In everything David Noble did, there was an urgency to accomplish and achieve. His very presence seemed to galvanise people to fulfil their common goals. That urgent presence is one of many reasons why his unexpected death at the age of 60 has provoked such a profound sense of loss among family, friends, colleagues and those who knew him as group CEO of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS).
Having accomplished much in procurement himself – as a pioneer of category management and strategic sourcing at Motorola in the 1980s and as group supply director at engineering and technology group IMI plc – David was not afraid to use his role at CIPS to exhort, encourage and inspire procurement professionals to raise their game – and their voice – to ensure that with every action the profession always strived to achieve its full potential.
Industry leaders listened because David had shown them what could be done. Appointed CEO of CIPS on 1 June 2009, he quickly began transforming the organisation. After less than eight years of his leadership, CIPS is the recognised global voice for the profession, with a community of over 115,000 worldwide and is a trusted adviser to politicians and governments on sustainability and ethics in the supply chain and the fight against modern slavery, a cause about which David was deeply passionate. CIPS president Sam Walsh says: “David was very clear on his vision for the procurement profession. He led business and government leaders across the world on his journey, making CIPS the highly regarded voice of the profession that it is today.”
Born in Norton, Stockton-on-Tees, David never lost touch with his roots. Outside work, his other great passions were his family (he is survived by his wife Jenny, daughter Michelle and granddaughter Phoebe); Middlesbrough football club (through thick and thin); sailing and cycling – taking cycling holidays to the Great Glen Way in Scotland, the first World War battle fields and the D-Day landing beaches of the Second World War. He had a great interest in history, in particular Captain Cook.
Many didn’t know that David also wrote adventure thriller novels, under a pen name. His other interests include a love of music, everything from Doris Day to Mahler; pub quizzes; and the local walking football team (especially if a game was followed by a pint).
In private and public, David was warm, sincere and blessed with a dry sense of humour. David Smith, a former president of CIPS recalls: “Once we did a joint presentation on the eve of the CIPS Australasia conference, straight off the plane and onto the podium. He had the audience in the palm of his hand. I told him it was the best I’d ever seen him do. He said later he was so jet-lagged he couldn’t remember any of it.”
As a CEO, he was challenging and demanding. CIPS director Duncan Brock, says: “He was never happier than when he had a problem to solve or a crisis to manage.” And he was never afraid of making a tough call.
Yet as a leader he was also engaged and open, sharing his vision with the entire CIPS team. Cath Hill, CIPS director, says: “His passion for the profession – and how it can be good for business and the wider world – was inspirational. He supported me, mentored me, encouraged me and inspired me.” The calibre of his leadership is one reason why CIPS has regularly featured in the Sunday Times list of Top 100 Best Organisations to work for in the Not-for-Profit sector.
David challenged the procurement profession with deeds as well as words. Some initially questioned his belief that licensing was an essential step if the profession was to adapt and survive. Yet after much consultation, he was convinced that many of the poor practices in the supply chain – fraud, waste, modern slavery – could not be eliminated by quick fixes and that licensing could protect the public good and highlight to other stakeholders the value of the procurement and supply chain profession. This is why CIPS now has a huge bank of supporters who have publicly declared their agreement with the licensing agenda including UNOPS, The Gangmasters Licensing Authority, The UK’s Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and Etihad Airways, to name but a few.
For David, transforming CIPS was not an end in itself. He was driven by the conviction that procurement could make a difference – financially, socially and ethically – and help create a better world. His moral leadership on supply chain issues earned him invitations to the Vatican, the United Nations and the White House but, for him, the most satisfying aspect of his campaigns was being able to make a real contribution to the future, continuing the work to eradicate slavery following the passing of the UK Modern Slavery Act in 2015, a pivotal moment for the profession.
His compassionate commitment was in evidence in a less publicised initiative, the creation of a CIPS Foundation devoted to those who struggle to get into – and make headway in – procurement. Amanda O’Brien, CIPS director, says: “There are 700 recipients of bursaries and scholarships so far who are living examples of David’s humanity.”
David’s greatest professional legacy is the strength of CIPS. Past president Richard Masser says: “To use an analogy that befits his love of football – he was a man who not only talked a good game but when it came to delivery he was in the champions league.” Never complacent, or content with the status quo, David felt he had more ground to break – and the team at CIPS will carry his legacy forward.
In a wider sense, his legacy is his conviction that procurement can – and should – accomplish great things. By pursuing excellence, he believed that supply chains could solve many of the world’s problems. Past president Bab Omotowa says: “His commitment to the profession, his passion, his dreams and his drive towards achieving excellence were not only infectious, but were also inspiring.”
Struggling to express his sense of loss, Tod Cooper, chair of CIPS New Zealand branch, turned to a Maori proverb about a totara tree falling in a forest. “When someone of great importance passes away, we use this proverb. A totara is a huge tree, native to New Zealand, one of great stature that grows for hundreds of years. For one of them to fall, is a great tragedy.”
That is the kind of man David Noble was.