PROCUREMENT HEADS BLOG

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The Big Interview with Katie Deem

Katie Deem has more than 15 years of experience in procurement and supply chain roles.

She started her career with an MSC in purchasing and logistics and has accomplished demonstratable achievements in a variety of industries including; financial services, entertainment, consultancy, the public sector and most recently hospitality.

Katie is particularly interested in the role that procurement and supply chain play in an organisation’s success and over her career she has been effective in transformation of approach across numerous categories and departments to meet changing environments and challenges such as Brexit and Covid.

Hugely ambitious, Katie is about to embark on the next steps of her procurement career.

How did you get into procurement?

I’d love to have an unusual story for you on my route into procurement, but the reality is I studied business before undertaking an MSc in Purchasing and Logistics.

I loved it from the word go and was fortunate to have a brilliant tutor, Barry Crocker, who brought procurement to life with his vast amount of stories from the industry.

What are the roles and responsibilities of the procurement function from across your career so far?

I’ve been involved in most aspects of the procurement cycle, from the initial sourcing strategy through to Source2Pay and CMS software implantations.

One thing I love about a career in procurement is the variety it allows you, from programme management and training to supply chain contingency risk and logistics.

No one day is the same and it means there’s never a boring day.

What are the challenges that procurement currently faces?

Well, we all thought Brexit would be the biggest challenge of our career’s, however, then Covid hit and turned the world upside down. 

Procurement and supply chain have played pivotal roles in facing both of these very different challenges.

From my perspective, the biggest challenges facing procurement at the moment are; lack of workers across all industries, spiralling inflationary impact on market pricing, cash flow controls, forecasting and the lack of readily available product – all of which have meant it has been an incredibly busy period for procurement and supply chain professionals across all sectors.

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

Relationships!

Procurement is usually the persona non grata of an organisation that – through excessive controls and elongated processes – makes it difficult for the business to get what it wants.

Once the business is able to use a supplier if the supplier relationship is not strong there is a risk that the supplier cannot supply the right product or service in the correct way for the business. 

It’s incredibly important to be able to build relationships with key suppliers to be able to have honest conversations and have the goodwill to create partnerships.

What do you think are the key focus areas for procurement is right now?

I think the key focus areas for procurement at the moment link strongly to the biggest challenges the industry is facing.

Managing the bottom line as we come out of Covid is integral, every company has seen a huge impact from the pandemic.

Having access to quick and accurate data for forecasting is crucial as is being able to understand changes in customer demands.

From a stakeholder perspective, flexibility and strong communication skills are really important when facing a crisis like a global pandemic.

What do you look for when you are hiring?

A passion for procurement and strong leadership qualities are vital as is being able to culturally fit into the business.

It’s also important to have the technical ability to undertake the role.

How important is sustainable procurement?

I think elements of sustainable procurement have been built into procurement practices for a long time, however, over recent times, having a sustainable procurement commitment is now commonplace, with all strands coming together under one umbrella with a united focus.

Sustainable procurement is a huge subject, and I do believe that there is a knowledge gap for many of us in the profession.

I think we should allow ourselves to be open about having discussions around what sustainable procurement really means and how we can collaborate and make positive changes for the better.

I see sustainability as a hugely important responsibility for procurement.

It is also critical that companies understand their impact, sustainability should not be the sole responsibility of the procurement department and organisations risk huge reputational damage if they don’t make sustainability a key area of focus.

What are your biggest achievements in your procurement career?

My team recently won the award for Best Practice in Supply Chain integration at the CIPS awards. 

Considering how tough 2020 was, the win represents a huge achievement.

I’m so immensely proud of the team and the contribution that everyone played.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?

Five years into my professional career I took the decision to move from a stable permanent Category Manager role into a Procurement Consultant opportunity on an interim basis. 

This was a strategic move to gain more experience and exposure to different industries in a shorter space of time. 

It paid off as I gained experience in the public sector, financial services, healthcare, defence, leisure and entertainment across an array of categories.

What skills do you consider essential to be a procurement leader?

I don’t think you need to be at the top of the tree to be a leader, anyone at any level can show leadership. 

There are the obvious attributes of a procurement leader; negotiation skills, commercial acumen, supplier relationship management, but you don’t actually need to be an expert at any of these if you have the ability to influence others to be at their best.

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

Think about your own personal style.

Are you confident in haggling hard and do you like bartering, or are you more into problem-solving and building relationships?

If you understand your starting point, you can learn how to develop your skills to become well rounded.

What role have you and the procurement function played in enabling the company to face Covid and do you see the function changing as a result of the pandemic?

The pandemic enabled me to reprioritise and take a real look at suppliers and all areas of spend.

We set realistic targets and worked more closely with internal functions such as finance to manage cashflows.

We have needed to be agile and through a change of attitude were able to react quickly.

Procurement has been a key function to all of the business’s response to the pandemic. and getting forecasts to suppliers quickly has been critical.

Relationships will remain key, but I think it will be difficult to create new savings in the post-pandemic market, so I believe that extra recognition should be given around cost avoidance and delivery of savings identified pre-pandemic.

There’s also a piece around adapting behaviours to new ways of working – we’ve gone from everyone being in the office most of the time, to a very flexible or hybrid approach.

I also think that there will be a lot of innovation going forward as there have been more opportunities to consider during the pandemic.

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Rupert Gaster