As part of a retained campaign to recruit a Category Lead – Energy for Alliance, Ian spoke with Procurement HeadsBen Stickland about his career, the culture at Alliance and what the Category Lead – Energy role will entail.

Watch our Head2Head with Ian here

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’ve had about 20 years of experience in Procurement, having worked with Pepsi UK, working for brands like Walkers crisps in the UK, Gatorade and Tropicana.

I found myself in procurement just before Y2K.

I then spent 20 years mainly in packaging followed by a period in commodities followed by a period in indirect based out of the UK and also a period in Switzerland then more recently out of the Netherlands working for Danone.

And, what led you to Alliance Healthcare?

I was fortunate when I worked in Switzerland to be part of an M&A process and I have been on both sides.

So, acquiring business and selling.

The piece I really enjoyed was when we sold a business called SAB Miller, a South African brewery business, I got the chance to leave, join Ashahi a Japanese brewer and set up a procurement function from scratch.

That process of demerging and creating a procurement team really appealed to me.

When I saw that Alliance Healthcare had been brought by AmerisourceBergen I thought it was a great opportunity to effectively repeat that process in a different industry, it was too good to refuse.

What is the team structure?

One of the pieces that came to me as a big surprise when I joined was that we had no matric structure and no category leads.

What had happened during the divestiture what that the category leads had stayed with the parent companies and what I found was a federated structure with a group of generalists based in countries with no centre resource, no pan-European or global strategies, very much a short focus, fire-fighting dealing with business needs.

No low-cost sourcing, no attempt to drive a scalable approach to procurement.

How is the team split up across the UK and abroad?

So, there is a team of four in the UK and then there is the remaining 16 in Europe spread between France, Spain, Norway, Netherlands, Romania and Turkey.

In the US, it is a slightly different structure, we have roughly 17 people based out of Philadelphia, and their spend coverage is not quite as detailed as you would see in Europe, so they tend to run about 50% of spend under management but the categories they do manage it’s far greater detail.

Can you tell me about the culture?

The culture is predominantly cost-driven today but you will see that change and ill tell you why in a moment.

The business has a very low margin.

We have no brands, so it is all about the service we can add to brand manufacturers and the service we can provide to the pharmacies at the other end.

As a result, the business has been extremely cost-focused and tends to look quite short-term at hitting its annual targets as opposed to a longer-term investment.

That is changing with the AmerisourceBerger acquisition, which has a much longer viewpoint.

You are beginning to see a change in the culture to a longer time horizon, more focus on the future, and more structural changes to give a degree of resilience as opposed to today we tend to be very dependent on individuals there is not a lot from an IT standpoint from a processes standpoint to underpin that.

So, you are beginning to see that change and that is what gives me hope and what brought me to the company.

Talk to me about your values and beliefs within Alliance Healthcare…

You will see from our website and a lot of our value mission statements that one of the phrases that comes up time and time again is the following…’United in our responsibility to create healthier futures’ and if you look at our business it is about making sure we bring medicine, we bring devices, we bring products to people that are in need.

Our whole business is driven by how we ensure that whether it is a simple over-the-counter paracetamol or a stem cell treatment that is right at he cutting edge we see our role as ensuring that product gets safely to the consumer in need.

That way we underpin what we consider to be healthy futures throughout our society.

Can you tell us a bit about the Category Lead – Energy role that Procurement Heads is recruiting?

As I said earlier, we have a federated structure, I found that we are buying energy in every single country but there was no energy strategy, I couldn’t find any PPAs in place within the business and I couldn’t see anything around renewable energy or how we would hit our CO2 reaction targets.

This role is the first of the roles we are going to centralise, so what I am looking to do is bring the sourcing and strategy for procuring energy into the centre with a view to how we hit our carbon reduction targets, how do we move to 100% renewable energy, how do we eliminate gas and how do I drive that strategy from the centre.

How do I put a heady mechanism in place to make sure we manage that while still being aware of the in-country needs?

If I take a ZBB zero budgeting approach the ultimate for me would be having price responsibility sitting with Procurement centrally and then usage responsibility sitting in-country.

What challenges are you facing at the moment?

The challenges firstly are cultural, so when I mentioned the deep focus on costs, that focus has to remain but we have to change the way in which we operate to look for what does a solution look like?

What do we need from a service responsibility standpoint, from innovation, from sustainability, and then ask the question what will it cost us?

That is quite a difficult transition because at the moment we tend to ask what the price is and then work out what we can get for that budget.

Besides that, we have the same challenges that most businesses face, we have large inflationary challenges that will be hard to overcome.

We also work in a strict regulatory environment which is quite slow to change so if we want to, for instance, digitalise or move the agenda forward it is not something you can do quickly.

Our ability to transform is a challenge.

Would this candidate have exposure to international stakeholders?


The role would be the first central role we put in place so the onus on this individual and on myself to demonstrate that the change in approach would deliver significant value is high.

For this individual, I would expect them to be in country, typically twice sometimes three times a year, in the beginning, taking up meetings at the board level, with MD, with FD and Ops Director.

Explaining what the strategy is, how we would implement it and making sure we are capturing the pain points and needs within the business.

This is a very visible role, centrally it also means reporting back to the CEO for the division plus the CFO, explaining why what we are doing is a change, what that transformation delivers, what the benefits are and why it is the step in the right direction.

After this, you will see other central roles once we have demonstrated that we can add value by managing categories like this centrally.

Are there any specific skillsets you are looking for?

My preference would be for somebody with a full MCIPS Level 6 qualification but equally, somebody who has got 10 years of procurement experience and has run cross-border sourcing exercises preferably with an energy background.

I would prefer them to be from the consumption user side as opposed to the supply side but again I am very open to people who have the necessary procurement experience but not the necessary category experience, I am happy to grow that experience to a degree with people.

The reason is that the role is so visible the ability to come across with gravitas is probably more important than deep subject matter expertise because, at the end of the day, we can buy that expertise in the marketplace if we need to.

This is as much about the person’s soft influencing skills as it is about their subject expertise.

What is your office policy regarding travel?

We have a policy today that looks for 50% attendance in the office and travel with 50% home working.

In practice, when you have seven countries in Europe to cover when you spend two nights and three days in a  country that is the equivalent.

In balance it works out probably one week at home with a couple of days in the office, then the following week travelling to a country and that cycle repeats.

You get through seven countries every 14 weeks then repeat the cycle.

Why did you join Alliance and why would you encourage people to apply?

I mentioned mergers and acquisitions before this was the opportunity for me to demonstrate to people that procurement is not just a back-office function but a department that can add value to a business and the opportunity to add that value, educate people, demonstrate that value and lead a lasting legacy.

We have a wonderful opportunity here because procurement is not bad-mouthed, and we don’t have a problem that we need to fix, this is very much about demonstrating that we can offer far more than the business is aware and it’s up to us to show and leave that legacy behind us.

To read a full job description or apply now for the Category Lead – Energy, click below.

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