How did you get into Procurement?
I started off working 12-hour shifts in a factory running manufacturing operations, but I wanted something that was fundamentally more stretching and I had always thought that the Procurement team had a more varied life. When I did my MBA I wrote my dissertation on Supply Chain and Procurement in order to allow me to jump from an operational role into a Procurement role, and it worked!
As soon as I finished my MBA I changed jobs and moved into Procurement.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Well, there isn’t one! I cover 10 countries in Europe on top of the UK so I wouldn’t describe any of my days as ‘typical’, they’re extremely varied depending on what’s going on.
What do you love about Procurement?
The variety, you are right at the centre of the business.
At the end of the day, Procurement has control of the money. Finance accounts for it, but Procurement helps the business decide where it’s spent. I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter what’s going on in the business – eventually, Procurement will be involved in some way.
When I worked in operations, we were in our own little box and although we knew what was going on within the factory, we didn’t get any exposure to the broader business.
In Procurement, you get that breadth of knowledge and I really like that. I’ve been moving Procurement people (a phrase I use a lot is ‘left-shifting’) into the Engineering, Bids and Projects phases of the business to make sure that Procurement is always involved early on – it’s the best way for us to add value. I try and get us involved all the way through to the production lines and even deliveries to customers. You should have your finger in every pie of the business in Procurement and I’ve managed to achieve that here at Thales. I love the variety that brings.
Are there any aspects of Procurement that you find challenging?
Fundamentally, Procurement from an operational point of view boils down to quality, cost and delivery. You’ve got to get the right bits to the right place at the right time and at the right quality and cost as a given – that’s just the basics. If you can’t do that then you have a fundamental problem.
The more interesting parts for me are the strategic elements. Anybody can write a category strategy, but the hard part comes when you need to convince the business that it’s the right thing to do and that it will affect positive change and add value.
You need to sell your ideas as the right thing to do for the business, as opposed to the right thing for Procurement. The frustrations most will experience will be getting the business to adapt to new ideas and processes – but that’s life! From a Procurement perspective, that’s part of the fun and the challenge.
Can you tell us about your biggest achievements in your Procurement career?
When I joined BAE Systems – Submarines, there had never been a Procurement Director on the Board. They had identified that it was causing a problem and that’s where I came in. About three years in, however, the Managing Director actually suggested I slow down a bit! The risk was that I was improving Procurement at a rate quicker than the business could absorb.
As a distraction, he suggested I manage the SAP project for the business, so for two and a half years, I ended up running that as well as Procurement, working towards implementing SAP into what was a very heavily unionized and nuclear-regulated business.
Ultimately, we put a generic SAP system into a nuclear-regulated business on time and on budget which was a great success. That opportunity came from my success in Procurement, demonstrating that I thought beyond just my function and could operate from a business perspective. That project was a massive piece of change management and it was cracking fun.
You do one of those projects once, you enjoy it, and then you move on and let somebody else do it the next time around.
Have you observed any trends within Procurement recently?
There are a couple of things.
Anybody in Procurement will tell you they haven’t got enough good people.
That is why it’s so important to invest in training and development – and I’d encourage anybody to do CIPS.
At the moment, we’re developing our own specific in-house training (in addition to funding CIPS study for employees) so that we can take people in from a variety of backgrounds and make sure they have the right skills for their roles.
Because you’re competing with every other function, you’re never going to have enough of the right calibre of people. But – that’s life and we all need to learn to operate in this type of environment.
The other current trend the moment is Robotics and AI.
Everybody is talking about what it means and asking ‘is this the end of Procurement as we know it?’. In the real world, yes, AI will be a massive enabler over time but you’re still going to have that human interface that you need. I think that things like AI and robotic processing will have a massive impact, and essentially free up time where you can use good people for more value add.
We’ll continue to see an ongoing adoption of technology. There are a lot of businesses that are working their way towards this new era now, and I think when someone cracks it we’ll see the pace of adoption really accelerate.
At the end of the day – you don’t do business with a machine, you do business via relationships – and relationships are people to people! The best deals you get from suppliers are from long-term relationships that you’ve built and maintained.
AI will enable, enhance and give people more information, helping people react quicker and make better, fact-based decisions but Procurement will always be based on relationships and human interaction.
What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader?
My experience has taught me that you can get to a relatively senior level in Procurement simply by being good at your job. However, when you get up there, you almost need to stop talking about Procurement and start talking about the business.
In order to be really successful, you’ve got to talk business language and relate to what’s going on in the wider organisation. If you sit in a board meeting explaining the intricate details of category management, I guarantee you that within 5 minutes most of your peer’s heads will be on the table!
You’ve got to talk in common sense business language, explaining how your ideas will improve and add value to the business’s performance and financials.
Success in Procurement ultimately comes from working cross-functionally. It’s not something you can do in isolation. If you stay in your own Procurement bubble, you’ll never have the influence and shape and success that you’re looking for because the business just won’t understand you.
What has been the best lesson you’ve learnt in Procurement?
Prepare, get your facts, make sure you have control and understand everything well. Once you’ve done this, then you can influence stakeholders.
Personally, I’m not a great fan of spending vast amounts of time working out how I’m going to influence, I’d rather the facts speak for themselves.
The reality is you must be able to translate your facts into a logically reasoned argument and use emotional intelligence to help people understand where you’re coming from. Once they understand, they’re willing to listen and work with you to shape a rounder business solution!
Are there some examples behind that, maybe from the younger you?
Yes – everyone tries to ‘cuff and bluff it’ now and again, and now and again you’ll get caught out. Mind you, you can have a very sound, logical argument that for whatever reason doesn’t land, and you have to learn to figure out why, and how you can get it to land more effectively next time. It’s like a negotiation.
A lot of people think negotiation is about what goes on in the room, when actually 70-80 % of negotiation is preparing outside of the room. It’s all about preparation.
Get to know Malcolm Dare
I do like to keep myself fit. Last year I did the London to Brighton off road mountain bike event which was about 70 miles. I regularly go out on the South Downs – once you’re out there it’s so peaceful, quiet and vast.
When I’m not biking, I’m running. Ideally, I’ll do the two local half marathons up and down the South Downs each year. I’ve only ever run cross country. Lucky for me, five minutes from my house I’m in the country side and I can do 8-10 miles without really going on a road. Nine times out of ten I’ll see wild deer while I’m out which is lovely.
Is work/life balance important to you? And if so, how do you achieve that?
Yes it is. I don’t mind working long hours during the week, so I try and do nothing at the weekend. You’ve got to have that down time where your brain can switch off, and you can spend quality time with your family. It’s so important to get that downtime, you need to rest and unwind.
Procurement Heads‘ Big Interview Series features Procurement Professionals throughout London, Hampshire & Dorset, Surrey & Sussex, Berkshire, Oxfordshire & Wiltshire. It’s an opportunity to shed some light on the specialist world of Procurement and those who work within it.
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