The Big Interview with Amy Head

Amy talks to Procurement Heads about her role and responsibilities within Pret A Manger, the essential skills and characteristics that she feels are key to Procurement professionals, along with some top tips and advice to those considering, or in the early stages of a Procurement role.

How did you get into Procurement?

I did a business studies course at university, and at the time I didn’t really know what Procurement was – I had always quite fancied going into marketing. If I’m honest, I was kind of getting a feel for what I wanted to do and I spent my third year of uni on placement with Virgin Atlantic as a Buyer’s Assistant – which I genuinely felt quite excited about!

On my return to university, I made sure I took certain modules that were more Procurement and Supply Chain focused.

At the time, my university was one of the first to allow you to study for your CIPS qualification alongside your degree, and you would get exceptions based on modules you’d taken.

When I finished university, I had a couple more modules to top up but I graduated with my degree as well as MCIPS! It was a massive bonus and gave me a great head start.

Sadly, I don’t think this is something that universities offer anymore.

We’ve got members of our team doing their CIPS qualifications now and the amount of time and commitment they need to give to studying alongside full-time work has been phenomenal.

After graduating, I went to work for Veolia as a Buyer, then I took another Buyer position at Sainsbury’s before being promoted to Senior Buyer and finally came here as Purchasing Manager and have progressed through to Head of Procurement.

What success are you most proud of in your career to date?

I’d say the success I’m most proud of is creating my role here. I’ve been with Pret for 6 years and when I joined there wasn’t a Procurement function at all.

We have a great team of food buyers, and they were just treating indirects like a ‘bolt on’ – it wasn’t managed and there was no official process in place.

On joining the business, I set about creating the Procurement function. Six years later, we’re far more embedded and we have a centralised approach to Procurement which is a huge achievement.

Naturally, it has been a challenge to release some of the controls people have around local sourcing.…. Building the function was both a greenfield and transformational project in terms of introducing new processes and improving the old.

Sometimes I lose sight of that but on reflection, looking back at what we’ve achieved – I’m really proud of where we’ve got to.

What aspects of your role do you love, and what do you find challenging?

I suppose you could say that what I love and find challenging is one of the same.

Being an agent for change is great and it’s really rewarding to put new processes in place and watch them benefit the business and drive value.

But equally, you get a lot of resistance, and having to constantly sell people the value of the work we’re doing is a challenge.

A lot of our stakeholders can see the advantages of our changes and support what we do, but some have been a little more resistant – they haven’t been as quick to realise the opportunities to work together, so that’s a continual challenge.

 What does your typical day at work look like for you?

At the moment I travel from east London to Victoria, getting to the office at 8 am which gives me a bit of time to collect my thoughts and put a theoretical ‘to do’ list in place.

Each day is slightly different but typically I have about 3-4 strategic projects running at any one time and, as we’re only a team of two, I’m very much involved with the projects myself.

I have one Buyer who works for me, who I catch up with informally throughout the day. She’s fantastic and I’m really keen to focus on her development and give her a lot more opportunities with different stakeholder groups.

My days are filled with a series of team meetings with various departments, updating them with key projects we have going on in Procurement, and then project meeting upon project meeting just simply to make sure that we’re on track!

There are a lot of curve balls actually – we can get drawn into anything.

People will email our CEO directly and ask why we don’t have a reusable coffee cup, and we drop everything and get involved in that!

It’s great – makes for a really varied, interesting and enjoyable role!

Have you observed any trends within Procurement recently?

Throughout my career, I’ve noticed a steady increase in the number of women in Procurement! When I started out it felt very male-focused (you could even say an “old boys club”!) so it’s really nice to see that changing.

Something else that we’re focusing on more and more currently, and I know other businesses are doing the same, is working on supplier relationships.

We’ve done a lot of work around modern-day slavery, making sure we’re an ethical Procurement team. I talk about this with our suppliers, who are the experts in their area, about what we can and should be doing differently.
I think Procurement itself is evolving in terms of what it stands for.

Now, it’s more about value and recognising the benefits we drive. We’re no longer just talking about year-on-year incremental cost savings, more about maximising the opportunity in each relationship to drive value.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Generally, confidence in your ability and not being afraid to ask stupid questions. Sometimes, what you think might be a stupid question gives you a really good answer that otherwise you might never have uncovered!

When I was reading your previous Big Interviews, I saw that Graham Smith said he would do his CIPS later on in life and that really struck a chord with me because I did mine very early on and I think I’d have benefited from waiting till later on in my career to have more vocational experience to relate back to.

I also read Amanda Earnshaw’s advice about establishing a strong mentor.

I’ve only now started to realise the benefit of peer benchmarking and talking to other people in Procurement but in a completely different industry. I hadn’t really seen that as offering value until now so, like Amanda, I’d definitely recommend doing that a lot earlier!

What key skills or personality traits would you consider essential for anyone hoping to be a Head of Procurement?

  • Understanding how to fit Procurement to the business’s culture – adjusting the style and approach to Procurement rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole!
  • The ability to influence upwards to influence to the company towards more strategic thinking in sourcing.
  • Achieve balance – leave your ego at the door – compromise a good combination of the rights (price, quality, time and place) to serve the business.

A little bit about Amy

In my spare time, I like to keep fit (although I don’t know how much I enjoy that if I’m honest!). I’m trying to get into running as we do a lot of sports events here.

Last year the Pret team did a half marathon fundraising for our charity, the Pret Foundation Trust. I think it would be great to get involved with that.

I love food, and I really enjoy eating out – living in London I’m lucky enough to choose from a huge variety of places to eat out!

Our Big Interview Series features Procurement Professionals throughout London and the Home Counties. It’s an opportunity to shed some light on the specialist world of Procurement and those who work within it. If you’d like to feature in our next Big Interview, contact us on 01962 869838 or drop us an email:

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