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The Big Interview with Tony Sturcke

The Procurement Heads Big Interview Series launched in 2017 and aims to shed some light on the specialist world of Procurement and those who work within it.

The Big Interview series features insight from Procurement leaders and for this edition James Dobbin caught up with Group Procurement Director Tony Sturcke, to hear about his career and what inspires him as a Procurement leader.

How did you get into Procurement?

I was about to go to college to do my A-Levels and my dad saw an advert for an A-Level pilot scheme for British Airways. It was essentially a two-year scheme and I applied for it and was successful. As a result, I completed my A-Levels while on the scheme.

While I was there, I did several placements, the first being World Sales, which gave me an opportunity to look at revenue generation and how capacity was sold into the major agencies.

I then did a stint in Ground Operations, which was basically within the terminals, moving onto Ground Operations – fleet management.

It’s absolutely amazing how aircraft get off the ground and the resources that sit behind the scene.

I then moved into Catering Procurement, buying food for our in-flight customers.

I was there for about four months when my boss offered me a job. He told me I’d taken to it like a duck to water.

I bought a number of commodities there and was dealing with a whole range of suppliers direct to source, including growers, fish farmers, confectioners – it was an interesting role and a great way to see and taste the world at such an early point in my career. It also gave me exposure across BA from Brand, Catering Production to Finance.

That’s what Procurement gives you, exposure right across the organisation.

BA had an excellent career development programme and after five years I got a move into Technology.

If you had the acumen, you could move across the Procurement function.

I had a couple of years engaged right across Technology, working on some leading-edge programmes at the time. It was truly global buying, which was a tremendous insight into the business.

I then moved onto other senior roles across NatWest, Royal Sun Alliance, UBS and most recently Sky, which has been through a significant transformation as a company, leveraging leading-edge technology to underpin the delivery of exceptional entertainment and communication products to its customers.   

I also completed my Masters in Procurement during that time.

It’s been a terrific journey so far.

When did you think this was what I was made to do?

There have been times during my career where I’ve been offered other roles within the business, and those roles were very interesting and would have taken me in a completely different direction, but I’ve always wanted to know what’s going on in the business and what’s at the heart of it. Procurement has allowed me to do that and make those important connections for the business.

At your level now what does a typical day at work look like?

My days vary significantly, and no two days are the same.

For me, I absolutely love working in fast-moving organisations, being able to get consumed in that, always ensuring that we are making balanced decisions.

It could be anything from looking at the Procurement functional design, reviewing the development of our people. Investment planning and reviews feature a lot in my time, working alongside the various members of the Exec to determine the right investment decisions and generally being supportive across the business.

I also like to be hands-on with our suppliers. I talk a lot to them about any business opportunities and challenges we have. Using those suppliers and tapping into their expertise to see where there are similar challenges and solutions in parallel markets, is insight I can bring back to the business.

Empowering the team for me is key.

If I can help my team understand what is going on within the business through my interactions, I think that enables them to be better equipped to do their job and gives them more insight into how the business is moving.

Being supportive in that way helps the team and helps me within my role too.

What do you love about Procurement?

I think there are multiple things.

Firstly, being at the heart of the business, we have an excellent view of what is going on across it. This enables Procurement to influence, connect and advise the business – that’s exciting.

I think if you’re in Procurement, you naturally have to be an inquisitive person and I think we’re in a unique position to do that.

It gives you the opportunity to look outside the business into the supply market and bring back solutions, there aren’t many functions within the organisation where you can do that.

I think it also gives you the opportunity to be leading edge in terms of what we’re doing as a function.

Are there any aspects of Procurement you find particularly challenging?

I think data’s quite a key one currently.

In Procurement, it is crucial we have the right data, data sources, data feeds and I think that’s something we’re improving, but we need to leverage technology better to do this.

Being able to have real-time data in front of you to make decisions is important.

An ongoing challenge for the profession is the fact that we should be at the top table. I think we find that we are continually having to reinvent or demonstrate our worth, and I think we – as a profession – need to look at a way of proactively doing that.

I think we’ve got a great story to tell.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I think what I’d be saying is that it’s an exciting and disruptive world out there, so take the opportunities when you can throughout your career and make the best of them.

The second point would be to own your own development and have some sort of plan.

If you need help along the way, just ask. I think there’s nothing wrong in asking for help or guidance, whether that’s from a mentor, or through your network.

In asking those questions you will grow as an individual.

Be yourself. Be authentic. Have conversations and get in front of people. It allows you to build your brand and develop your interpersonal and emotional intelligence skills.

Have you observed any trends in Procurement recently?

Technology, digital – that’s one that is impacting Procurement and the way we do business internally and interact with our suppliers.

I think there’s much more in terms of machine learning and AI that will make us more efficient.

It’s a trend we need to keep on top of, and in Procurement we need to improve some of those aspects.

Sustainability and risk must continually be on the agenda. Understanding the supply chain. Where you are sourcing from, where your suppliers are sourcing from.

We need to understand the global supply chains and there are some organisations out there which are great at doing that, but as a profession we’ve a great opportunity to demonstrate to the business that we understand and know that supply chain.

More and more the businesses are looking to Procurement to manage supply risk or understand supply risk, be that in supply chain or be that in financial viability.

Talent development and retention – we need to ensure we are continually giving our people the opportunities and support to flourish within the profession.

We need to ensure we are investing in talent across the profession if we’re to keep ourselves refreshed and invigorated.

What inspires you as a Procurement leader?

I’ve always enjoyed seeing people develop and flourish. Being able to lead individuals and guide them has been something that has always inspired me.

A CFO once said to me, “Your legacy is basically the people you find and move forward.”

I think that’s true in terms of some of the individuals I’ve seen and worked with.

Be inquisitive. I like to get involved and find out what is happening and see where there could be solutions.

What skills do you consider to be essential for Procurement leaders?

You’ve got to empower your team and bring them on that journey.

It’s not just about delegation, it’s about helping them understand how we do business and why we’re here.

Having a purpose, vision and strategy and being able to execute that clearly.

Being able to empathise and listen to stakeholders and understand their business challenges, and be able to link that back to the strategy.

Also, being able to understand how and what the supply market is doing, and how that will influence how we are going to do business, because there are things that will happen in the supply market that will impact our cost base, impact how we deliver products or services to our consumers – so it’s about ensuring you have that knowledge and insight and make that available within the business.

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce, I think that’s important if you’re going to get the right balance in a global environment.

Get to know Tony Sturcke

I’m an avid sports fan and love football, cricket and Formula 1.

What’s happened recently with the cricket is really exciting.

I have two nieces who are really into cricket and football and it’s been great to see the investment in women’s sport. Hopefully, that will flourish in the next few years.

As for holidays, I switch between adventurous and relaxing holidays and have trips booked to New York and Japan.

Is work life balance important and how do you achieve it?

It’s important and something I push with the team. We are operating in a dynamic environment now and that presents different demands on us all.

We must allow ourselves the opportunity to be able to work flexibly and technology allows us to do that.

For me personally, it is something I’ve got much better at over the years.

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James Dobbin