Q&A With Shannon Brown, SMU’s New Director of Purchasing

What is your background in Purchasing/Procurement?

My career started in public service for the state of Tennessee in the governor’s budget office.  When my husband and I moved back to Dallas, I was fortunate to continue in a similar role with Dallas County.  After working on budgets for over 10 years, I sought out a leadership position in the county’s Purchasing Department.  My role was to bring a customer service focus to the organization and implement process improvements.  I was successful in the job and was asked to step in and oversee several other operations departments that included facilities management, construction management and fleet.  Eventually, I returned to the Purchasing Department and finished an 18-year career with Dallas County.  My experience also includes consulting work with state and local governments on procurement best practices.

What drew you to the position with SMU?

As an alumna, working at SMU has always been on my “dream job” list.  When I first learned about a procurement position available in higher education, I didn’t know it was at SMU.  I’m pretty sure the poor person who told me the opening was at SMU still has ringing in his ears from my squeals of excitement.  After researching the changes and improvements the University was looking to make, I knew my skills would be a good fit.  We have a quote hanging in our house that says “Luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”  That sums up how I feel about my path to SMU.

Tell us about your personal connections with SMU.

I was determined NOT to attend SMU.  As a native of Garland, Texas, I wanted to go far away to attend college.  A friend convinced me to come with her to a Mustang Monday in fall 1987, and at lunch I called my father (in the age of no cell phones) and said I wanted to come to SMU.  My husband and I met in our first-year dorm and both were very involved in student organizations.  We graduated in May and married a few weeks later in Perkins Chapel.  We live close to the campus and enjoy being able to be back on campus for events. 

What is your vision for Purchasing at SMU?

Purchasing should be a place departments want to reach out to, not a process they have to do.  SMU Purchasing will be a resource that brings value and finds value.

Is there a difference between Purchasing and Procurement?

The words are often used interchangeably – and I don’t put much emphasis on names and titles.  Generally, purchasing is defined as a process while procurement is discussed as a philosophy.  For me, procurement means more than just buying what departments need.  Procurement includes analysis and a decision-making process that considers other factors in addition to price.

How have you been involved with the OE2C Procurement Initiative?

I had the opportunity to work with the Procurement Initiative team on the final recommendation involving IT procurement.  It was a nice surprise to come on board and find a group of individuals of different backgrounds with a strong understanding of procurement goals.  Now the Purchasing Department is taking the momentum of the OE2C initiative and applying it to other areas to bring value.

How are you identifying the areas that might produce savings for the University?

The OE2C process identified about a dozen additional areas of spending to analyze for potential savings, and three of the initial savings areas have second phases.  The current timeline has the Purchasing Department reviewing specific initiatives through 2017.  And the team is always listening and looking for opportunities.

 You spent a lot of years in the public setting. What differences do you see in the private arena?

Government procurement is very structured and operates under a centralized organization.  In higher education, the model is more decentralized and more collaborative.  In public procurement, I sometimes had to say “we can’t do that.” Now I work to say “should we do that” first.  

Other items you would like to share?

Don’t be afraid of the procurement process.  We are very friendly folks and we want to be a resource for you.  Invite us over to see your operations.  I’m a strong believer that time actively spent in the field improves time spent in the office working.

By Nick Rallo