Joseph Brown is Management Consultant at State of Flux, a global procurement and supply chain consultancy headquartered in London.
For the latest of Procurement Heads‘ Futureheads series, Joe spoke to Matt Williment about his procurement career journey.
What was it that lead you to pursue a career in Procurement?
It was a complete off chance, I did a business degree then when I was at university, I decided to start filtering bits out that I wasn’t as particular in, stuff like; marketing, sales, finance that kind of thing and it left areas like supply chain, logistics and procurement so I thought I would go for that kind of thing.
I finished Uni, started applying for graduate roles and it just so happened that a Procurement consultancy based in Manchester reached out to me saying they would give me a role. So, I upped and moved to Manchester and the rest is history!
Who was that consultancy?
They were called Procuring Ltd; I don’t know whether they are still around but at the time they were growing massively and were getting loads of graduates.
I think I was number 7 or 8 through the door, I was only there 7 months and by the time I left there were 20! Their main client was the ministry of Justice and at the time the Ministry of Justice started to clamp down on how many consultants they were getting, as such Procuring’s main revenue stream dried up and we all kind of went our separate ways.
That is when I went over and worked full time for the Ministry of Justice. I worked for them for 3 years in the Commercial function, did Procurement in different capacities and made my way up to Category Manager whilst I was there.
I did that and then decided I needed a bit more variety so got back into consultancy again. I made the move down to the big smoke and joined IBM and was there for 5 years as a Procurement Consultant then Senior Procurement Consultant.
After that I joined State of Flux as a Management Consultant this year. It has been a strange journey, but it has felt quite quick.
As someone who has worked on both sides of the coin, industry and consultancy, what would you say drew you back to consultancy?
I think the variety more than anything, when you’re working in industry, it tends to be a desk job. You have a number of contracts that you manage and there are a number of tenders that come up and you churn out the same work day after day.
Certainly, for the public sector you tend to be in a small team in a small, quite niche, area. It gets quite monotonous, whereas when you’re in consultancy you can have projects that are a week long and you can have projects that are 18 months to 2 years.
You can get different length projects in different industries, and it is always varied work. It is a bit more interesting!
What are the three take homes for the best approach to get into Management Consultancy?
In order to get into consultancy, you have to be a critical thinker, and look at things through a different lens.
Each client is different so you have to have a brain where you can go in and see what the issue is, look and gather the knowledge you need quickly to work out how to solve that problem.
You also need to be quite analytical; 99% of projects you have to analyse spend data and see trends and know what they mean.
Thirdly you have to be a good communicator, you have to be able to speak to clients, and build a rapport with them straight away, understand their issues and how to solve them quickly.
Do you find CIPS and MCIPS to be important or do you think that industry experience can sometimes peak what you have learnt on CIPS?
It is a bit of a mixture and the whole CIPS debate comes up a lot. Certain clients have even asked, as a requirement, do you have MCIPs and it looks good when you’re handing over your bio to say you’ve got MCIPs or FCIPs, whichever it is.
Certain clients it resonates with, others it is all about the experience. I liken it to getting a job in a bar, when you are first starting, and you don’t have bar experience you get knocked back all the time until you have the required experience.
It is almost the same in consultancy. As soon as you have built your portfolio of projects you start to get those roles and it gets quite easy.
I do think it is good to get qualifications and keep your knowledge and skills up to date, but it is not the be all and end all.
If you were to say one area you see Procurement heading as the next big thing, what would you say? I know a lot of people are saying sustainability, would you agree?
Yes, 100%, we are pulling together our research paper this year and the main topic is the extended enterprise, which links quite closely to sustainability.
There is new sustainability legislation coming in all the time and there is going to be a new due diligence legislation coming in very soon which is all to do with how well you know, not only your immediate supply chain but your companies whole supply network.
Governments are clamping down now and companies are getting fined if, for example, your supplier 5 layers down the chain is doing something a bit dodgy or breaking some rules you can get fined for using them.
It is pushing companies to ensure they have good ESG policies in place, following sustainability regulations and pushing towards net zero targets. If one supplier in that chain is breaking those rules and not following it has a knock-on effect.
These types of legislations are ensuring companies look a little deeper, understand their whole web of suppliers, otherwise known as the extended enterprise, and that they are all following sustainability rules together.
How would you describe your three-month journey with State of Flux so far?
It has been quick! It is completely different, I have both sides of the coin, I have got the large consultancy experience, IBM has 300,000 employees, but this is the other side of the coin.
We have less than 20 employees here in the UK office, I had the CEO ringing me on my first day saying welcome to the company which is completely different culture-wise to what I am used to. It is more of a family feeling here; it is such a smaller team, and everyone is willing to pitch in and help out.
You can reach out to anyone for help; it is a very different vibe and feel. It is nice and definitely a friendly place to work. It is completely different, and it has been a good journey so far.
Here it is not all about the numbers, it is about everyone working together and collaborating to make sure the client is happy.
Before lockdown there was a stigma that if you were a management consultant you are doing 50+ hours a week! Has that changed, or is that still the case?
It has definitely changed, now I am still going to client sites, but it is more flexible in terms of as and when it works for me and the client, it is different here as you are spread over a few different projects at the same time.
You have some flexibility to choose where you go and what you do. You can mix and match what works for you, what works for the team and what works for the client. You have to balance it.
I think one thing that gets said a lot in industry is that you’ve hit a glass ceiling, it is now time for you to move on. Would you say that is not apparent in consultancy, and you can shape your career path through your deliverables?
Definitely, you do have a say. If you have a team of 10 and you are the only one who hasn’t got a project, you may have to take whatever comes up so you might not get a say there.
But you do get a say in the kind of clients you want to work for and the projects you want to go for. At State of Flux especially, there is a real push from the Execs in whatever people are passionate about they can go after. If there are industries you are really passionate about and want to do some research on, they will say go and do that. You build on this research and reach out to clients.
A few analysts have said they are really passionate about sustainability at the moment, and they have been given that as a mini project to go off and look at in more detail.
You definitely have choices, different projects come up and you get the choice of where and when you do it sort of thing. It is refreshing!
Where is the next step for you at State of Flux? What is the next rung in the ladder?
The next one after this, it is actually a bit different here, they have different terminologies for the different ranks.
It is Analyst, Consultant, Manager Consultant, Senior Consultant and then it goes to Exec. Whereas at IBM I was already a senior consultant, I would probably go to that level here next.
The Exec layer is only a couple of layers away here, so it’s within touching distance and I would definitely be passionate about sticking around and getting to that layer and keep growing the company. There is no ceiling here, you are always treated with the philosophy, if you want to grow you can always grow as long as the company is growing.
As long as we are doing well and it continues on a trend, if I’ve been here for a few years and I can get to that Exec layer I can help grow the business.
What would you say is the one thing that was the most influential in your move here when you were looking for a role?
For me, I just wanted something different.
I had already had that big consultancy vibe. I had a stint at a boutique consultancy at the beginning of my career, but it was very short lived.
I wanted to get back to that small consultancy where you can shape your own career path and shape your own choices.
At State of Flux we are a lot more specialist in one area, we are a supplier relationship management company mainly. Finding that kind of niche that you can look at and go after it makes it a bit different and interesting.
It also makes it a bit more of a challenge as you have to really focus your skills on one area, so it is a slightly different challenge.