Instructor Profile – Bob Borntrager – Project Management (PM)

Bob BorntragerWhat would you say are the highlights of your class?
Definitely our negotiation exercises. That’s the majority of the class. If they’re the seller, they have to actually work with a buyer. They have to prepare a solicitation document, and set the minimum requirements and their prices. And if they’re the buyer, they have to respond to that by preparing a response to the solicitation and actually present a plan for the service and then both sides negotiate the costs and the specifics of the contract. After, we finish that round they switch sides, because it’s two completely different mindsets between the buyer and the seller, so we want them to experience it from both sides.

What will a student learn in your class about procurement or about contract management that he or she didn’t know before attending your class?
They’ll learn the basic about procurement and monitoring of contracts, and more importantly they’ll get hands-on, real-life experience in negotiating a contract from both the buyer and the seller’s side.

What do most people not know about procurement or contract management before actually going into it?
Most people don’t understand the variety of ways you can procure a contract or the intricacies of monitoring of different things that are involved in monitoring an actual contract. Very few people actually have the chance to sit at a negotiation table. And, the fundamentals are the same no matter what you’re buying, or if you’re negotiating a labor contract, or a services contract. The fundamentals are the same, but most people don’t actually get to sit down and negotiate a contract.

What’s unique about SDSU’s program compared to other programs in the area?
What’s unique about the program at SDSU is that it’s not procurement in a vacuum. It’s procurement as it fits into an overall project, which you don’t have in other procurement classes. It’s just contracting with no relationship to anything else that’s part of the PM program. You see how the procurement fits in to your timeline, and how something changing your procurement timeline can throw your whole project timeline off by months, sometimes years. You discover the global understanding of where procurement fits in an overall project.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What makes you an expert to be able to teach procurement?
Well I have a degree from San Diego State! I work for the county of San Diego. I’m currently the chief compliance officer for the county of San Diego, but I have been doing contract activities, procurement monitoring, oversight of government contracts for the last 21 years. And, I have done everything from the procurement side, to the monitoring side, to the closeout side, to the fiscal side, both as the buyer and as the seller working for the county.

So do you think contract managers or people that are actually in procurement think differently than other people?
They do. Contracts are very black and white. If it says it’s in the contract, that’s what it says. If it doesn’t say it in the contract, you can’t make it say something it doesn’t say. So it’s the contracting folks that actually take the ideas. We turn something that’s actually actionable. You get your provider and vender in place, and you actually get that deliverable. So they’re the ones that actually take the concept and make it happen.

What is the most interesting aspect of the profession?
Of contracting? The most interesting aspect is you get to actually accomplish something. In any contract there’s a beginning, there’s middle, there’s an end. So at the end of the day you can actually walk away and say, “I did this. I finished this, it’s done. I can move on to something else now.” It’s not something that just keeps going on forever and ever and ever. There’s a definite life cycle to it.

What do you think the future of procurement and contract management? Do you think there’s going to be more jobs in the future?
There’s going to be a huge increase in contracting and the need for folks with contracting backgrounds. More and more government work is going up to contract because you can get contractors for a lot less than you can pay staff. And in private sectors, very few companies do everything themselves start to finish anymore. So whether they’re buying raw materials from a vendor or hiring somebody to assemble those materials, they’re going to be using contracts at some point. Even if it’s as simple as hiring an auditor to audit their books. That’s a contract.

Do you think that you have to have a certain personality to be in the profession?
It helps to be detailed oriented, and it helps to be organized.

One last question. Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you think that’s important about the industry, class, or the program?
One thing I would say is that a lot of people are weary of contracting and procurements because they think it’s a win-lose proposition. For one side to get what they want the other side has to not get what they want. But that’s the old model.  These days when you’re talking about contracting, you’re talking about both sides walking away from the table saying, “This works for me. I got what I needed out of this.”

A little give and take.
Give and take. Contracting now is more of a collaborative process between the two sides than it has ever been in the past. And, no matter what industry you’re in, that’s what you’re saying.