The American University of Beirut is the oldest university in Lebanon and one of the oldest in the region. Founded in 1866, it bases its educational philosophy, standards, and practices on the American liberal arts model of higher education. It is a teaching-centred research university with around 800 instructional faculty staff and a student body of around 8,000 students.
“I joined AUB in 1989 as an Assistant Director of Purchasing with no experience in the field. It was difficult for the team to accept me as their supervisor being a young, inexperienced female,” explains Hanan Itani Ramadan, Director of Procurement and Contracts Administration. “However, I was able to prove myself by revamping the procedures and practices and introducing efficiencies into the process. As a result, I gained the trust and respect of the team, users and suppliers.”
Despite this challenging start, Itani became an expert in her field. In 2002, she was promoted to the position of Director of Purchasing. “I played an important role in adopting the latest technologies to automate the transactional process and was able to keep up the performance of the department. In 2013, I started driving the transformation and restructuring process of the department and was promoted to Director of Procurement and Contracts Administration,” she reveals.
The ultimate goal
The role that Itani and her department play is integral to the operations at AUB. “As a department, our ultimate goal is to provide a centre of expertise, provide superior value to our university users and optimise the performance of the organisation. Today we are engaged with the users and the faculty members from the initial phases of when they identify their needs,” Itani advises. “We are providing to them guidance and support through all the phases of the purchasing process.”
Indeed, the concept of optimum value for money has become embedded in everyday decision-making management for all aspects of AUB expenditure. “Our focus shifted towards improving the quality and timeliness of our services, installing best practices, and increasing awareness and use throughout the university,” remarks Itani.
With 28 years’ experience within the department, Itani has witnessed how procurement has changed at AUB over the years. “Purchasing as a function was perceived as an accessory component in the university and was merely playing a servicing role,” Itani comments. Since early 2013, major changes have been introduced to the department to address the challenges, such as the need to manage and control the large database of the suppliers and cope with the rapidly changing technological advancement in the field of IT, consolidate and centralise contracting activity, and develop a customer service section.
“In order to address all these needs, we decided to restructure the organisation of the department,” Itani explains. The transformation started by changing the name of the department from purchasing to procurement and contract administration. “The change properly reflects the expansion of functions, evolution in the roles of the transactional base, and a more customer-focused type of operation,” she adds. “Later on, in early 2014, the first reports that were produced showed a positive impact on the sourcing process in terms of cost saving and in terms of timeliness of the operation.”
The increased customer focus has certainly been of core importance to the department’s operations. “One of the key elements in improving our cost saving margin is innovation. Learning about users’ needs early in the process helps us better understand the requirements and research the market for economical alternatives,” explains Itani.
Investing in training
To achieve such transformation in procurement, significant investments have been made in the department’s staff. “In the department, we're always investing in training and upgrading the skills of the team because we depend on the communications, knowhow and expertise of the team in procurement,” explains Itani. There are 22 employees within the team, spread across five units – supplier risk management, compliance and customer support, international sourcing, local sourcing, and contracts administration.
Such investment in the team helps to make AUB an attractive employer to the best candidates within the field. AUB has been ranked as one of the most attractive employers in the world by the 2018 QS Graduate Employability Rankings, due to its excellent reputation, benefits, and motivating work environment. AUB was also ranked the top university in the Arab region by the international QS University Rankings for the year 2017/18.
“I would like to emphasise the importance of the leadership’s attention to and support of our vision and talent as a department,” states Itani. “This played a major role in the success of the transformation. If we didn't have the leadership, attention, and support we would not have been able to achieve this transformation.”
A bold future
Having celebrated a major milestone last year, AUB as a whole is already focusing on the future. “This year, AUB launched a campaign called the Boldly AUB Campaign. This campaign looks ahead to the next 150 years because last year we celebrated our 150-year anniversary and now we're looking ahead, we're planning for the next 150 years. We have a long list of plans, expansions, and investments,” Itani notes. The five main components of the campaign are education and research, healthcare, innovation and entrepreneurship, community relevance, and sustainability. “AUB looks forward to creating new micro-economies, contributing to the flourishing of SMEs in Lebanon and the region,” she concludes.