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Photo of Charlie Hudson Business Development Director at Foodbuy UK & Ireland

The Big Interview with Charlie Hudson

Charlie Hudson is Business Development Director at Foodbuy UK & Ireland, for our latest Big Interview, he spoke with Rupert Gaster about his career, biggest achievements to date and how the pandemic has changed business.

How did you get into procurement?

Like many others – accidentally!

I joined Compass Group straight out of university, having completed a Hospitality and Business degree, before spending four years in operations where I managed the catering and hospitality at several London Universities

Despite being destined for a career in operations, I was really intrigued and fascinated by the supplier and product decision-making process happening behind the scenes.

I did everything I could to understand more about our procurement team and how I could get involved. That team was Foodbuy, Compass Group’s specialist procurement and supply chain business, and the rest (as they say) is history.

What types of procurement roles have you had?

I’m fortunate enough to have tried my hand at several different roles during my time with Foodbuy.

I started my procurement career in category management, I looked after both dairy and fruit and veg (managing circa. £30m and £45m spend respectively) giving me a great foundation to the processes and disciplines needed to be successful. From there, I was given the opportunity within our strategic sourcing function, managing projects focused around buying food and equipment, before moving into a supply chain role where I led the development of new supply chain solutions. In this role I was responsible for optimising routes to market for our tail spend, as well as implementing programmes that reduced the number of deliveries and road miles for our business.

From there, I was asked to head up the procurement function for a major new contract with the NHS and now, after eight or nine years in procurement, I’m leading on all things new business.

What are the challenges that you and your team are currently facing?

First and foremost, Foodbuy is a group purchasing organisation – or GPO for short. Put simply, we operate an aggregator volume model meaning we take our purchasing scale and offer it to external, non-Compass competing clients. As we grow our managed spend, we gain even greater leverage and competitiveness. That’s to the benefit of both Compass, our external clients and new prospects.

My team help to connect our procurement professionals, with prospects and clients, to unlock solutions that deliver savings to the bottom line.

Having joined the role 12 months ago, right at the beginning of Covid-19, it has been a bumpy ride. The biggest challenge has been disruption, making it difficult for some prospects to commit to change and transformation.

What do you think the key focus areas are post-Covid?

For me, it has to be the role of technology. In particular, using technology to drive opportunity through understanding data better, but also from a resource and labour perspective. Lots of businesses are being challenged by resource constraints and technology is definitely one of the ways you can combat that.

Sticking with the technology theme, greater transparency is being demanded across the supply chain with integrity and honesty at the forefront of conversations.

In this digital age, if you don’t have one eye on technology and data, then you’re probably not making the most of the opportunities that exist within your business.

What are you most passionate about when it comes to procurement?

I like to think – the bigger the challenge, the greater the reward.

I’m passionate about change and transformation. I love the idea of walking into a role and being able to make a real difference. Sometimes opportunities might not have been recognised, or even deemed too difficult or complicated, but that’s really when I thrive.

Over the years, I’ve got a real buzz out of delivering value across the entire procurement process – and now being able to do that with external clients gives me an even greater sense of satisfaction. Especially when they see the true value you are bringing them as a business.

What are your biggest achievements in your procurement career?

The standout, to date, would have to be when Foodbuy won a major contract with the NHS to manage all their food and beverage procurement. I was asked to head up an entirely new procurement function for this contract, representing about £120million worth of spend.

We had about three or four months to mobilise the contract and we ended up building a team of about 25 people across three different locations nationally. 

The biggest challenge was upskilling the organisation in public sector procurement, as well as developing a bespoke multi-temperature distribution model for NHS food and beverage deliveries that would consolidate spend within the regulations.

It was an exciting challenge and it’s great to see the team continuing to thrive and deliver value for the NHS.

What is the biggest risk you have taken in your career?

Probably taking a career in procurement in the first place! 

My course was fairly set, I was a GM of a university and there was probably a group role for me next, but I decided to take a salary cut and become a Junior Buyer. 

I’d encourage anyone thinking about making the jump to do it and follow your passion.

What skills do you think are essential as a leader in procurement?

For me, the perception of procurement is evolving beyond cost to one of delivering value. So, I think you need the ability to balance the detail of following a process, along with understanding the bigger picture.

If you’re a slave to the process, then you might miss out on seeing that bigger picture. Ultimately, following a process – whether that’s a procurement framework or set of tender documentation – should always get you to the answer. But you need to take a breath, come up for air, and engage with your stakeholders to really drive that additional value; innovation, NPD, sustainability and more.

What advice would you give someone who was embarking on a career in procurement?

Spend time with as many different parts of your business as possible – as much as your employer will allow. Even shadow colleagues in different roles and embrace it as you will then understand the challenges and opportunities of those functions.

What role have you and the procurement function played in enabling the company to face the pandemic?

Agility has been the name of the game throughout the pandemic.

In our industry, PPE has become more important than ever before. Compared with pre-Covid figures, our health and care clients have purchased 2,500% more masks, 470% more aprons and almost 40% more gloves. We’ve had to work closely with all our suppliers to forecast PPE demand and adapt our supply chains to respond and help keep our client’s businesses running. Quite the feat!

At the same time, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the role of procurement when it comes to doing some good. Rewind to the first lockdown back in March and April 2020, and food waste was a real risk for food and hospitality businesses. We’ve worked with FareShare, a leading charity fighting food waste, to redistribute over 235 tonnes of surplus food in 2020, that’s enough for more than 550,000 meals for people in need.

It’s fantastic to see procurement functions getting the recognition they deserve for all of the great work they do, beyond simply driving cost savings.

How has the business changed?

One good thing to come from the pandemic is a greater appreciation of employee health and wellbeing.

I’m extremely fortunate to have a member of my team who does an amazing job at ensuring mental health, wellbeing and health and safety is always in the spotlight at Foodbuy.

It really has become embedded throughout our culture. We even start our team meetings with wellbeing moments – time to pause, reflect and have some great non work-related conversation. It’s great to see this important topic becoming more front and centre in businesses of all sizes, and I for one am determined to ensure it is here to stay.

With the benefit of hindsight is there anything you would do differently?

Tough question!

Of course, with hindsight, you can always be critical and reflect on ways of doings things differently. One thing that stands out for me is making better use of our global colleagues.

Foodbuy, being part of the wider Compass Group, has eyes and ears around the world thanks to our global business footprint. In particular, our Asia and Pacific region felt the force of the pandemic before it landed in Europe and I could have worked to understand how they reacted to help inform my plans and strategy.

Ultimately, and like everyone else, that would have probably meant having a big stack of PPE!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Whenever I get the chance, I love spending time down in Cornwall. Family, friends, a bottle of wine and cooking on the beach is the type of lifestyle I enjoy – and it can’t come soon enough after the year we’ve all had!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t think twice and second-guess decisions you’ve made.

Pushing the boundaries and living with no regrets is something I have learned latterly, both in my personal life and my professional career. It certainly hasn’t held me back, but it probably would have set me in good stead earlier on in life.

Do you have a personal motto?

It sounds corny, but work hard, play hard.

I think it is important to celebrate success. Especially over the last 12 months, taking the time stop and celebrate achievements is key. Don’t forget to celebrate the success of your team and colleagues around you too – it can do wonders for team morale.


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