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Face to Face

by Dennis Lewycky

Make it so ... Says Manitoba’s Syl Parry

For over 25 years, Syl Parry has been working with innovation in Manitoba’s government procurement system. With a practical sense of efficiency and humour, he has worked with others to help streamline the procurement cycle to the benefit of both government and vendors.

Syl (short for Sylvester) Parry is a Projects Officer for Procurement Services of Manitoba Transportation and Government Services in Winnipeg. He is currently on the Board of the Canadian Public Procurement Council.

The first major procedural improvement he worked on was the Direct Purchase Order, a local purchase format that allowed government officers to buy some goods and services directly from vendors without reference to Procurement Services. There were concerns about the risks of this responsibility sharing, but “the great majority of the officials needed this authority to get things done, to expeditiously buy everyday materials they needed, and they were honest about what they bought,” he notes.

Later, Parry helped introduce the Procurement Card, a corporate credit card that gave both the official and the vendor greater flexibility. “Vendors could get quick payment for their goods, within two days,” he says, “and we in the government got one bill for each department’s monthly transactions.”

In the 1980s he helped set up an electronic tendering system in Manitoba that evolved through a number of forms into the current system using MERX. “Basically this system provides a big improvement in the ease of access for vendors to government tenders and less paper work for government agents.”

While these innovations streamlined the procurement process, it has meant less direct contact with vendors. “We need the face-to-face, the eyeball-to-eyeball contact to maintain the rapport,” he notes. “So it’s up to us to meet with suppliers and vendors which we do by presenting workshops and participating in trade shows as often as we can.”

Implementing change has meant overcoming some resistance. Parry recalls, “Some people were against the changes – they were afraid. One older guy brought in his son for a training session to help learn the MERX system as he knew he would have difficulty adapting to it, but his son would not.”

There is still more that can be done to improve the procurement system, says Parry. Planning, coordination and some standardization can benefit everyone, “so we’re looking at using the Internet more and centralizing some features of the system,” he notes.

Some of Parry’s ability to foster organizational and procedural change comes from his diverse background. He was born and started his education in Manchester, England, 59 years ago. There he acquired a broad practical experience that prepared him for the variances of his work in Manitoba. He started his career as a chef; then he sold women’s dresses, which didn’t last long as he “just didn’t fit in!” He was also a bouncer in a restaurant, which seems surprising today when you see his trim 5´8´´ frame.

In 1966 he joined Pioneer Electric (Canada) to assemble transformers. He moved to Regina, he says, “a decision and choice I have never regretted.” The company moved Parry and his growing family to Winnipeg seven years later, and in 1975 he joined the provincial government as a buyer for the then Purchasing Bureau.

His ability to manage change is a product of his ability to find humour in much of what he does. Parry is the kind of person who encourages people he works with to have fun and to grasp organizational change with energy and enthusiasm. “I get bored easily, so I’m always looking for something new, or challenges. I like to have fun with my work,” he says.

Parry tells a story of seeing requisitions for “green monkey blood” and “100 pregnant white mice”. He thought these were cleverly disguised jokes by his colleagues. Instead these were serious orders for a government research lab in Winnipeg. “I don’t think the public knows just how much diversity there is in what the government buys.”

Parry is renowned for his story telling and colourful presentations. “I want to avoid audience rigor mortus… presentations can be so boring. If I say something out of context or stupid, it gets a reaction and then people relax. It works. I can get a message across so much better with a story.” As an example of how important good communication is to his work, he notes a case of canoe paddles bought for an officer in northern Manitoba. “All the paddles broke and he just requested another order without telling us, so without knowing we sent him more inferior paddles.”

It is evident in meeting Syl Parry that being physically fit is a key to his lively contribution to the job. He and his wife Elizabeth are passionate golfers (summer in Manitoba, winter in Texas) when not helping their four children and six grandchildren. He also uses a treadmill in his home and for many years he played racquetball before a knee injury took him off the court. He has offered his skills to Habitat for Humanity and is considering volunteering overseas when he retires.

Dennis Lewycky (www.magi.com/~comgroup) is a social communication consultant who has worked internationally as well as with numerous federal government departments. He provides group facilitation, strategic planning and training services, in particular where contentious public issues are involved.




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