CPO SPOTLIGHT: JON WILLESCROFT

An image of Jon Willescroft, International Procurement Director at G4S.

Jon Willescroft is International Procurement Director at G4S, a leading global, integrated security company.

For our latest CPO Spotlight, Jon spoke with James Dobbin about how he entered the world of procurement and some of the challenges CPOs currently face.

You went to the University of Bath, achieving a BSc honours in Business Administration. What made you choose a career in procurement? Could you tell us a bit about your career journey so far?

The University of Bath was – and I think still is – a real centre of excellence for Procurement and Supply Chain.

I also did a placement at GKN Westland Helicopters buying sheet aluminium lithium for the EH101 helicopter. So I did six months there and really enjoyed it. I liked the fact it was highly commercial, which interested me, and I could see how procurement – as a profession – was growing and maturing.

Also, if you can spend six months buying sheets of metal and still find it interesting, you’re probably in the right field!

You actually started your career in management consultancy, first at Proxima Group and then at KPMG. How do you feel this foundation shaped the way in which you approach your work?

That’s an interesting one. In some ways, it’s a little backwards to start your career in consulting, when actually you’re not really qualified to advise on anything, but it does give you great exposure early in your career. I think starting my career in consulting had a fairly profound effect on how I operate. 

Firstly, you learn early on about the importance of quality analysis, structured frameworks, how to set out strategies, and then how to present those thoughts coherently.  It forces the discipline to do that at a consistently high level, which I think is incredibly helpful. 

Secondly, it makes you think hard about how you spend your day and how you use your time.  I remember I had a utilisation target of 80%+ billable hours; that forces you to think about what you’re doing and how you’re generating value from each hour of your time. 

That’s something that has definitely stayed with me.  If you’re spending 8 hours working in a day, what are you going to do?  How are you creating short or long-term value? If you can’t immediately answer the question, you’re probably not using your time effectively!

From there, your career has seen you take cross-sector procurement roles, from pharmaceuticals to banking, to insurance through to your current role in professional services with G4S.

How has this diverse portfolio of roles helped you and your career in getting to CPO level?

Well firstly, clearly there isn’t only one way to get to your desired endpoint.

For me, I think it was helpful going cross-industry and cross-company, for some obvious reasons, like the fact that you get exposure to different ways of working, with different styles and different approaches.

That forces you to get good at flexing your style – building your EQ and adapting your approach to achieve the outcomes you want. If you go into a bank versus a pharma company versus an entertainment company, you’re having to deal with different types of people in different ways. 

It also helps you become more commercially outcome-minded in terms of really asking –  why are you here and what’s procurement trying to achieve in this business?  You’re not there to run a process, you’re there to deliver the right short and long-term outcomes for the business, for customers, and for shareholders.

That said, you can clearly stay in the same organisation for 20 years, and as long as you’ve got the same kind of challenge and sideways opportunity to stretch, you can develop in much the same way.  But on balance, I do think that in procurement the industry and sector breadth is very powerful.

You’re a strong proponent of diverse and sustainable supply chains. What role has procurement played in G4S’ sustainability journey?

So Procurement within G4S is right at the centre of the broader corporate sustainability journey. 

If you look at pretty much any of the sustainability pillars at a corporate level, such as carbon reduction, labour and human rights standards, diversity, equity and inclusion, there’s a procurement programme at the heart of it.

This is as it should be, particularly given that the supply chain often has a bigger footprint than the buying organisation itself.

We are very much trying to build our sustainability and ESG activity into the core workings of the business, rather than tagging them onto the side.  In a low-margin business, where resources are tight and teams relatively lean, it’s also very helpful to find the sweet spot between pure sustainability outcomes and commercial benefits. 

If you reduce carbon, you’re also reducing waste and reducing spend.  If you increase supplier diversity, you bring more innovation into the business.  So it’s just good business practice and over time sustainability should just become part of the DNA of the business.

In your opinion, what does the role of a CPO entail?

At a basic level, it’s very similar to any leadership position; you’ve got to set a clear vision, then you’ve got to enable and empower your team to go and deliver that vision.  So that’s pretty consistent.  I think one area where the CPO role is different to others is that you’ve got to cover a huge amount of ground. 

Firstly, it’s a function that touches and helps power every single part of the business; from front-line operations to middle and back-office support functions.  If you want your function to be a real commercial business partner to the business, you’ve got to understand each part of the business, be well-networked, and ensure you’re delivering in all areas. 

In addition to this, the actual discipline of procurement is broadening and deepening all the time.  It used to be about doing great deals with suppliers and putting contracts in place.  As we all know, it’s now so much more than that.  This is obviously great for the profession but creates ever greater challenges for the CPO in how to address this.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing CPOs at the moment?

So I would say the biggest one, which I suspect is consistent across most organisations, is that whilst resources and budgets remain flat, the expectations and business needs are growing exponentially. 

And so the challenge is – how do you deliver what the business needs, but without ever greater investment and resources? 

There’s obviously a danger that, if you do it wrong, you end up spreading the function thin and doing everything poorly. 

Procurement is there first and foremost as a commercial function, but now it necessarily has to step up to the mark on risk management, supply chain assurance and sustainability. And those topics are getting deeper and more complex all the time. 

First and foremost, having the right capability, skillset and mindset from every member of the Procurement team is key.  It’s also crucial that the team feel empowered and able to use their own judgement on how to balance competing priorities and challenges. 

It’s also important to prioritise very clearly what you can and can’t do, and to align these tightly with the business.  This is about being ambitious, but also setting yourself up to succeed and pacing change appropriately.

And, finally, what advice would you give to aspiring CPO?

Probably all the things we’ve talked about.  In the context of having so much on your plate, I think focusing on what’s really important rather than just on what’s urgent. 

There will always be short-term, urgent requirements around sourcing challenges, cost reduction, or addressing supplier performance issues.  Or challenging market conditions that we have all experienced recently; covid, supply chain disruption, and rampant inflation! 

However, if you’re not crystal clear on what’s really important to your organisation, you’ll focus on the short-term rather than balancing that with long-term priorities.  It’s about trying to keep an even keel on the boat, and not be rocked sideways every time a short-term crisis occurs.

I think it’s also key to start building discipline around personal efficiency and effectiveness and ensuring this flows down to your team. 

Is everyone super clear on their objectives and how they should be investing their time?  We no longer have the luxury of having any lack of efficiency in our teams; if your team is working at 60% effectiveness then you’re probably going to fail. 

The last one would be around talent attraction and retention. 

The broadening and deepening of procurement is great for individuals and personal development, but it’s also highlighted skill gaps in the market and it’s become more and more difficult to attract and retain talent. 

I think the key is to focus on ensuring people are constantly challenged, stretched, and are given more opportunity and empowerment. 

The good news is that, because there is so much going on, and so much ‘pull’ from the business, there’s no shortage of growth projects for individuals.  So it’s easy to find stretches for the right people who are driven and keen to progress. 

It’s a really good time, I think, to be starting or building a career in procurement!

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