The Big Interview with Graham Smith

Paul Booth, London Manager at Procurement Heads interviews Graham Smith, Group Head of Procurement at Schroders. Graham talks to us about his journey into Procurement, day to day life within Schroders and the essential skills and characteristics that he feels are key to Procurement professionals, along with top tips and advice to those considering, or in the early stages of a Procurement role.


“Procurement should always be done with the business, not to the business.”


How did you get into Procurement?

I did a degree in Business Studies, and part of the course included 12 months in industry. I spent that year with IBM in the South Coast at their Havant office which back then was one of their manufacturing facilities. Manufacturing is a really good grounding – it’s been the starting point for a lot of Procurement expertise and knowledge development and IBM were at the forefront of manufacturing at the time. I worked in the Procurement and Supply Chain department reporting directly to one of the department heads, as a bit of a “fixer” for want of a better word! I was involved in a number of areas within Procurement, including performance reporting. This was a fantastic introduction to professional procurement in a leading edge function. It was challenging, and a steep learning curve – but really interesting and I enjoyed every moment! I learnt a lot across many different aspects of Procurement including supply chain, negotiation, internal and external performance management and international sourcing. At the end of the 12 months, I was excited to accept the offer of a full time Procurement role within a sponsored MBA programme after I completed my degree. I stayed with IBM for almost 6 years before moving to Natwest, in one of the very first technology procurement teams in financial services. The rest, as they say, is history!


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

I’d consider where I am right now to be a success. 7 years ago I was brought into Schroders to set up the Procurement function from scratch and I’ve built what I consider to be a really strong 12 person, category based, expert Procurement team. It’s critical that you find Procurement people not only with the right skillset and expertise, but who also fit with the organisation’s culture – particularly when you are setting up a function in a ‘greenfield’ environment.

Schroders has a long and distinguished history that goes back over 200 years. Creating a Procurement function in a setting with no previous central or developed Procurement relies on many aspects – but probably the most important is having individuals that can communicate effectively at all levels with conviction, confidence and expertise in a new environment.


What do you both love and find challenging in your role?

I actually ask this question in interviews, so it’s good to think about this for myself for once… Procurement is a never ending source of interesting and diverse challenges from both a tactical and strategic level. But, as a Procurement professional, you’re provided with a wide-ranging view and involvement across the whole business, from both an internal and external perspective and I really enjoy that.

At the moment, I get to build the Procurement narrative in the way I think best. It’s my opportunity to add as much value as possible to the organisation from a Procurement perspective.

Procurement is often an agent of change and I guess my challenges can be summed up by a quote from George Bernard Shaw “progress is impossible without change and those who can’t change their minds can’t change anything”.


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

My day starts with my train journey from Kingston, and some days I chat with the ‘platform friends’ that I’ve got to know over the last 10-15 years. From Waterloo, it’s a walk along the river to the offices which is such a nice start to the day – plus no tube time which is always a bonus!

I arrive in the office about 08:15 and then try to fit everything I have planned into the day, around all the typical email and telephone traffic. No two days are ever the same, but they do fall within one of two general patterns. One is making sure as a function we’re able to provide the relevant and valued services that the organisation needs, and secondly it’s looking at how Procurement can grow and evolve the quality and breadth of the services we provide. So, either addressing the day to day stuff or looking forward to what comes next. At the end of the day, I retrace my steps along the river back to Waterloo which is a really nice way to unwind after a long day.


Paul Booth (left) interviews Graham Smith at the Schroders offices, London.


What trends have you observed within Procurement recently?

There are many and they’re varied. One is the pace and agility that’s required in the delivery of Procurement support. Things are happening much more quickly and there’s a pressure on us as Procurement to move faster. At the same time, we need to make sure that Procurement activity is aligned with the culture, values and needs of the business. I think this change in pace becomes even more important as we move into the digital age – both internally in terms of how we operate as a function and also externally, how Schroders interface and work with our client base.

There is also an increasing focus on Supply Chain Management and risk coming from both our existing and prospective clients. It’s about how we, both as a Procurement function and as Schroders itself, address the regulatory requirements, management of risk, and also Corporate Responsibility standards such as ethical sourcing and good practice. I’ve responded to three requests for information on how we manage our supply chain over the past couple of weeks and this trend of external scrutiny is increasing year on year.

And finally… robotics – the robots are coming! You’ve got robotic process automation, AI and machine learning. Businesses will need to be able to support and benefit from these opportunities. This includes procurement where we have large data sets that require classification and interpretation. From a supply market perspective, there are many smaller and new start up technology companies looking to operate in this space and as a result, the supply market is immature and fast changing.


What advice would you give your younger self?

There’s an ancient Greek aphorism, “know thyself” – it’s transcribed above a temple of Delphi in Greece. It’s important to know who you are and what you want and to follow the path your intuition wants you to take.

I’d also suggest undertaking the MBA later in my working life instead of when I did – because the real value and richness can come from putting the theory in the context and reality of business life when you have a bit more experience.


What would you consider to be the essential skills and characteristics of a Group Head of Procurement?
  • Understanding of the business – language, culture and goals
  • The ability to build a team with experience, aspirations and a cultural fit
  • Having the flexibility to deliver the best commercial outcome in the most appropriate way
  • Tenacity. Every role I’ve had in my 30 year Procurement career has required this characteristic


Get to know Graham Smith

What is your favourite past time outside of work? 

My partner and I love to travel, and we’ve been lucky enough to visit many different parts of the world.

Of all the places you’ve visited, would you consider one to be the best?

Africa is probably our favourite destination. There’s nothing like sitting by a campfire in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely no light pollution, looking up at the Milky Way. We’ve done about 15 safari’s in about 8 countries!

Do you have a favourite sport?

Rugby. We were fortunate enough to be in Australia for the 2003 World Cup – sitting in the stadium when Johnny Wilkinson kicked the winning drop goal in extra time!



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:



James Dobbin