Our May edition of the Procurement Heads Big Interview series features Louise Clark, Sr Director Procurement (EMEA & APAC) at Interpublic Group (IPG).
How did you get into Procurement?
I fell into Procurement, which I’m sure most people in Procurement do. Once I finished university, I started temping at Laing O’Rourke Construction managing compensation claims at sewage treatment sites…very glamorous! They offered me a role in the head office in Procurement (I did have to go back to my desk and look up procurement in the dictionary!) which I accepted, before eventually moving to RBS to join their Graduate Programme in Purchasing and Property Operations and that’s when I really started to get a feel for it; I took on a Contract Management role which gave me valuable insight into the operational side of the business – I believe that the experience helped me to approach procurement with an operational and customer focus as well as commercial.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Because of our global presence, different areas of our business are active at different parts of the day. So, for example, our mornings can be spent on the phone with APAC colleagues. During the day, we encourage everyone to get out and meet with agencies to find out how they work. After all, we can’t buy effectively for them if we don’t understand their business.
At IPG, we see Procurement as being a facilitator to encourage introductions with our agencies and networks – so my days can be very varied trying to organise as many meetings as possible. I also work closely with one of our agencies to build reciprocal trading deals. For example, we use Staples as our stationary supplier across EMEA (currently being expanded across APAC), where part of our stationery costs are funded by a media credit regime through one of our agencies. We reduce operational costs and gain a client.
What aspects of your role do you love?
I love the varied nature of this role and I think that’s testament to the industry. I love that we are encouraged to be entrepreneurial; we’ll try anything if there are legs to it! We don’t need to go through business case approval (there can be lots of bureaucracy in procurement) and we really can just get things done. We don’t jump through hoops and hurdles to achieve our goals and 9 times out of 10 it works well. We push the boundaries of the typical procurement function here and it pays off.
Is there any part of your role that you find challenging?
The biggest ongoing challenge is keeping people interested in procurement. A lot of our agencies don’t naturally embrace procurement, but we are actively trying to change that by explaining what we can do for them; yes we’re able to save them money but we can also introduce them to potential leads and networks. I’m always encouraging my team to network and meet other procurement people.
What are your proudest career moments to date?
It’s being able to say that we have tried things that never have before worked within the business. For example, we have currently just launched a Global Broking solution. We have agencies across EMEA, APAC, Latin America and North America. Every single country would have had its own broker, and often, every agency in that country would also have its own broker. We are over 70% compliant within 18 months of launch and soon we will have full visibility of all our agencies market practices.
We’ve also tackled one of our largest spend areas, temporary help. By working closely with a tech start-up called YunoJuno – we save recruitment costs for IPG by cutting out the middle man. All of our UK agencies have now signed up and we’re running at c. $3m of savings, just in the UK alone. We were shortlisted for ‘The Most Innovative Use of Technology’ CIPS award last year, and now hope to expand the solution to another region.
Have you observed any trends within Procurement recently?
I think there is a shift from looking only at hard, fast savings to considering the long-term benefits of a decision, and how to secure a better seat at the table. Procurement is a funny one because sometimes it sits under HR and sometimes under Finance, and where you sit depicts the focus. Here, we sit under finance, but we look way beyond just savings and cost. Also, it’s nice to talk about the other opportunities procurement can bring to the business that are so often overlooked.
The onus is definitely on procurement to get out there and find out about the wider business. We have a really unique skillset that can be very influential – we’re not finance directors or accountants, but we do have a good commercial mindset and the ability to apply it to any relationship. I hold the view that procurement people should be commercially minded but deliver operational solutions to achieve real value – it has certainly enabled me to be successful, and I have a team with the same mindset which makes life quite exciting. I’ve come across a lot of procurement people that are really quite process driven and I find that it can hinder creativity and progress, certainly in this environment.
As I said before, networking is so important. It’s all about the contacts and relationships you build up in Procurement. I’ve been able to do much more in the way of networking recently and the importance of which is more widely recognised within Procurement these days. We co-ordinate regular Procurement networking events hosted by one of our agencies, focused on making valuable connections across our industry.
If you could give any advice to those starting out in Procurement, what would it be?
Don’t think you have to follow the typical career path. I personally am a real ‘here and now’ person so for me if something really doesn’t feel right, I would change it straight away – I always have. So, believe what you’re doing is the right decision and follow your gut.
Make sure you build a network – you never know when it could be useful to you, and vice versa.
What do you consider to be the three skills required to do your job?
- The ability to build relationships
- Think creatively
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: firstname.lastname@example.org