the cases we can do all that without sacrificing the quality that is required for what we need to buy.”

Target achieved – and then some

By the end of the three-year programme, Accelerate had done exactly what it said on the tin – and much more.

Gerardo says: “At the end, by closely partnering with our business colleagues, we managed to over deliver the aggressive target by almost 50%. The programme in the three years involved more than 700 people around the organisation. And in order to deliver these great results, we have more than 7,000 initiatives that actually made it possible to deliver the results.

“This great result was only possible due to all the Indirect Procurement team members around the world stepping up to the challenge. For which I am personally very grateful and proud about the Team.”

The programme has ended, but it has, according to Gerardo, left an important legacy.

He says: “It helped us to be even closer to our business stakeholders, to identify more impactful opportunities to drive productivity. Getting sponsorship from senior leaders in the company really helped with this and we need to maintain it.

“And at the end, it gave us more visibility and recognition as a function of what we do for the company including our value beyond savings.”

Roadmap for an uncertain future

To build on the Accelerate Programme, a strategic roadmap has been set out to take Syngenta Group’s indirect procurement to 2027.

It comprises some meaty areas, including data analytics, sustainability, people, operational excellence and artificial intelligence.

Gerardo says: “How can we continue to be more effective and efficient so we can free up time for more strategic work and data analytics? That's an area that is as critical now for procurement as for many other functions.”

“And how are we going to, in a more structural and impactful way, support the sustainability efforts of the company? Syngenta Group is very committed to sustainability, so how can indirect procurement play our role?

One of the immediate ways Syngenta Group will do this is by making sure that its supply base is supporting its requirements and standards in terms of sustainability.

“So we are actually working on how we can embed the required sustainability know-how and mindset to all our indirect procurement people around the world so we can be a change agent within Syngenta Group and outside within our supplier base,” explains Gerardo.

In terms of people, Gerardo says he wants to see every member of his team “growing and continuing to grow. I do believe the best work environment is the one that empowers team members, so they can deliver their full potential, and helps them to develop new skills for their future.”

What about artificial intelligence?

There is no simple answer to any question about AI, particularly in terms of how best to harness it for businesses.

But there are already several areas within Indirect Procurement where AI can play a big role in bringing efficiency and effectiveness to our day-to-day jobs. 

Gerardo says: “We are already looking at the application of chatbots to help us perform routine tasks more efficiently. We are also looking at the application of AI to the contract creation process. 

“Part of the key work of indirect procurement is to make sure that we protect the business by ensuring that we put together contracts that, should anything go wrong, we protect Syngenta Group.

“The team is also keen to understand how to leverage predictive analytics within our data analytics tool, which could be a real game changer.”

Using tech to manage dispersed workforce

Another area of tech that is making a more immediate impact is an international Managed Service Provider (MSP) programme aimed at managing external employees, particularly externally deployed specialists.

Supplied by Magnit, it enables access to an expanded supplier base, providing access to a wider pool of temporary workers and niche specialists.

It also:

  • Enhances visibility and compliance by offering greater transparency in tracking deployed workers and ensuring adherence to regulations
  • Streamlines processes through a centralised platform for managing external personnel, simplifying contract ordering, supervision and invoicing
  • Offers consistency and assurance by maintaining standardised practices and compliance across different countries where Syngenta operates
  • Provides opportunities for lifelong learning, enabling the development of temporary employees for potential transition to permanent roles.

Syngenta says: “Initial observations highlight positive results, including a broader talent pool and ongoing refinement of personnel strategies. Looking ahead, there's a strong focus on continuous improvement and alignment with the evolving needs of both Syngenta and its workforce.”

Facing the future

We have heard about the business’s past and present, so what about the future?

“Population is forecast to hit 9.7 billion by 2050, we have degraded land and unprecedented weather extremes. We are facing new pests and have diminishing water resources. So these are the big challenges that we have for the future,” says Gerardo.

Which is why Syngenta Group is pushing the concept of regenerative agriculture: a set of practices that enhance the health of soil. 

Gerardo explains: “The first one is to minimise soil disturbance, and that's reducing the tilling of the soil, which damages the structure, allowing the water, and the components to escape.

“The second one is having cover crops that can be used to alternate with the cash crops, helping to retain water, and the nutrients of the soil, as well as eliminate the erosion of the soil.”

He adds: “The third is crop diversity – making sure that you don't plant the same crop every time.

“And then the fourth one is something that Syngenta Group is pushing very hard called precision agriculture – harnessing the power of technology and data to identify where, how much and what product you need.

“Finally, how do we integrate livestock whenever possible into this to help clean the remaining crop instead of having to till the land and the manure of the livestock can help fertilise the soil.”

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Syngenta Group
Syngenta Group
Syngenta Group
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