For Procurement Heads‘ latest Big Interview, he spoke to us about his procurement career.
How did you get into Procurement?
My first job was with M&S on their graduate scheme.
I worked in merchandising, and the role gave me a great all-around immersion in negotiation and trading.
After M&S I worked at Knickerbox for three years focusing on overseas sourcing, and moving the UK production base offshore (it was all the vogue back then!)
Following a spell at Argos where I worked on the commercial services side of their offer, I had various roles in indirect procurement with high street brands including Thresher Group and Ladbrokes, ending up as Commercial Director for the Conservative Party ahead of the 2010 General Election.
They became our first client when I set up Hawtrey Dene in 2010 and remain a client today.
What does your typical day at work look like?
Each day is different, but most start by dropping off our 10-month-old Working Cocker at the creche in Whitstable!
Once in London the day typically involves either internal or external meetings of various types, usually a client meeting (often over an early breakfast) and then adhoc time spent reviewing progress on project delivery or commercial proposals with one of our two MDs, Eugene and Neil.
As CEO, my objectives are mostly focused on growth and new projects so I spend time each day on those getting ready for new offerings launching in 2019. I’m often found having a coffee and catching up with one of the team and I try and spend time each day catching up on emails and making sure I don’t overlook some of the minutiae of the ebb and flow of the business.
I’m lucky to have the support of Karen, my EA, who fields calls and organises my diary to make sure there are no clashes and that I am in the right place, at the right time and with the right people.
What do you love about Procurement?
A great part of what we do is forensic side working with the client mapping and unravelling what is actually happening and, looking at how we can help deliver improvements on costs, processes and critical outcomes.
Although cliched, I believe we’re a people-focused business and the part I love is working with our teams and client teams to uncover opportunities; it’s great to learn something new every day and to help others see the art of the possible too.
Are there any aspects of Procurement that you find challenging?
Fundamental to what we do is keeping both clients and suppliers happy, the search for the classic win/win outcome which can be difficult sometimes and is one of the things we are really focused on.
We understand that good relationships are at the heart of good procurement and our approach is always to work closely alongside internal and external stakeholders and use data and detail to explain what is happening and what opportunities exist, as well as how we can help those be delivered. It’s sometimes challenging but always ultimately the best foundation upon to which build success.
There are always parts of a day and aspects of my role that aren’t as much fun as others. I’ve become quite evangelical about Wunderlist which helps me track everything from my business ‘to do’ list as well as the scheduling of various work we are having done on our new home.
Over time I’ve learnt that even the tasks I don’t enjoy are never as daunting once I get stuck in and I think the most challenging aspect is that time management and prioritisation.
Can you tell us about your biggest achievement in your Procurement career?
My biggest achievement is setting up Hawtrey Dene, getting it to where it is today – and I look forward to working on the new opportunities in the future; but I can’t say that was something I have done alone.
I’ve been helped along the way by so many people, from family and friends who helped me in the early days (and still do) to clients who have become friends and are always willing to act as sounding boards when I’ve needed advice. Within that, the element of the business I am proudest of is the depth and quality of relationships we’ve built with clients, their teams and across their supply chains.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
The one thing I wish I’d known is: to always be yourself.
At times it’s easy to feel that we must act in a certain way or meet what we think are other people’s expectations. When I look back at challenging times or difficult situations just being me and doing what I think is the right thing has always stood me in good stead.
Have you observed any trends within Procurement recently?
There’s been a greater focus on supplier relationship management in the past few years and an eagerness from clients to understand how they can work in closer partnership with their supply chain rather than just transacting with them.
This is a positive shift! I’m a big believer in trust and openness in supplier relationships and that in offering those as building blocks the relationship that evolves will give much stronger and more robust opportunities and outcomes.
What inspires you as a Procurement leader?
I’m inspired by the teams around me and their enthusiasm towards challenges and the focus they have on serving our clients.
We’ve got a great bunch of people at HD and it’s inspiring to see them in action. It really makes me proud when I get an unsolicited email from a client thanking me for an aspect of something they have done on a project.
What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader?
The biggest skill, and one I have had to learn and focus on, is listening.
When I’m asked to get involved it can sometimes be to deal with something that it’s all too tempting to immediately react to; I’ve learnt to take the time to listen to all sides and gather the information available before then planning what to do.
Likewise, when I draft an email on a significant matter or issue, I save it and come back to it half an hour later to check that I haven’t leapt in too quickly before I send it.
What are your greatest strengths?
My greatest strength, I think, is optimism and a fundamentally positive outlook on life.
Of course, I sometimes get daunted by issues, but my usual approach is to consider what can be done to deal with something and if needed how I can get help and support on it, to deliver the best outcome and make things better. ‘The glass is never half empty, there’s merely room for more gin!’
What has been the best lesson you’ve learnt in Procurement?
The best lesson for Procurement, business and life, linked in part to the last question, is that if you approach people with a positive attitude, offer kindness and trust and give people the benefit of the doubt, in almost all cases they react back in a similar fashion and you can build great things together.
You don’t always get the responses you’d wish for and there are times when the relationship doesn’t start out as you’d hoped, but usually, it brings out the best in people and helps you navigate the day-to-day challenges we all face.
Who has had the most influence over your Procurement career?
At M&S my first boss had a big impact on me and whilst is safe to say (to my detriment) I wasn’t their best trainee, their advice and approach have stayed with me throughout my career.
In fact, as my career has progressed I increasingly find that there are aspects of their guidance that continue to resonate. I have stayed in touch with them and hope they can see that I did listen although it might have taken me rather longer for it to sink in than was intended!
Tell us about you – what do you like doing in your spare time?
I’m someone who likes to be busy and for the last 20 years I’ve been a local Councillor, with various roles up to Cabinet Member, and I’ve been active locally in politics.
I’ve recently moved to the countryside in Kent and have joined the local Village Hall Trust– it’s been a great way to meet new neighbours! I’ve got two dogs who form a big part of life and I shoot regularly – the plan is to train the new puppy as a gun dog as she’s a working Cocker.
The new house has taken a lot of time but to relax I’m an avid reader, of both current affairs and fiction.
What do you like to read?
My favourite books are the Narnia Chronicles and I foist a set on every new-born in my social circle. I got a set when I was seven and when I was 10 played Aslan in a school play – I was hooked.
What about travelling – do you have a favourite destination?
I travel extensively for work and pleasure with my favourite cities being Manchester (the husband is from there) and Venice; I’ve also a soft spot for NYC where we also have some great clients.
Do you enjoy watching or playing any sports?
I’m not massively sporty although I love to ski (Telluride in Colorado is my favourite resort) and I have a personal trainer twice a week religiously to keep those client-entertaining events off my waistline.
Is work/life balance important to you? If so, how do you achieve it?
I believe that it’s important to enjoy work. For me, work is very much embedded as a big part of life and I’m lucky enough to be doing something I love.
It’s important to me that there is time to switch off so I find a good book, a long walk with the dogs, or time with friends (and all without the mobile) are great ways to switch off. I’ve been introduced to sci-fi by my husband (a huge Dr Who fan) and I’m currently addicted to Primeval which is a great distraction from the day-to-day.