PROCUREMENT HEADS BLOG

Picture of procurement leader Victoria Cope

The Big Interview with Victoria Cope

Victoria is the Head of Procurement & Supply Chain for Major Systems & Equipment for BAE Systems. Victoria leads the category and contract management functions, working collaboratively with the business to optimise the end-to-end procurement of systems and equipment to meet BAE’s customer needs. With a key focus on agile contracting, supplier innovation and sustainability.

Victoria is an experienced senior commercial and procurement leader, with a multidisciplinary background and track record of enhancing organisational performance. Focused on strategic commercial leadership and effective relationship management to deliver tangible results for businesses and individuals alike. 

She has more than 19 years’ experience in the Aerospace and Defence sector and has worked within corporate procurement, commercial and finance functions within FTSE100/250 organisations including BAE Systems, QinetiQ, Airbus and Unilever.

Victoria’s achievements were recognised by The Times & Sunday Times in 2019 as the winner of We Are the City Top 100 Women 2019 – Defence. Victoria was also awarded the Marshall of Cambridge Medal by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2012 for her contribution to the aerospace industry.

Victoria is a chartered Aeronautical Engineer by background and holds an Executive MBA from Henley Business School. Victoria is a Council Member of World Commerce & Contracting, a Non-Executive Council Member of The Air League Trust and Trustee of the Inspiring Leadership Trust and plays competitive badminton in her spare time.

Tell us about your Procurement journey to date and what made you choose Procurement as a profession?

I began my career as an aeronautical engineer using my technical background and operational analysis skills to support governments across the world on their defence procurement policy and multi-million-pound procurement decisions.

Notwithstanding my technical background, I realised that I enjoyed using my influencing and negotiation skills to deliver value to stakeholders and therefore moved into the sales and contracting function. Since then I have built my career journey transitioning between the buy and sell aspects of the contracting profession, leading the commercial function of a £150m business, undertaking corporate supplier relations on behalf of the BAE Systems, heading up category management for the business’ largest direct category, and currently leading category and contract management functions for Major Systems and Equipment.

For me, doing a ‘great deal’ is something that gives me those ‘Yes!’ moments within my career, whether it be with suppliers, customers or investors.

What surprised you about procurement as a profession?

Many professions have people who have been in them for their entire careers. However, from my experience, the procurement profession is highly inclusive with regards to people from all backgrounds operating within the function and bringing their experiences to make the profession more rounded and relevant.

In some organisations, the role of procurement is not uniformly seen as the catalyst for organisational competitiveness despite many organisations having more than 60% of their revenue passed through to procurement spend. This is a perception that procurement professionals are working hard to change – however, it is a long game and we need to continue to highlight the value we add as a function.

What barriers have you faced – if any – as a woman in the industry?

I have a positive approach to life and tend to see barriers as opportunities and secure solutions when I come across them – to the benefit of those who follow a similar path. 

As a female, I have previously experienced benevolence bias, where people have made assumptions and decisions on an individual’s behalf, with the best of intentions. For example, there are many people who still make the assumption that every woman wants and will have children, that being a parent means that having a career is less of a priority and that caring responsibilities fall predominantly to females therefore flexibility is reduced. These are perceptions that we can continue to challenge, with more people, both female and male, being open and talking about them.

To overcome this, I have learned to be very clear with stakeholders about exactly what I want for myself, my career and the key values by which I operate – an approach I encourage both women and men to adopt. 

What is your view on how women are represented and perceived across the profession?

Procurement is one of the key functions which I have found women are very well represented, particularly at an operational level. When looking at the more senior levels up to CPO, there are a growing number of women at the C-Suite level, however, this is something that needs to be an ongoing focus, to ensure that we grow a pipeline of female procurement leaders moving up through the industry to fulfil these roles both now and in the future.

What inhibitors are there in your experience to women progressing their career?

The inhibitors fall into two categories; the bias of others and self. I have touched on bias as a barrier and this is a significant inhibitor, which we as individuals can try and mitigate the effects of but requires everyone to change mindsets in the long run.

Other inhibitors I see within the female population are sometimes self-imposed. ‘Imposter syndrome’ is a phraseology used readily when discussing an individual’s lack of confidence to back themselves and achieve their full potential. 

Although I am lucky enough to not have personally experienced this, I have observed it in others, who are reluctant to seek out or accept opportunities because they don’t believe they are good enough. This is where mentoring, sponsorship and good leadership and role models are so important to supporting others to help them believe in themselves and achieve their full potential. 

What skills and attributes do you believe help women progress their career?

Stakeholder management, communication and influencing skills are key for all individuals seeking to progress their career. Understanding how organisations work and the decision-making processes within organisations are also fundamental to help navigate and influence their career paths. Being able to then use these skills for both business and personal effect is key.

Smart risk-taking is also a core skill, being able to identify risks as opportunities in both business and career lenses, is vital to swiftly progress an individual’s career.

Assertiveness is an important attribute to have to facilitate career progression. No one can progress your career for you and by taking charge of your own career, seeking out opportunities and asking for what you want and need in order to succeed, you can propel your career at the pace proportionate to the level of effort you put in.

Leadership skills, results-focus and good business decision-making capability are also vital to progression, regardless of gender.

What can be done to support and encourage women to progress their careers?

Female procurement leaders acting as visible role models can encourage women to progress their careers. A current popular phrase embodies this, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. Having role models who have both achieved career progression and balanced caring responsibilities is also important for supporting the retention and progression of women following parental/caring leave.

Although many employers now offer shared parental leave, the resources to support high achieving returning parents back into the workplace where they are in a position to continue to excel at their career are increasing but there’s still work to do. Provision of coaching and mentoring support, before, during and post-parental leave, is key to supporting career development and life transition for parents, helping to maximise their impact when they return to work. Providing flexible working arrangements for parents, breastfeeding/expressing facilities and onsite childcare also support a successful work-life integration for working parents. 

The homeworking arrangements we have seen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that work-life integration/balance is possible and that the same results, if not better at times, can be achieved through home working, versus being physically present in the office or workplace.

How can we encourage more women to choose procurement as a viable career?

We need to raise awareness of the function as a whole as a viable career path. One route is to formalise degrees and add on modules for undergraduates to provide a line of sight from formal training to senior leadership roles.

Who has inspired you throughout your career and why?

My father has been a key inspiration of mine throughout my career and still to this day he acts as a mentor and advisor to me. His personal drive, approach to change management and ability to take a business to the next level of corporate growth has been both motivating and inspiring. 

I have also had the pleasure of working for some remarkable managers whose coaching, leadership and empowerment helped propel my career to another level and achieve my full potential in role and beyond.  

What advice would you give your younger self?

Some of my learnings along my journey have been

  • Take a risk and push yourself out of your comfort zone
  • The biggest risks are those that you will learn the most from and grow as a person. Calculate the risk and understand the potential impact, both positive and negative. Position yourself to maximise success, surrounding yourself with the right people at work and at home who can support you to succeed.

Take and maximise every opportunity that is offered to you

  • Career paths don’t necessarily run in straight lines. You will have been selected for an opportunity offered to you because of your skill and competency. As long as it’s a step forward towards your end goal, take the chance to succeed. Don’t say no just because it’s not on the list.

Ask directly for what you want

  • Women are noted for not directly asking for what they really want in a career context. Be clear, set expectations and ask directly for what you want and need from those around you. Hearing ‘no’ is sometimes the ‘worst’ that can happen – at least you know where you are and can have a constructive conversation about how to get ahead.

Aim high 

  • Set your development goals and plan for the role you want in ten years’ time. Know the competency and skills required and set a career path to achieve them – starting now. Achieving progression towards those high-level goals will mean that if you go for the job one/two above your current role, you will already be demonstrating outperformance compared to your peers.

You are good enough – believe it

  • Women tend to want to ‘tick off’ the entire job description for a new role five times over before applying. Think about your experiences to date at all levels, leverage them and sell them clearly. Take a chance – apply for the role!

What is your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement was being selected to lead corporate supplier relations on behalf of BAE Systems. As part of this role, I chaired a cross-industry Chief Procurement Officers forum to collaborate on Corporate Social Responsibility, working to combat UK youth unemployment by providing 72,000 work experience placements within the supply chain to establish sustainable careers for young people and a diverse and inclusive talent pipeline within UK Industry.

What unusual activities do you dream of trying someday?

I dream of experiencing weightlessness in a parabolic flight. Normally reserved for astronaut training and space experimentation – this has been on my bucket list since being a child (and budding astronaut) to float like I’m in space!

Where would we find you on a Saturday morning at 10am?

Round our kitchen table devouring a pancake breakfast with my family, following a rather keen session on the cross-trainer. I love to work hard but also love to play hard too, enjoying my family time and sporting activities together as a team.

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Hayley Packham