The public good

From the February 2024 print edition

As an upper-tier municipality, the sheer range of procurement needed to keep Ontario’s Northumberland County running should come as no surprise.

Just ask Carl Bonitto, the county’s purchasing and risk management services manager. At any given time, Bonitto can find himself buying construction services for social housing, new software, vehicles, consulting services, or many other goods and services.

The county’s size means that Bonitto gets to purchase that variety of goods and services. That provides a diversity in his day-to-day routine that he likely wouldn’t get in a position focused on a single commodity. And Bonitto’s diverse experience means he’s up to the challenge. His first exposure to supply chain and procurement came early. The business program he studied at Ontario’s Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario had an emphasis on production, operations, and materials management, with the last year of study exclusively focused on those sorts of topics. While studying, he did summer work for Quaker Oats in Trenton, Ontario. During that experience, Bonitto was exposed to areas like production and warehousing, among others. His curiosity drove him to learn how large operations work.

While he was completing his co-op placement, Bonitto attended a job fair. One of the companies at the fair was Celestica, and Bonitto spoke with representatives at their booth about what the company did. Celestica ended up hiring him before he finished his placement.

“The school recognized that (work) as real-life experience,” he says. “I graduated and was hired as an inventory analyst. That’s where things really started for me in the supply chain world, working for a multinational company such as Celestica.”

By this time, Bonitto had begun racking up accolades for his work. He developed an inventory process for the company. Bonitto and his team received an internal award for that achievement during a meeting. The award came as a surprise and encouraged him to continue working hard in his newfound field.
“That was huge, because it was a process that improved the record keeping and visibility of some of the inventory,” he says. “That (award) always kind of stuck with me as something that drove me.”

Bonitto worked at Celestica’s Toronto office for some time before starting a new position in the automotive industry. That job was at automotive parts company Linamar’s facility in Batawa, Ontario, about halfway between Toronto and Kingston. His position was production planner and buyer. Bonitto now credits that job as a deeper step into the world of supply chain and procurement since, as part of his duties, he purchased all the packaging for the plant.

From there, Bonitto got a job at Wilson Sporting Goods. He worked at the company as a racquet sports buyer for about seven years in his first strictly purchasing job. That position, combined with his experience with Linamar, allowed Bonitto to position himself strictly as a buyer in procurement, rather than also as a planner – a shift that he says suited him well.

Switching to the public sector
His manager at Wilson supported continuous learning. That encouragement helped push Bonitto to take the Supply Chain Management Professional (SCMP) designation program through Supply Chain Canada. Earning his designation in 2009 helped to propel Bonitto into his position at Northumberland County, where he has worked for the past 15 years.

“The reason why I got the job was partly because of the designation – and my experience, of course – but the designation was huge,” Bonitto says. “The hiring director and the CAO at the time were looking for someone who was designated. So that was huge for me in getting my position.”

Along with his SCMP, Bonitto has a three-year diploma from Loyalist College, a degree
in business management from Athabasca University, and a master’s certificate in public sector leadership from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Responsibility for both procurement and risk management means a varied schedule, with
no two days the same, Bonitto says. Priorities can change quickly. For example, a day he hopes to devote to procurement can suddenly be filled with risk management duties, which includes the county’s entire insurance portfolio.

“I get to do all the insurance for the entire county,” Bonitto says. “My team and I deal with all the claims that come to the department. Anything from a legal claim from a motor vehicle accident to a slip and fall at one of our locations, and everything in between, potholes or whatever it may be. And also, lawsuits – if we’re sued in an action, that comes to my desk. Then, I act as the intermediary between (the county) and the lawyer that we hire, or the insurance company, depending on what action we decide to do. So that’s my day to day, but it changes. It could change so that tomorrow

I could go into work and I’m dealing with a claim, and it may take up a good portion of my day. Or I’m looking at a construction build or procuring some other commodity.”

Bonitto’s office is in Cobourg, Ontario, close to Highway 401. Northumberland County extends along a large area facing Lake Ontario. Yet when asked where the county is, Bonitto references the “Big Apple.”

“What people know more than anything is, when you’re driving down the highway and you see this Big Apple,” says Bonitto, referencing a nearby roadside attraction, a 12.1-metre-tall apple-shaped structure attached to a restaurant and a pie factory. “That’s Northumberland County, so that’s why I always say ‘well, then you’re in Northumberland County, as soon as you see the Apple.’”

Bonitto enjoys giving back to the supply chain and procurement field, for example through teaching and volunteering. He has taught for the Ontario Public Buyers’ Association since 2010. The association offers introductory courses for those going into the profession, and Bonitto teaches five or six courses in the program. He also recently became an instructor for the National Institute of Government Purchasing (NIGP).

Bonitto also speaks at conferences in the US and Canada which, along with teaching, are highlights from his 20-plus year career. Making connections and mentoring new professionals, along with seeing their careers grow, is rewarding, he says. Many former students stay in touch and Bonitto still mentors them when they call to discuss challenges. He is also involved with several industry boards and associations.

Professionally, Bonitto takes special pride in projects that affect the community positively, such as fire halls or paramedic stations. Driving by one of those buildings can remind him of his involvement in the project and of that positive impact.

Another highlight is Bonitto’s involvement in establishing the NIGP-CPP, a certification for public-sector procurement workers. The certification is now three years old. Bonitto was on the governing board for the NIGP for two years and is now on the member council serving 17,300 public procurement professionals across North America. To date, over 1,200 professionals have gotten the certification.

“That’s something I’m extremely proud of, just to be part of that team and to do that, and to advance the profession,” Bonitto says.

Since graduating in 2001, he’s been a member of an advisory committee at Loyalist College, helping to create its supply chain management and global logistics program.

Procurement concerns
Rising costs remain a concern that supply chain and procurement professionals must still grapple with, Bonitto says. To deal with this, have back up when talking to suppliers about those costs, he advises. For example, ensure that you ask suppliers to provide information about why prices are rising and what the impact is.

Have strategic partnerships with suppliers, Bonitto says. That allows for better communication when challenges arise, or if those suppliers see potential price changes in the future.

“In public procurement there is a lack of strategic relationships, so I think there needs
to be more,” Bonitto says. “That’s one of the things that we could do more of with our awarded suppliers, and then certain contracts can potentially be longer where possible. We don’t do a lot of that. Coming out of the pandemic, one of the lessons I learned was that if I didn’t have a long-term relationship with my key suppliers, I may not have gotten some of the PPE that we needed for our paramedics. And that was key. I heard stories of those that didn’t have contracts that couldn’t get stuff. But the reason why I got stuff was because of the partnerships that I had built.”

Bonitto also recommends having an escalation/de-escalation clause in contracts, since suppliers can add cost increases quickly but often don’t decrease prices when their costs drop. “This is something to monitor in your high-value contracts or other significant contracts,” he says. “Contracts that are linked to the cost of fuel or a specific building material would be a good example.”

Using technology to create efficiencies is another challenge. One such area is in process mining and mapping – looking for improvements to processes. Supply chain and procurement professionals should use artificial intelligence (AI) when useful, for example. Some suppliers already use AI in RFP responses. Currently, it’s possible to have AI help develop specifications, and supply chain and procurement should consider using it to evaluate RFP responses, if and when the technology can do so. That can save time and streamlines the process.

“Things like that are an improvement and engaging technology is something I see, with current technologies that are coming out, to overcome some of the challenges that we have with staffing or improving processes to save dollars and time internally,” he notes.

Supply issues within the supply chain remain a problem, Bonitto says. To fight this, he advises understanding the entire supply chain. It’s tempting to look just at one’s own suppliers and how they’re affecting business. But understanding your suppliers’ suppliers, right down the chain, helps you realize how issues affect what you’re buying. That helps you evaluate risks and build a better plan.

“You can’t eliminate the risk completely, but having a plan with viable alternatives helps lessen the impact when things do erupt.”

Networking and benchmarking are also important, Bonitto stresses. The supply chain community is large, and it’s easy to overlook making connections. Speaking with others to see where they’re improving, how they’re tackling challenges, and to share information is important. The public sector excels here because, unlike private industry, there’s little competition. Even among private businesses,
he says, it’s possible to speak with those in other sectors. “You could go to somebody in another industry and say ‘hey, how are you doing the procure-to-pay process? Are you using something to improve that process?’ A lot of times, they’re more than willing to help.”

As baby boomers retire, many companies must plan how they’ll fill jobs. Partnerships between workplaces and colleges can help to attract young employees into supply chain and procurement careers. “It would help to get in there and say ‘hey, there are careers here. This is how we can partner to get people to fill those entry-level roles,” Bonitto says. “That’s a huge issue right now, to fill those spots. There are a lot of jobs out there and they seem to be growing.”

To map his own career, Bonitto creates five-year plans. That’s a good amount of time to look at a goal, such as earning a new designation, and decide how to get there, he says. Going forward, Bonitto plans to expand his network while learning from others, passing on his knowledge, and teaching internationally.

“My future plans are always to grow,” he says. “I want to grow in supply chain. I want to grow my position in the community. I’m always looking for new challenges that come my way.”

Outside of his career, Bonitto enjoys reading and music. He hosted a Saturday-night radio show for three years while attending Loyalist College. He is also active at the gym. He often works out five times a week. Whether it’s lifting weights, running, playing basketball, or other pastimes, he enjoys physical activity. He even got certified as a personal trainer in 2014. That was mainly for his own benefit, although he has also trained friends over the years.

“I’ve got a lot of free time now that my children are older,” says Bonitto, who has a son and daughter. “It kind of frees up a lot of time for me to do these fun things. I volunteer a lot more. They’ve got their own lives, and I also like spending time with them.”

Interests and experience
Bonitto encourages those new to supply chain and procurement to explore the range of careers available. He advises his students to consider their interests and experiences when choosing career avenues. As well, speak to those in the profession to ask what a specific job is like, whether they enjoy it, what their day-to-day tasks are, and other questions to help decide whether you’re interested in a similar path. If not, look at other areas of supply chain.

Never stop learning and asking questions, Bonitto says. Everyone, whether new to the field or a veteran, should focus on continuous improvement. Doing so will help supply chain professionals push their organizations forward. Join a professional association and work to build your network, he says. Volunteering on a council or committee can be professionally and personally rewarding.

Finally, Bonitto says, consider working in government. He was well into his career in supply chain and procurement and studying for his SCMP designation before discovering the public sector as an option. Had he known, the move could have come earlier.

“One of the things nobody ever told me is that there are careers in government,” Bonitto says. “A lot of my work at the college is letting them know that a career in the public sector exists in supply chain or procurement, mostly procurement. If you know that early, you may make that decision. That’s where you could market yourself.”