For Procurement Heads‘ latest Big Interview, Hayley Packham spoke with Gary to hear about his procurement career, how the organisation has navigated the challenges of COVID-19 and why sustainability, brand integrity and value are firmly on the company’s agenda.
How did you get into Procurement?
I studied retail distribution at college, but still didn’t really understand what Procurement was – to be fair, the term Procurement wasn’t widely used in 1988.
When I left college, my first job was with the distributor who made the buns and cola, as-well-as warehousing and distributing, for McDonald’s. I worked in the purchasing department raising purchase orders and sending them out to suppliers.
Can you believe I had to learn to use telex to send orders? For me, the major technology advancement at the time was the fax machine.
What are the roles and responsibilities the Procurement function holds within your organisation and how do you split the function out?
At JLP, we split between Category Management and Operational Procurement. My team sits within strategy and operations, which has responsibility for Procurement Governance, Systems, Risk and Operations.
I lead the Operational Procurement Team, where we manage the implementation delivery and ongoing performance of suppliers who fall within a pan-partnership supply – outside of John Lewis Partnership that would be more familiar as a Corporate Procurement Function.
We also manage sourcing of GNFR goods and services, the purchasing system content (catalogues) and support our end-user requirements across JLP.
What are the challenges that you and your team currently face?
We are very focused on three things: sustainability, brand integrity and value.
These are not always comfortable bedfellows and there is a balance we have to achieve between a budget holder’s desire to reduce costs, our sustainability and corporate responsibility drive, and our brand ambitions around customer experience.
We work in a highly collaborative and democratic environment where often Procurement and our relationships hold the key to the business achieving that balance.
What are you most passionate about when it comes to Procurement?
I am passionate about the benefits Procurement brings, not only to the business we work within but to the wider communities and businesses we work with. Procurement departments have a huge amount of influence on how and where an organisation’s money is spent. I want to see Procurement departments I lead and work within use that influence to drive value, not only in cost terms but in environmental and social value impact as well.
What do you think are the key focus areas for Procurement right now?
There are specific challenges we are facing into right now around Brexit and Covid-19. These are moments in time and we must be conscious that although they require a great deal of attention, we should not lose focus on our overall ambitions around cost/environmental impact and social value.
What are your team and organisation doing with regards to sustainable procurement?
We are fortunate to work within a business that is passionate about the things we are passionate about with sustainability recognised as a priority at the Executive level. Sharon White, our Chairman, has this as a priority.
As a Procurement department, we hold sustainability as a key factor in all our sourcing decisions and are actively working with suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of our goods and services and working on new and innovative ways of producing GNFR product with an emphasis on reusable, rather than disposable. Whether it be compostable bags to replace plastic or lighter weight crates for our delivery vehicles, our team is always looking at ways to reduce our environmental impact.
Tell us about your biggest achievements in your Procurement career?
While I was Head of Procurement at Brent Council, we were nominated for a GO Award in the category of Best Procurement Function. We didn’t win, but it was a massive boost for us and great recognition for the team.
For me, it wasn’t the award that was the achievement, but the fact that we had created a function that was diverse, empowered and happy. As a result, we achieved great results in cost savings and social value which brought recognition both within our organisation but also further afield.
What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader and what do you look for when hiring?
As any leader, but particularly as a Procurement leader, empathy and relationship building are at the top of the list. Positioned correctly, Procurement can be the glue of an organisation. Procurement leaders need to ensure that relationships are strong at all levels of the business and this comes from having a listening ear.
What has been the best lesson you’ve learned in Procurement?
You can’t – and shouldn’t expect to – win them all. What makes sense to you may not make sense to others. Procurement is our obsession, it’s not the obsession of everyone. We need to understand the stakeholders’ obsessions, and then pivot to align.
Who has had the most influence on your Procurement career and why?
Robin Edwards, an absolute privilege to work with and for.
As a Procurement leader with many years of experience and vast knowledge of many industries, he showed great humility and was a true leader when I worked with him at Milton Keynes Council.
Robin was never too busy for a chat, to offer advice or talk through a situation. Working with Robin really showed me that strength and confidence come not only through knowledge and experience but in caring for the wellbeing and development of those you are leading.
Robin brought the best out in me and gave me the confidence to progress my career in Procurement.
What do you think are the current Procurement trends/hot topics and what emerging roles do you think we will see in Procurement as a result?
Digital transformation is a hot topic at the moment and it undoubtedly has a part to play in the future of Procurement. However, we have been on a digital transformation journey since I started working in Procurement; remember I used to raise purchase orders via telex and fax!
The key to Procurement’s success in any organisation is to nurture relationships with stakeholders and suppliers. I believe business partnering and relationship management roles will be the key to Procurement’s success.
Process and administrational roles will need to evolve as digitalization takes hold.
What role have you and the Procurement function played in enabling the company to face the pandemic?
Our Operational Procurement Team was tasked with identifying and sourcing key PPE and hygiene supplies to ensure the safety of our partners, working on the front-line, and customers during the crisis.
What have been the major challenges you and your teams have had to navigate during the pandemic?
The limited supplies of key lines such as hand sanitiser, gloves and facemasks during the early days of the pandemic was a real challenge.
Traditional supply routes were difficult to navigate and we had to rethink our sourcing strategies as we went.
How has the business changed since lockdown?
For both John Lewis and Waitrose, there has been an expediential increase in online and home deliveries. For a short while, John Lewis shops closed and all sales moved online. While shops are now open we do anticipate a permanent shift to increased online sales and home delivery. The business has been forced to make some difficult decisions regarding reopening and deployment of resources.
What has worked well and what would you do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Having an Operational Procurement Team closely aligned to business areas and suppliers enabled us to act fast when the crisis hit. The speed of change and creation of a response group with the authority to make policy and budget decisions without the normal prolonged governance enabled us as an organisation to respond in the right way.
This response group will remain in place for the foreseeable future, which will enable the lessons learnt from COVID to be applied to any future crisis that may occur.
We are in the process of a digital transformation that will enable us to identify any possible future crisis at an early stage and ensure mitigations are appropriately managed.
How do you see the Procurement function changing as a result of COVID?
The COVID crisis highlighted the value of an operational team closely aligned with the business. Throughout the crisis, the relationships strengthened and visibility of the work we do increased. I believe this gives a great platform to solidify Procurement’s place within the organisation.
What do you like doing in your spare time? Do you have any favourite books, films, destinations, sports etc?
In my youth, I was a keen sportsman and played rugby and boxing but due to injury, I had to retire from support in my thirties. Some years ago I took an evening course in Ceramics and got hooked. I have been signing up for that evening course ever since. I even bought a pottery wheel to practice on at home. They say practice makes perfect, but I obviously haven’t practised enough yet! I keep telling myself that its all about the process and not the end goal.
I also practice yoga and find that it’s great for body and mind and really helps to clear my thoughts after a hectic day or energise me in the morning when I have a busy day ahead.
The book I last read was How To Be An Antiracist – something I am striving to be and learning about every day – by Ibram X. Kendi – Something and my favourite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Believe in yourself
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
I once had my own antiques and interior business, which I started on a market stall. I still love buying old furniture and restoring it or upcycling to create something new.
Although, since I came home with a pedal organ, I am on a temporary ban from auctions!
Do you have a personal motto that you live by? If so, what is it?
Never give up.