An image of Nick Jenkinson, Chief People Officer.

Nick Jenkinson is a Procurement leader who most recently supported a major transformation in the financial services business, Santander. 

Passionate about digital transformation and innovation, Nick spoke to Procurement Heads’ James Dobbin about his experiences, outlook and drivers.

How did your procurement journey begin? 

Like many in procurement, I didn’t have a lifelong dream that this was what I was going to do with my career, I came out of university and found a role with a local business.  

It was really more a hygiene factor, getting an income stream while I worked out what I was going to do.

Fortunately, amongst other activities, they opened my eyes to Procurement and agreed to fund my CIPS professional development and the rest, as they say, is history.

As I started this professional development, it really built the path for me; so I looked at how could I progress and went from very small companies to very large organisations and have never looked back since. 

You’ve held many different leadership roles in a variety of sectors, what made you decide to experience multiple sectors rather than just focus on one? 

Timing, luck and a natural desire to push myself out of my comfort zone.

 I have never actually targeted a sector, what has always been important to me is two key elements; the scope and the challenge. 

Key questions I ask are whether there is enough challenge for me to get my teeth into, whether I can make a significant impact and finally, whether will it provide career progress and opportunities to learn something new.  

I am naturally a very curious person and somebody who likes to push myself out of my comfort zone. Coming out of an industry and moving from directs into indirect has helped me to push and challenge as much as possible. 

During my time in the pharmaceutical industry, I was also fortunate to also have the opportunity to diversify functionally with my portfolio also covering leadership of the Corporate Real Estate and Business Services functions, both of which also required significant transformation. 

So as I said, as well as hopefully demonstrating some level of capability, a key element really comes down to luck and timing that opportunities came up and I have managed to click with the relevant leadership. 

As a result, I have ended up with seven companies, and seven industries and I am proud to say I’ve never worked in the same industry twice. 

As someone who has progressed through the ranks in a variety of different industries, would you encourage somebody else to do that?  

Absolutely, I think it gives you a very broad perspective, no company I’ve ever worked for does everything amazingly well and no company does everything amazingly badly.

It is therefore a learning curve you go on.  

Ultimately the drivers within an industry and within a company will differ.  

For example, in media, process was a dirty word, you would never have tried to get a policy-driven mandate as it would have been largely pointless; it was all about how could you work with the business to really drive value and become creative entrepreneurs. 

This is clearly significantly different to working in more regulated industries like pharmaceuticals and financial services, the drivers for those organisations are very different with value being defined in many ways with the management of risk being critically important.  

All of that comes together and makes you much more rounded as an individual because you are able to take the good from each industry and also learn from what they do not so well and how you can improve that moving forward. 

Also, the diversification I was able to enjoy across Business Services and Corporate Real Estate has greatly helped formulate a broader business mindset – often, my teams were the stakeholders in the Procurement process and approach; it was hugely enlightening! 

For me, all of this diversification has been great, my natural personality is to challenge myself and I constantly have felt challenged to learn throughout my career.

Can you tell us a little about your most recent engagement at Santander and what that consisted of? 

I was at Santander on an interim/advisory basis to drive a significant transformation across the function. This was all-encompassing so included a new operating model, new processes, new systems and new capabilities. 

The bank was going through a bank-wide transformation and procurement was seen as a key incremental value lever where we could deliver significant benefit and ultimately drive increased capability across the organisation.  

No stone was left unturned, with a focus on what Procurement should be and what do we want it to be moving forward.  

As you’ll know, from an industry perspective, financial services is going through a lot of change.  

The entire ecosystem that you need going forward is very different to what it has been historically. As a result, how we manage those suppliers, the role of procurement and how procurement manages that ecosystem also needs to evolve. 

How do you split the Procurement function out? 

I am quite a big believer in the concept of ‘You Are What You Eat’.  

Often whilst organisations will portray they are very much focused on key drivers such as Risk, ESG, and Supplier Collaboration, actually when you start to discuss and dig deeper their models often don’t reflect that.  

I struggle with something being the number one priority if only a fraction of my organisation is focused on it; this doesn’t tell me that is a number one priority.  

I think if you resource your team in a traditional manner with many of the organisation focused on sourcing and category management activities, the outcome you will get will be focused around sourcing and category management activities.  

What we tried to do is to split across six functional groups, with a focus on Category Efficiency, Sourcing, Supplier Collaboration, Risk, Category Excellence & Operations and Procurement Proposition and Performance.

Within that, about 40% of the team was focused 100% on supplier collaboration and risk.  

That is seen as a key area that the organisation wanted to evolve. 

Risk is obviously absolutely critical within financial services as it is a heavily regulated industry but also the focus around the supplier eco-system and how we are going to work with new suppliers in order to create partnerships which drive innovation and incremental value.

That was a key part of the operating model.

Experience tells me that there will be a level of evolution, it is the fourth transformation I have done and you never get everything right within it.  

It is all about how you build on it and evolve further.  

There will be enhancements over the coming period but we did really try to look at things and ask how do we do it differently, and how do you structure an organisation to do that.  

That is how I see my role, when I came in, I said I wanted to reposition procurement and provide the capabilities and the enablers in order to be able to drive that success moving forward. 

What do you think are the key challenges within procurement? 

With change programmes and transformation, repositioning and getting the operating model right is really critical for me. 

It’s far more than just an organisational structure; it is what are those ways of working, what are those key interfaces, how do we manage those key stakeholder relationships.  

I bring it back to the operating model; if you get that right, it makes everything more manageable. 

A key element is that old cliché of credibility, you have to focus on what is important within your organisation and what is important in a financial services organisation compared to a low-margin facilities services organisation is very different.  

You have to make sure you really understand what keeps the board up at night. When you actually look at what people’s objectives are and how they are aligning those to the business, you do tend to see a misalignment sometimes so it is really critical that it is not a CPO agenda, it is a business agenda and we are 100% focused on delivering it. 

From a Leadership perspective, it’s really important to focus on getting your enablers right. Whilst this may be a controversial perspective, I don’t think there is a mass shortage of talent. I think there are some great people out there but the talent debate can be an easy cop-out, if I can’t get something done, I’ll just say I can’t get the right people.  

But actually, I think that is the time you have to look in the mirror and say am I setting the team up for success?  

Am I providing the key enablers?  

I think digital enablers are a key element in ensuring you create the right headspace to accelerate the maturity curve. Being able to automate as much as possible so the teams have more time to be able to focus on business partnership, supplier partnership and driving value across the organisation.

Whilst this may be an extremely obvious thing to say, it’s more complex than people often think.  It is really starting to look at the overall digital landscape; the more complex your organisation, the more challenging the solutioning becomes.

It is relatively easy to put a Source to Pay platform in place but actually tech enablers are much more than just a source to pay platform.  

There seems to be much debate recently around ‘Best of Breed’ solutions versus ‘Integrated’ solutions but in my opinion, it’s really a non-debate.  

I don’t believe there is a true solution that gives you everything on an integrated basis and therefore you have to take the great ideas that are out there, take your internal business problems and marry the two together.  

Finally, it is on to the people, you have to find great people.  

I have always been focused on actually surrounding yourself with great people and your job becomes relatively easy.  

When you go into most transformations you have to roll your sleeves up and get amongst the weeds – you look around and you won’t have exactly the skillsets you are looking for, hence why there is a transformation ongoing.  If you don’t get deeply involved then who will!  

It is then about understanding what the challenges are, starting to build that team and bring the great people in which is when things start to naturally fall into place.  

That is when the leadership comes in as to how you then continue to thrive. You can have all the other things but if you haven’t got great people you won’t deliver a great transformation. 

How challenging is diversifying the supply chain in the banking world and what is Santander doing in that regard? 

I would say very challenging!  

I think everybody is looking for that illustrious provider who is going to have that magic code which makes a huge difference within the organisation and difference to your customer base.  

Then we want to onboard them in a very simple manner and obviously there are lots of things from a risk management objective that mean that supplier onboarding process can be challenging.  

Third-party risk has been a critical part of my role for the past 8 years and therefore, is obviously critical to the organisations. Therefore it is trying to get that balance of how we assess risk, how we become the customer of choice and how we become easier to do business with whilst we are surrounded by heavy regulation in terms of how we need to operate.  

I am not saying I have the silver bullet at this time but that is definitely the direction we need to heading.

Hence things like the supplier collaboration roles, who have we got dedicated to developing these relationships so we can really work on developing true partnerships.

You told Procurement and Supply Chain Live last year that managing third party risk needs a holistic approach, what did you mean by this? 

I think when people think of third-party risk, they often think about the third-party risk team or third-party risk technology.  

But the reality is that all of the touch points we have in the whole supplier eco- system involves some element of risk.  

Yes, many organisations will have a TPRM technology and an associated end-to-end solution and in order to support that, have a team dedicated to making that all work and operational.  

But it is more about how does all of that integrate together?  

So the number of factors and scope will be significant…, for example, how are we managing risk, from a contractual perspective, what real-time insight do we have on our supply chain, what are the supplier collaboration partners delivering, how does our source to pay platform operate and control and, how do we make supplier selection decisions.

I think it has got to be seen as a much bigger picture as opposed to a process or a team.  

The challenges we face, are nothing like any of us have ever experienced and as a result you have to have the whole operating model where you are thinking about not just driving value but how are we managing that risk, what controls are we putting in place while also looking at the user experience.  

There are so many different factors there.  

That’s what I meant really from a whole holistic view, it is simply not enough to do the old fashion due-diligence approach and say you’ve ticked that box because the supplier on this day was of a certain quality.  

That is a million miles away from the world we now live in. 

What is next for you? 

I have come to the conclusion that I obviously enjoy transformation, I have led transformations for the last four roles and thus, have spent the last 14 years in transformational activities.  

This was the first time I have done an interim/advisory role and I have really enjoyed it.  

It is obviously a different approach in terms of leadership and how you need to drive change within the organisation but it is something I have really thrived on. 

As I have got older and a bit more philosophical, you start to look at your strengths and I recognise I bring maximum value in that first 12-24months where you have maximum disruption and significant change.  

So, I don’t know exactly what it looks like but I know the key elements which will provide me and future partners the perfect relationship and these consist of:

Challenge: Is there sufficient challenge where I can use my skillset to make a drive significant value for an organisation? 

Purpose: Is there purpose in what I am doing and can I make a meaningful difference and contribution 

Enjoyment: Will I love what I’m doing… life’s too short to not love your job! 

I am also keen on working with smaller, digital start- ups, either on an Advisory or Investor basis; I have amassed quite a lot of knowledge on what works and what doesn’t work and how you can guide that moving forward and would love to be able to share that to help drive better solutions in the marketplace.

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