Katie Dunbar spoke with Tony Reynolds, Global Head of Procurement for BAE Systems about his career and how he is taking Procurement from clerical to core.
What is the remit/scope of your role?
I’m currently Global Head of Procurement for BAE Systems, running Procurement for the Applied Intelligence business.
Before this role, I was working successfully as an Interim Director and after this role, will return to the Interim market. I love the nature of that existence. Find a challenging role, work hard and deliver, then onto the next one.
I came into BAE to transform the function and to upskill and rebuild the team.
It’s been a lot of hard work but the right team, right structure and most of the processes are now all in place.
The transition from transformation to business as usual, is already underway.
How long have you been with BAE?
I initially joined for 6 months for a straightforward transformation project but it rapidly became apparent that it was significantly more complex than first explained.
Fast forward 16 months and the transformation is now complete, bar one on-going project, which is due to complete in three months.
What are the best things about working for the company?
BAE is a very complex organisation with lots of unique qualities.
There is a huge desire to be better and this comes across at all levels of the business.
Working in a business that wants to be better, makes working there a positive experience.
Improvements can be rapid but in many instances it is slow; this can, at times, be very frustrating.
Ultimately, it is very satisfying when you succeed.
Having a strong leadership team, with a positive, forward-looking vision makes for a great culture.
This culture is of benefit when introducing change and when that change links into the company vision, support is always forthcoming.
Working with some talented individuals and teams has been a lot of fun, hard work but fun.
Normally, things are always busy so there is little time to rest but constant challenges, with an opportunity to succeed, which in itself is a big motivator.
If you could summarise the culture at BAE in one word, what would it be?
Why did you join BAE?
I was presented with a real challenge and that was enough to get me interested. After meeting the CFO, I decided that I wanted to help him.
The rest is history.
What does the BAE Procurement team look like?
Globally, there are circa 2,500 in the team, spread across numerous countries and businesses.
Applied Intelligence is a strategic business unit with a very small, highly skilled team of 24, carrying out more work than it did in previous years when the team was more than 40 strong.
How have you and your team navigated the recent pandemic?
Applied Intelligence operates in a flexible working environment.
The team members can work in the office (any of them), situated with their stakeholders, at suppliers or from home.
There is no hard and fast rule, the only caveat is that we do what is necessary to get the job done properly.
The pandemic, although largely unexpected, just changed work locations to home for most people.
Most staff worked one or two days a week from home pre-pandemic so the change to five days a week wasn’t tremendous.
Childcare and health issues have made a difference to peoples work/life balance but as a business, Applied Intelligence has been generous and supportive to all its staff.
Looking back, what has been your favourite BAE memory?
Turning the Procurement team from one that existed at the end of the food chain to one that sits at the table and influences how the business operates and I’ve met some great people along the way.
How did you get into Procurement?
I’d just left a job and was wondering what to do next and saw an advert for a Buyer.
I thought spending money for a living could be fun…and it was.
What do you love about working in Procurement?
The chance to make a positive difference. Whatever the role, there always seems to be a problem to solve and for me the harder the problem, the more fun it is to solve.
Succeeding where others have failed or where people say it isn’t possible, can often be a real challenge. That’s what I love and is what drives and motivates me.
Are there elements of your roles that you sometimes find challenging, and how do you manage this?
Recently, it’s been finding and then hiring the right calibre of staff.
Brexit made the markets uncertain and translated into companies changing their focus from growth to protecting their businesses.
Unsure where the next order was coming from, businesses looked to reduce their cost and this change led to a real difficulty in recruiting skilled Procurement professionals.
Many stayed in their roles for job security, but the good candidates that looked for new roles were rapidly ‘snapped’ up.
Finding the right ones was difficult, with strong competition for the right candidates.
Now we have a global pandemic and a worldwide recession to deal with…
What inspires you as a Procurement leader?
I love a challenge.
That may be in the form of creating something from scratch, fixing something broken or just taking something and making it better.
What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader?
Having strong communication and influencing skills can make a real difference.
It isn’t what you say – it’s how you say it.
Tailoring your communications to the audience is essential; if the language you use doesn’t resonate with your audience, the message gets lost.
Take a genuine interest in your team. Assess them, understand their strengths and weaknesses and help them to use or address them.
As a leader, you are only as good as the team you lead.
Is work/life balance important and how do you achieve it?
Increasingly so as I get older. I still do work 12-hour days from time to time, but they are infrequent.
When I was younger and climbing the career tree, my balance was very skewed towards work but as I got older and hopefully a little wiser, I realised that you should work to live and not the other way round!
Who has had the most influence over your Procurement career?
David Lloyd and Neil Smith – both great Procurement professionals who I genuinely respect.
Do you have any favourite books/destinations/sports etc?
I try to keep in shape and like to play tennis and golf whenever I get the chance.
I’ve travelled extensively for work and pleasure.
I love the west coast of the USA, Southern Europe and the beaches of the Far East.
Books… I love to read but don’t read enough.
I’ve recently been reading books on psychology and body language, which I find fascinating but need to find a novel that I can get stuck into instead of watching TV!
If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Study hard, work hard and enjoy your life.
Make sure you work on your soft skills, without them you can have all the knowledge in the world but people won’t listen.