The Big Interview with Ian Murphy

For Procurement Heads‘ latest Big Interview, we spoke to Ian about his procurement career.

How did you get into Procurement?

It’s quite an interesting story actually.

My degree included a placement year, and I wanted to go into Marketing but it was so popular that it was almost impossible to secure a placement.

About a week before the deadline a Careers Advisor said to me, you’ve got a week – you’ve got to find a placement or get back to your three-year course.

He offered me a placement with British Nuclear Fuel in Procurement which I accepted – and that’s where it all began. I don’t even know his name but he effectively shaped my whole career!

The placement was in Bristol, so it was quite a big move from Liverpool where I had grown up and chosen to study – especially for placement in something I hadn’t even heard of. I was there for a year, purchasing basic commodities in stationery and cleaning but I loved it.

I returned to university and completed my dissertation on Procurement – there were about 250 people who had done Marketing and only about six of us that had done Procurement.

After graduating, I was fortunate enough to work in automotive Procurement for DAF Trucks, part of the Paccar Group Inc. It was an incredible experience – I travelled the world, I was the first Buyer they had across UK and Europe, and for a while, I was based out of the Brazil offices.

Six and a half years ago I joined Compass Group UK & Ireland, the UK’s largest food and support services provider. 

I was keen to see if I could transfer my skillset between industries and I had other offers, but Compass was probably the most out of my comfort zone. 

I felt I had a really solid background in procurement to support the move, and it was the best decision I ever made.

The journey we have been on at Compass has been amazing and the transformation of the procurement function has been game-changing.

In 2016 we launched Foodbuy, a specialist food procurement organisation in the UK. With over £1bn of managed spend, we bring together the widest range of food service and hospitality clients to buy food and everything associated with it. 

We work closely with our clients to deliver expert procurement services saving them both time and money and enabling them to focus on what really matters to their businesses.

What’s really unique about Foodbuy is that our parent company is also our largest client. This means we have real skin in the game when it comes to negotiating deals and delivering value!

What does a typical day look like for you?

In October 2018 I was appointed Managing Director of Foodbuy and in all parts of my role, there is no typical day. 

Foodbuy as a business is growing at a great rate and we have a diverse range of clients. I really enjoy learning the ins and outs of our client’s businesses to ensure they are receiving the best service possible.

Being a food procurement business, we have a short supply chain and I’m always meeting various suppliers and looking at new ways in which we can partner to deliver increased levels of innovation to our clients.

We have a team of 200 procurement professionals driving us forward and whenever I have a spare few minutes I really enjoy walking around the office, talking to the team and staying connected with what’s going on.

We’ve defined our priorities in terms of what we want Foodbuy to look like over the next 12-24 months, and I spend a lot of time with the team ensuring we have the right focus, resources and discipline to drive those priorities forward.

The Foodbuy model is well established in the US where it has been a phenomenal success story for Compass – so I’m constantly making sure we are utilising the knowledge and experience that has been driven into that organization over the last 10-15 years and applying those practices that are transferrable, to the UK.

What do you love about Procurement?

Ever since my first placement in Procurement I’ve loved every part of what I do, all aspects of Procurement. I really enjoy building relationships with people, and seeing those relationships blossom – enabling us to become a customer of choice for our suppliers.

What we’ve been able to deliver at Compass and Foodbuy over the last six years as a result of that has been incredible. I love that we have the ability to make a difference – we can underestimate how much of an influence Foodbuy has on people’s diets, the impact on the social communities we work in, and our influence over consumers’ choices.

We also have a big impact on how much food waste there is, and we can promote positive new trends and findings like plant-based diets. We’ve got an amazing opportunity to directly influence health and wellbeing.

In the past, I’ve seen Procurement go wrong where a procurement team is buying what the Procurement function wants, not what the business needs, which drives distrust and conflict. I’m proud to say that’s not at all how we operate at Foodbuy. We spend a lot of time with our clients, understanding their wants and needs to make sure we get it right.

I believe that Procurement, done well, is quite simple; it’s the aggregation of volume so that you can drive the best commercial terms, with the right partners that can bring you innovation and insight, enabling you to drive value to your clients.

Are there any aspects of Procurement that you find challenging?

Data is always a challenge. When I worked in automotive Procurement, we’d know every single bit of data from the OEE of the machine that we were purchasing the product from, to wastage and scrapping value. Every single person across the organisation would be aware of that because it was so critical to overall success.

In the food industry, this is really critical, especially in terms of allergen information. Consumers also increasingly want to know more about their products and we’re on a constant journey to gather improved levels of really rich data that can help us inform our clients and customers in ways we have never been able to before.

What inspires you as a Procurement leader?

When I look back at my career, I can identify multiple people who have given me chances and opportunities that have led me to where I am now. 

Now I’m in a position to be able to influence so many people’s careers in a positive way. It’s important to me that Foodbuy does everything we can to help people progress in their careers, provide them with different experiences and encourage them to step outside their comfort zones whilst getting loads of support.

I want to create an environment where people are continually developing but where they also know that if they make mistakes, they will learn from them and get better.

We’re in the sixth year of having graduate intakes, and our early grads are stepping into more senior roles within Foodbuy which is fantastic.

We’ve launched a learning and development plan that means we can give in-house training but also use external bodies where appropriate and I’m especially excited that we’ve just announced we are going to work towards CIPS accreditation.

Once successful we’ll be the first organisation in food service to get that!

More than anything, I am inspired to create an environment that’s fun to work in, and allows Procurement to influence our people’s careers in a really positive way.

What skills do you consider to be essential as a Procurement Leader?

  1. The first one for me is communication. You’ve got to communicate with both internal and external stakeholders, up the chain in terms of suppliers and of course within your internal organisation.  And you’ve got to flex your style to best facilitate the situation you’re facing, adapting your approach depending on the audience you’re talking to in order to best deliver your message.
  2. You’ve got to be robust. Within Procurement, the pace at which we work and the complexity of our daily tasks can create pressure. People either love or hate Procurement because of that. In industries where processes and procedures aren’t as well established, you’ve got to be even more robust!
  3. The ability to multitask and prioritise.
  4. Finally, relish working in the incredibly high-paced environment that is Procurement. People either thrive or they don’t. It creates a genuine level of autonomy when people are in full control of their workload, and you have to trust individuals to get the job done well.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt in Procurement?

Always remember where you came from.

People are often so keen to move on to the next big thing that they neglect to reflect on the role they’re leaving behind. It’s so important to use your experiences, the challenges and the successes, to shape your current role and be the best you can be.

When I was younger, I was always in my manager’s office telling him that I wanted more money or more responsibility.

Everybody does it at some stage! A piece of advice a manager once gave to me was to trust that he could see how well I was doing without me telling him. As a good manager, it’s important to keep developing your teams. At the end of the day, a manager is only as successful as the team they have around them.

Get to know Ian

I’m new to my role with two young children at home and it has been an amazing time for me – my family has really grounded me. I have an incredible wife who manages her career, bringing up our children as well as looking after me.  I am very grateful to have her in my life.

I live close enough to the office that I can drop my daughter at nursery on my way to work and I’m always, without fail, back in time for bath time. On the weekends we prioritise family time and often go swimming, to the park or to a local farm together. It can be difficult when you’re building a career to balance home life effectively but it’s something that’s really important to us as a family.

You obviously feel that work/life balance is very important


More and more organisations are focusing on this, and rightly so.

At Foodbuy we actively try and encourage autonomy for our people so that they are empowered to create a work-life balance by finding what works for them. We do this by evaluating performance on output, not screen time! Just because someone isn’t sitting at a desk all day every day, doesn’t mean they can’t go above and beyond.

Everyone’s situation and circumstances are different and to be successful I strongly believe you have to give people the freedom to manage their work life balance so that they are in the right frame of mind to give their best performance, learn, develop and deliver for the business.

To be featured in Procurement Head’s next Big Interview, get in touch today!

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