In this edition of the Procurement Heads Big Interview series, we spoke with Dave Kay, Head of UK Procurement at Unum Ltd.
How did you get into procurement?
My first experience with Procurement was about 25 years ago, while I was working for an air conditioning company called Carrier. My role at the time was running their orders and project books when the Managing Director asked me to set up a Procurement function, and it was the best request I’ve ever had.
At the time, I didn’t know anything about Procurement, but it just fitted me.
I have a very strong customer focus and it’s imperative that what we do in procurement serves both internal and external customers well.
The more exposure I had to Procurement, the more I wanted to learn, and the better I became at it. If you’re passionate about something, and I have loads of passion for Procurement, it fuels the creativity.
What success are you most proud of in your career to date?
Forming our Procurement brand here. I do think of it as a brand. We are seen as an innovative, yet very safe pair of hands.
When I was building this operation a few years back, I won CEO Manager of the year across the whole company, which doesn’t tend to happen to procurement people; it’s normally sales or customer service staff in the running, so I’m very proud of that.
I’m also proud of how the US view us.
The US operation under my boss, Group CPO, is a 200+ strong team compared to my team of 3.
They have ten times our spend, but actually, we get a lot of air time from them because we’re good team players and think outside the box. If there are issues preventing us from moving forward, we find a way to go over or around them – we find solutions.
Our culture here in the UK is refreshing – and I think that’s because of our size and the fact we can be agile.
We have adopted the mindset that we’ll try our best and we don’t view failure as failure – it’s a chance to learn. We’ve created a really positive environment for people to come to work.
What do you love about your role?
I love pushing the boundaries and I love working with creative people. I think to be successful in Procurement it’s fundamental that you have a strong personality. You need people to want to work with you.
Mandates and authorities are worth nothing – people need to understand why you want to go in a direction and support it because they trust you.
I really like working with people and creating solutions for problems that arise, uncovering value where it wasn’t perceived as possible.
That’s what gives me real satisfaction.
Are there any aspects of your role that can be challenging?
Unnecessary drawn-out meetings…
I really dislike wasting anybody’s time, so I often decline meetings if I feel there isn’t anything to be gained from sitting down that you couldn’t get from a quick phone call. I genuinely respect people’s time!
Some of the main services we offer such as travel, we actually set up ourselves and have full ownership of. We run our support like a business within the business, which is great, but if something goes wrong we need to be ready to react – as there’s nobody else to ask to fix it. It’s a positive thing but it can also prove challenging at times!
What does your typical day at work look like for you?
Every day is different. Some days I’m in back-to-back meetings, either internally or with suppliers. I do a lot of web conferencing with the leadership team in the US – and that can take anywhere from one hour to six!
My role can be really varied, too, as often I get involved in ad-hoc tasks and projects such as this Big Interview.
I don’t always know what’s coming in day to day, and although we must plan to some degree, we have to be ready to adapt. My team is very lean so we need to perform efficiently.
What trends have you observed within procurement recently?
The biggest trend I sense in Procurement is moving away from the transactional ‘let’s go and buy stuff at the lowest cost’ to being the prime driver in our decision-making.
It’s no longer about face value price, but on total value and risk in the proposition.
Risk is often present as a prime factor in our direction.
We spend a massive amount of effort on supplier risk, and I genuinely believe we have best-in-class practices when it comes to supplier risk.
For example, with the Modern Slavery Act, we know immediately if potential suppliers are compliant or not and act accordingly.
GDPR – we’re on it!
Being a financial services company, we manage people’s personal data – that to us is akin to the crown jewels for us to properly look after.
We are determined in making sure that in any dealings we have with our suppliers, where maybe some of that data is shifting through their system, we have a full understanding of the entire process and can consider measures in place for everything to be done properly.
Currently, the key shift for our Procurement is moving from reactive to proactive in our supplier oversight.
Keeping an eye on our strategic supplier performance trends allows us to predict where we need to step in with early discussions to keep things on track.
This is crucial for a business such as ours where we’re providing direct customer service and as with all Financial Services organisations, are under significant regulation.
So much is changing in Procurement.
Even the type of person we employ is very different to 5 years ago.
I recently wanted to bring in a junior to look at contract and supply data; the person I chose has no procurement background whatsoever.
He does, however, have an engaging personality, first class customer focus and he can deal well with any problems he’s faced with – a good ‘all-round’ person.
I can teach him Procurement, but you need the right personality with a good blend of soft skills, to begin with, to move forward effectively. I did receive some pushback initially to my decision because of the lack of Procurement background, but I was adamant that he was the right person and he’s since received accolades from the business!
I do believe it’s all about finding the right person, recognising their talents, developing those and exposing them to new things – the right sort of people for Procurement is mentally hungry for new challenges, and that’s exactly the sort of person I want in my team.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Firstly, don’t be afraid to take risks, and secondly – learn more languages!
I did take 2 years of evening classes studying German, but it’s not something that came naturally to me – I had to really work at it.
The business world is becoming smaller, Procurement or Supply Management has a natural trait to act more globally and language skills certainly figure highly for this environment.
What do you consider the key skills required to be a successful HOP?
- Be personable
You need to get on with people and know how to set the right environment for all types of interactions
- Be candid
Be open about what you’re going to do and follow through with it, people will trust you if you do
- Have a vision
You need to know where both you and the Procurement function are headed
- Ask the right questions
It’s important that you’re able to ask questions that get people thinking differently
- Understand leadership psychology
If you’re to be a good leader, you’ll have a solid understanding of motivating to get things done.
Get to know Dave Kay
What makes me tick?
Coming to work each day knowing I can make a difference.
I’m lucky enough to really enjoy what I do for work. I love a bit of travelling, and good food, and I like being in the presence of good, motivated people.
I do hate football, which narrows down conversation.. but I LOVE motorsport.
Put me on a track day and I’ll be in my element – I’m a proper petrol head, have been since the age of 15. I love my motorbikes, I own a Tiger 800 triumph motorcycle and I’ve just bought a Moto Guzzi 900 Bobber custom motorcycle – I have a vision of me restoring classic motorcycles in a few years in my own workshop!
Procurement Heads‘ 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: firstname.lastname@example.org