Ben Stickland spoke with Dan Churton, Commercial & Transformation Director at Orbit to hear more about the organisation’s heritage, culture and the important role the Head of Procurement that Procurement Heads is recruiting will play in enabling Orbit to achieve its strategic goals. 

Orbit Group is a group of housing associations providing affordable housing to around 40,000 households in England, mainly in the Midlands, East Anglia and the southeast, operating out of 7 offices with the head office in Coventry.

Can you tell us a bit about Orbit’s history?

Orbit was conceived by two people sitting on a park bench in 1967 who were contemplating how to fix the problem of homelessness. 

So they formed the company to try and do that and 50 years on we have got 47,000 social homes.

What is the culture like at Orbit?

It is actually amazing; it is very people-orientated. 

It is all about our customers who are largely in need of good quality social housing. 

It is very friendly, very positive and a reassuring culture.

Can you tell us about your role at Orbit?

I am the Commercial and Transformation Director, so I oversee procurement, contract management, and commercial activity and am working to support my colleagues in developing their operation model.

What is your mandate at Orbit?

I was brought in in March 2021 with a mandate to build a commercial function in the operating division of Orbit which is called customers and communities. 

Procurement had traditionally been in the corporate centre and was very distant from the operating activities. 

So, the mandate was to try and align the procurement needs to what we really need to deliver to our customers operationally, really to try and embed the right values, governance and control into our supply chain delivery. 

Really it is about building a much better value-for-money proposition for our customers and really embedding the right commercial ethos into a business that isn’t traditionally considered very commercial. 

Why did you decide to join Orbit?

I wanted a bit of a change; I had spent 7 or 8 years in a very corporate environment, and I wanted to do something different and move into somewhere I could add a bit of value and work towards some social principles so the housing association seemed the perfect place.

What is your proudest achievement at Orbit?

I honestly think starting to bring profit for purpose to the fore, traditionally it has not been that focused on procurement and contract management although it should be core to what the organisation does the realisation is that for every pound that we save we reinvest into building houses for people living in poverty so for me it is profit for purpose.

What are the organisation’s visions and values?

It is very social based so our values are driven, innovative, responsible, and investing in achieving together. 

So, a lot of it is about how we build thriving communities and the properties that we provide to our customers. 

Tell us more about the role Procurement Heads is recruiting

For me, it is one of the most critical recruitments for the next 12 months for the team. 

We have got a pending new regulator arriving in the world of public sector procurement, so this role is the core to prepare us for that particular regime and to really drive our procurement and contract management culture in Orbit.

What is the structure of the procurement function at Orbit?

Well, about 12-24 months ago it was a centralised function. 

Then, when I joined, it was decentralised and it became embedded in the operations. 

It now sits inside the operational arm of the business rather than in the corporate centre. 

We currently have a team of business partners, and we are looking to grow that to size up to the growing team we can see in our pipeline. 

As we grow our organisation as we start to work towards the new regulatory regime.

Are there plans to grow the function?

We recognise that we need to scale up. 

We see that in the short to medium term we will start to bring in some more junior roles as we start to get hold of the transactional side of procurement and then as the new Head of Procurement gets into the role, we will start to build a more strategic function with more category planning and more Senior Procurement Business Partners.

What are the key focus areas over the next two years?

We have some major contracts coming up so over the Covid period we had to defer quite a lot of procurement and extend existing contracts where we could so there is a bit of a wave coming, in the next sort of 1-2 years it is about stabilising and putting decent contracts into place and then looking in the medium to long terms about our long-term strategic plans. 

How will the Head of Procurement enable Orbit to achieve its strategic goals?

This would be a massive shift towards a more business partner way of working. 

Traditionally the business has just said we need X we need it by Y and it was very tactical in terms of the way we were procuring things, if at all. 

So now this will be procurement and the commercial team getting involved in building the long-term plans, they will be involved in a lot of the financial planning of the organisation and will be building a supply chain solution to provide that rather than just responding to a tactical request.

How important is the Head of Procurement role?

For me, the role is key to the future of Orbit. 

We are an outsourced business so procuring and finding the right supply chain is critical. 

This is a great opportunity to build a team, build an operating model and really drive the performance of the business and make a difference to a social enterprise. 

What skillset and personality traits are you looking for?

Clearly being very strong on public contracting rules is key. 

Being very very commercial is key but with the kind of organisation we are there is a lot of stakeholder engagement, so we are going to need someone who is very good at engaging with operational people, helping them understand the benefits of what we are trying to do. 

But also trying to influence change because it is a challenging culture sometimes to make change happen and this role is really all about improving the way we do procurement. 

Where will the Head of Procurement be based?

The primary location is Garden Court which is our office in Coventry. 

It is our main office, although we do have offices in Stratford and dotted around certain parts of the country over in Norfolk and down to the south coast. 

The aim is to have the role based in the corporate centre, but it is a hybrid-based role and like many of the team probably one or two days a week in that particular office space. 

Can you tell us about the package on offer?

We are going to discuss the package with each candidate individually, but it does come with additional benefits, so we are looking at a £5,400 car allowance, a 15% discretionary bonus, 27 days of holiday a year and life insurance. 

Why would you encourage people to apply?

If you want a challenging exciting role working with a really strong team and an opportunity to build something it is the kind of role for you.

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