For Procurement Heads‘ first Head2Head, James Dobbin caught up with George Booth, Chief Procurement Officer at Lloyds Banking Group, to hear more about his career and what he sees as the key skills of an exceptional procurement professional.
You can listen to, watch or read their conversation below.
How did you get into procurement?
Like most people by accident!
I did marketing and economics at university and graduated in 93 and we were coming out of the back of a recession. I applied for a lot of jobs, mostly in business and Hewlett Packard had an advert for a Buyer, which I didn’t know much about but applied and got the job.
It was a six-month contract and I loved it, got to travel, do deals and got to understand manufacturing. They recruited me as a graduate and I got to try different function areas but loved procurement and stayed there.
That was almost 30 years ago and I never looked back. I did a four-year business degree but procurement didn’t feature at all. Even today, the lack of procurement or supply chain specific educational qualifications in colleges and universities remains an underlying issue for the profession given the role it plays in the global world of business.
I think, unlike any other functional professional roles, what we do is done by everybody in that you buy something every day and you have relationships. The intrinsic skills you need to be a successful practitioner are there already, you just need to hone them and professionalise them and that is not such a huge leap.
We often now bring people up through the ranks, from our call centre teams, typically late teens and early 20s and put them through CIPS and before you know it you have someone who is hugely motivated, loyal and capable.
We have cut out mainstream education and they hit the ground running while we develop their education alongside that.
What are the roles and responsibilities the procurement team hold at your organisation and how do you split the function out?
We have quite a diverse and very different function to ones I have led before. We do all aspects of supply chain for mergers and acquisitions, we do new technology discovery alongside our IT partners.
I spend a lot of time with the business and IT ‘R&D’ parts of the Group and I have teams embedded in there, often NDAd on new acquisitions or relationships we are trying to build. We then do the end to end value chain from pre to post-contract value delivery across the full end to end total cost life-cycle.
The biggest area of growth is all about supply chain risk assurance so from the very early days of bringing on that new supplier capability right through to the depths of the supply chain and managing everything in the middle.
Sustainability is an ever-growing and consistent contribution, but I also look after internal contacts and relationship management, so as a bank we have a ring-fenced element and a non-ring fenced element to which we oversee internal services which I manage.
I also do third-party risk assurance independently from the Group on behalf of the divisions and policy owners as a stand-alone capability. The team is split accordingly, so I have your standard market-facing category leaders, and a specialist supply chain or supplier relationship management function. I also have an acquisitions merger and outsourcing specialist, a tactical procurement team, which sits behind it and across that, I have got a central services IT function.
Finally, I have a small agile team focusing on the digitalisation of the enterprise and working with large tech to further digitalise the Group’s capability. These amount to approximately 320 team members reporting into. We try to create a community and a family feeling that everyone is part of the same team pulling in together.
What are some of the challenges your team has been facing?
Putting Covid aside, I think there are two big things.
The first is understanding the breadth and depth of your supply chain, so you can identify where are the weak links are. We are trying to build technology-enabled discovery capability to map out our supply chain, which reaches into every nook and cranny of the world and I want to anticipate the risks that come with that. For example, who has our data, who is talking to our customers, who is a weak cyber threat link?
We spend a lot of time mapping out who can interrupt the service. for example, who can stop your debit card from working?
The second thing is around technology discovery and rapid onboarding and due diligence, particularly of fintechs.
The financial technology supplier of today could be your competitor of the future and it is essential we can help convince the best early start-up companies that we can incubate them with mutual benefit.
This is a growing role for procurement to play. It is one that we are trusted to participate in as we bring a lot of business acumen in, we can make it very easy for a business to be approved to start work with us in days rather than weeks/months and finally we help them grow and achieve win-win outcomes.
Getting access to these suppliers is tough as everyone wants them. These would be the two most intellectually challenging issues we are facing that, if successful, will differentiate us in the market which requires a new level of thinking and dare I say a new level of professional edge to the typical procurement professional.
What are you most passionate about when it comes to procurement?
The people. 100%. I just love working with people.
Whether it be a colleague, business client or a supplier we get to work with, the regulators, banking is unique in that the degree of regulation is quite heavy and rightly so. But just getting to work with people and understand their challenges and their development needs and how I can help.
It’s fantastic and very rewarding watching people grow. Nurturing, encouraging and stretching people to develop is something I spend a lot of time doing, plus you learn so much from them!
Pre-lockdown I used to travel a lot and through meeting fellow practitioners and thought leaders in the industry, I get a chance in this job to do a lot more of that than I would in probably any other function in the Group. At the heart of any professional procurement individual’s drive is the chance to get out and about and meet people in their supply chains and customers to identify opportunities to improve.
What do you think are some of the key focus areas now within procurement?
I think there is a lot of focus now on the softer skills of the profession, we are no longer someone who turns up with a process taking the business on a journey from pre-contract to post-contract management.
We are much more about how can we help the business advance over a long-term cycle, how can we understand the rapidly changing technology and business landscape, how can we understand the growing risks to the business so that subsequent conversations at the executive and board level are more informed.
Savings are like the blood that runs through your body, so you always have to deliver on them year-on-year, as tough as that seems, it is just what we do but it is no longer enough. It is much more about delivering competitive advantage and helping grow the enterprise and as most organisations now increasingly rely on third-parties, it is the perfect time for the function to step up and be visible.
We often complain about not getting a seat at the top table and often that is our fault and we have amazing opportunities to ensure that is a given.
When you are hiring somebody what do you look for?
I think there are two or three main things. One is desire and passion, they have to have a sense of what they want to achieve and have the energy and passion to do that.
The next thing is business acumen, being able to conceptualise what business is all about – I often run through gaming scenarios with them to find a little nugget or spark of business awareness.
The other thing is being able to demonstrate resilience while being able to get on with and deal with people in challenging situations.
If you put those three things together they prove to be good ingredients for an exceptional procurement professional.
What are you doing with regards to sustainable procurement?
We are doing a huge amount.
Sustainability has been with me since the day I started in procurement. We have done a lot recently with Ecovadis and their methodology is embedding in through our pre-contract work with a pilot running to ensure that our suppliers can step up beyond our contractual obligations and meeting legal requirements and diversity agendas.
There is naturally a lot of pressure from a lot of stakeholder angles in banking and other industries to ensure that sustainability is at the heart of what we do. So responsible and sustainable sourcing, for example, with the uniforms, we make sure we are very clear every element is ethically sourced and ethically produced, this has to be a given.
We do a lot, it is in our DNA and not something else we have to find the time to do – it is something at the core of every decision we make.
What is the biggest risk you have taken in your career?
The biggest risk was going from being an individual contributor Buyer to being a supervisor or manager. I loved doing the deals, my years as a Buyer were great.
My manager at the time asked me if I would manage the team, I was pretty horrified and ran scared from it but on reflection, he saw something in me. It was a massive risk as I was worried I would lose my passion for procurement, who wants to be a manager in their early 20s?
But I took that risk on and I am now probably at the pinnacle of where you can reach in a profession. I’ve done it gradually and been very thoughtful of career moves and decisions. If I hadn’t taken that risk I wouldn’t be where I am.
There is a message there – think about achieving through others. I’ve learnt so much from my many teams over the years. I have not gone looking for new jobs every three or four years, they have kind of found me.
I have been brave enough to stay longer in businesses and learned that I can grow and develop in the process. You can build networks to understand how the business runs and as long as you are conscious of refreshing yourself and adding on new capabilities, taking on stretches, you can get the excitement that comes with moving company brands every few years.
There are some professionals out there that do that, but it is not for me. I like to build sustainable long term horizons and that comes with seeing people grow and develop over the period.
What advice would you give someone embarking on a procurement career?
I’ve three pieces of advice:
Firstly, constantly be curious, curious in terms of how the business runs and how the supply market can help it run better to me that is the essence of Procurement.
Secondly, continually learn, always stretch yourself and try and spend time in adjacent functional areas that you support, because if you are supporting them it is better to have an understanding of you from where they sit.
Thirdly, mention the function as little as possible, don’t turn up to a meeting and say you’re the person from procurement, concentrate on being a business professional and you’re here to help, and to listen. Learn to sell the function in a way that isn’t normal.
The reason in Lloyds that we have close to 100% in compliance is because we make it easy for the business to do the right thing. They get great service and they come back again and again.
Was there anybody in your career that you learned significant things from?
There was a chap called Bill Rendell while I was at Hewlett Packard, who is sadly no longer with us. He was a manager that saw something in me that he thought he could mould and shape into a better procurement professional. He set up an R&D procurement support team embedded in the labs as we had real trouble with the labs going off and deciding on componentry and choosing suppliers we had never heard of.
We were always playing catch up, but Bill had the epiphany to set up a specialist team and sit in a lab and mould procedures to suit them and he asked me to be a part of that.
The genius of it has never stopped inspiring me. I learned so much from him about building relationships and being curious and go and build the product/experience the service, learn about it, improve it. He definitely gave me that sense of proximity to the business, simplify things, talking their language, making it easy for them to work with you and constantly be in dialogue and be physically present with your clients are lessons I have always taken with me.
What would you say is your biggest achievement in your career so far?
I think it is the dozens of people that have worked with me and have recognised that I have helped them in some small way. I have helped them to build a passion for and a capability in the profession.
My strength and energy come from the people I get to work and learn with and seeing them improve and get better and be relevant in business.
So if I have played a small part in the career progression of people that is the part I am most proud of.
How did procurement have to respond to Covid-19 at Lloyds?
We were early pathfinders in this because as a function we were the first to go and work from home as we all had laptops and were used to remote working, we were asked to go and pilot home working in early March.
About then we were starting to hear from our global supply chain partners about shortages in IT kit, PPE, toilet roll, and our network started to tune us in on what was to come.
What we started to do was push the buttons on several supply chain ‘deep dives’ so we quickly established where the stresses were, the companies that were likely to go into lockdown and which supply chains were likely to be curtailed.
We then embarked on a programme of enabling homeworking for the Group, we set up a programme called office@home with little bureaucracy, we dealt with that afterwards. It was a cross-functional team lead by procurement to pull together equipment and had various reps from all the businesses.
In an 8-10 week timeframe, we enabled 40-50,000 colleagues with chairs and laptops etc. To date, we have had a very successful home deployment, we still have 50,000 people working from home safely and everything has worked.
The next thing we were doing was keeping capacity in our supply chains going, so as business plans failed we were working a lot to enable working from home in our supply chains using the lessons we had learned and then it was also just around the assurance of supply of goods and services into our data centres and offices and branches.
We have had to keep our branches open as an essential service, if you have been to a bank you will see it is very well provisioned and a very safe environment.
Overall our supply chain has remained remarkably resilient. The humanity shown to look after each other has been outstanding, irrespective of whether they are permanent members of the Group or employees of our suppliers.
I think the whole industry will take these threats more seriously, find out what could happen, the playbook for pandemics was sadly underutilised in many companies and organisations.
The pace and quality of response were fantastic. Overall it has been something we have handled well, nothing has gone disastrously long, it is now the persistence of the lockdown and keeping everyone motivated and joined up because none of us has been in the office since March 2020 and in a people-based business, that is really tough, but we have managed it.
We won’t go back to as was, but we will go back to a better as usual setup!
What are your thoughts on the Brexit trade deal and its impact on financial services in the UK?
I think as with most trade deals the provision for financial services like financial passporting was excluded. I am hopeful that both sides will come together over the next few months and get that sorted out which is more of a banking financial consideration.
For me, in terms of the practicalities of borders, the three things we worried about were access to labour talent into the UK, getting goods and services efficiently through customs, and the other was currency fluctuations as we buy globally and convert into sterling.
Overall for us, Brexit has gone as smoothly as we could possibly have hoped for in terms of goods and services, but the future is still to be determined more fully in the financial consideration of how we will trade together.
You have to be a glass half full, we are resilient as a culture and I think that transcends the shock. It is how you respond to what is out of your control that is key.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Since Covid I have spent a lot of time fishing, I have learned to fly fish locally at a couple of lochs. I keep fit I do a lot of walking and tennis and have recently acquired a puppy! I do a lot of gardening and DIY, the job can be quite intense so it is nice to have things you can have a passion for outside.
If you could give any advice to your younger self what would it be?
Follow your passion and the best piece of advice I ever got was… “Find what you’re good at and have a passion for and you will do well, you’ll have the winning formula!”
Procurement, for me, brought that together. I love what I do and I am good at it. And if you are good at something you have passion for you will do well in life.
Don’t aim for the top straight away, I take it a year at a time and as long as I feel that I am learning and growing and demonstrating my worth things will take care of themselves. It is having the belief in yourself and if you are passionate about procurement you will go a long way.
Do you have an interesting fact about yourself?
English is my second language. I grew up in the Hebrides and spoke Gaelic which is an ancient Celtic language. It was the language my grandparents spoke to me in, but English came alongside Gaelic.
Do you have a personal motto you live by?
My favourite phrase is, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
It is something I picked up many years ago and it really resonated with me, in procurement it is always ‘raining’ issues and challenges and if I didn’t learn how to live with that I would drown in the rain.
There is never a supply chain-related problem that can’t be fixed!