"The times I don’t enjoy at work are when I am not prepared when I haven’t thought through what I need to do or say sufficiently."
You can listen to, watch or read their full conversation below.
How did you get into procurement?
As with a lot of people, not intentionally. I did a languages degree and as part of that I had to spend a year abroad, I went to Paris and worked in the purchasing department of American Express. It was purely an applications process on available roles and from there I ended up going back into it and have been there ever since.
I think procurement is one of those things that you don’t think about but you know that it happens. I was there for just over a year and back then (1992/3) it wasn’t the function that it is now. That evolution was driven partly by the passing of time but also by financial crises and the consequences of those that have changed the way that procurement is viewed and pushed it into a better place.
From a personal perspective, it was purely the opportunity to work with a company like American Express in whatever department they offered me, and it just so happened to be purchasing and administration.
Can you describe what Capita Procurement Solutions is and how procurement sits within the organisation?
We are the client-facing procurement consulting business within Capita.
We manage both our own directly owned clients but also operate within Capita’s larger relationships with many private and public sector clients. It is a hybrid of directly owned clients but also supporting Capita’s bigger client partnerships. We have everything from small clients who need a week of support, all the way through to clients who will be with us for 15 years, so it varies hugely.
How many people do you have in your team?
That’s quite a difficult question to answer but I would say all-in-all, within the direct and wider capability it is probably around 150.
What are some of the challenges your team are currently facing?
When Covid hit we went to working from home instantly, but that doesn’t make us special in a consultancy context, as lots of consultants work remotely.
We had some teams who were physically based in offices who went through the associated changes and had to get used to working from home but it was pretty seamless, beyond that though it is the change in approach and working with teams and clients remotely.
I think the rapid response and ability to be agile, reflect new requirements and supporting clients in how they transitioned to working from home so that their underlying business operations weren’t compromised.
It was difficult, but in some respects also hugely rewarding, difficult but satisfying, and dealing with those challenges was a learning experience.
Technology in the coming years and how it is deployed is going to be an interesting journey and I suspect a fast evolution for many companies to make sure that the likes of Covid won’t impact in the same way again.
A lot of companies are having to adapt to these changes and improve in many fundamental areas (risk, business continuity, SRM etc) and we see this as a focus in the short to medium term.
What are your responsibilities as Managing Director?
I think I have become an enabler, I do very little direct delivery.
I am an enabler because as I am not the person who is keeping a client happy with my personal direct delivery, I need to ensure that the teams we have got have the best environment, the tools and skills to delight our clients.
So, in many ways, I think it is the realisation that I work for them, for the team. My job is to understand the barriers that are preventing us from delivering brilliantly and removing those barriers. Be that technology, training, or at the moment anything to do with Covid’s impacts.
In the role that I have now, I do miss being directly involved in delivery so I do indulge myself by owning a couple of our European clients which is my background. It helps me stay up to date with our delivery experience and the client perspective.
Also, when you get to this position, you become responsible for all of those things like numerical performance, you have the risk to manage – it is looking beyond to what is on the horizon and making sure you navigate directly towards that.
I am also very lucky as I have a great team around me, of people who have been in this industry for all their careers as well. We also recruit people to challenge us, we bring clever people in to bring new ideas and perspectives and to tell us how to improve and to think more forwardly.
I would say it is probably the responsibility on the people side that is probably the biggest change. Ensuring that we enable them, support them, develop them.
What do you look for when recruiting?
Many things, depending on what part of the business they are coming in to.
A lot of market requests at the moment are for expertise. You need to ensure that the people you are bringing in have those skills. Outside of that, you are looking for people who have good interpersonal skills who can create good relationships, as it is a key part of what we do.
People who are enthusiastic – if you meet people with a great energy that says they will give everything they have got to make this work. It is a real mixture, yes of course there are accreditations that people will come to you with but outside of that, experience in procurement clearly is one, but also being enthusiastic and committed goes a long, long way.
What are you most passionate about when it comes to procurement?
I think in some respects the passion in the last 12 months is evolving a little bit as we have a huge role to play as we come out of Covid-19, in supporting businesses recover and businesses survive and people getting back into the workplace.
I am quite passionate about doing our piece, we are supporting initiatives like the Kickstarter campaign and wider social value agenda.
It is always the people – if you are not passionate about creating a good environment for people to have rewarding careers then every other aspect of what you try to do will be more difficult than it needs to be. It is staying part of the continued conversation within the market within how we evolve and what we do.
What are your key focus areas at the moment?
It is probably four areas:
Risk – risk management, so all aspects of risk in the supply chain and alternative supply chains. I think people are realising they may have had all their eggs in one basket
Savings – who doesn’t need to manage the purse strings carefully at the moment
Social value – there is no question that a lot of the central and local government conversations that are being held at the moment involve a strong element of social value an all of those components as an ongoing social value
Data – know yourself better through data
Those are the four things we are talking about the most.
What trends are you seeing in terms of sustainability?
Across the board, there has been a growing conversation around social value. It is not just Covid, it was there as a conversation beforehand, but Covid has hastened the need for procurement to ensure it is there to contribute more to the wider social complex.
It is not a new conversation. Sustainability falls as part of that social value. Within social value, you have all sorts of things such as; apprenticeships, people arriving in the workplace at the start of their careers, ex-offenders, the back to work initiative, environmental components; there is a much clearer demand for environmentally sensitive procurement.
But you also have social in the context of where you are getting your product from. It is what is the political context of everything.
It is really across the board that you are seeing sustainability, not just environmental sustainability as a social value piece.
I am not going to claim we have mastered all of them, but we are working hard with our clients to be better across those areas as time goes by.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
I think one is where we have got to as a practice at the moment. I think we are, certainly in the last three or four years making great steps as far as the consistency of delivery and expertise. We have got a lot more client-centric in terms of working more collaboratively with clients to ensure that we understand what they are trying to do. The business that we have matured to is certainly something that makes me smile.
Personally I guess if I went back a few years, I worked on some pretty complicated global supply chains – I worked in Germany for three years doing that and I think the cross-cultural collaboration throughout Europe to execute single strategy approaches to supply chain is never easy. It is a complicated thing to do and I think we had a lot of fun doing it and it had a very successful outcome.
What skills do you consider essential to being a procurement leader?
Listening is key.
If you end up telling people what to do all the time they don’t grow, and if they don’t grow you have to tell them what to do all the time, and that is not a sustainable approach to running a business.
Patience, understanding and at the same time you have got to recognise that you have to make decisions and you have to be accountable for them.
Acceptance that at some point you will get something wrong and you will understand and accept that quickly and move forward.
Get the right people with you – don’t think everything sits on you. You can’t know everything you need to, so accept what others can contribute and that often they have more knowledgeable than you! Being ready to listen to those people and work with them to move forward is key.
What is the best lesson you’ve learnt in procurement?
That procurement is not simple!! That I didn’t know it all, that the world evolves quickly and staying at pace with it is a hard task to manage and that you need to lean on people and listen to people to keep progressing – that lesson is something I thank a very early boss in my career for.
What do you think are the current trends and hot topics and what emerging roles do you think we will see off the back of that?
Social value is definitely the hottest topic – there are going to be many initiatives, multiple new tools and SV obligations we are going to have to engage and embrace. Trends wise, I think supply chain de-risking. You are going to see a lot of companies diversifying supply chain diversity in terms of single geographical areas into a more global network.
Technology is always going to be one – I think we are in a 10-year cycle where the mid-sized companies catch up with what technology has to offer and use it, I think you will see a rapid evolution in the next 10 years.
The use of technology to create a more robust risk-averse business to deliver value and give businesses the ability to be data-driven, fact-driven – those are the key to social value and technology.
Can you give us an overview of how your business model has been affected by both Covid and Brexit with the new trade deal?
As far as Covid is concerned we were beginning to do more work with the private sector but that inevitably slowed down. That balance will return but for the past 12 months there has been more activity with the public sector.
As far as delivery, there was very little impact – some of the big programmes around technology were paused but otherwise we carried on. There are private sector companies who wished to preserve cash as opposed to continue with programmes not knowing where Covid was going.
In terms of the ability to execute we haven’t really had any challenges, it is just adapting to clients’ adjusted time frames for whatever they were doing.
We have done a lot of work with clients on clean data allowing them to re-focus their procurement initiatives based on better data, and around contracts; we did a lot of contract related work during Covid.
As far as Brexit is concerned, lots and none probably is the honest answer. We’ve had a lot of conversations on its impact, supported clients to make changes within their supply chain and create legal entities on both sides. However it has not stopped any client from engaging with us and none of our clients have said they are not going to work with us after Brexit.
So far it has just been a gradual preparation in the parts that we support them with to ensure that those providers they work with have been able to continue collaborating.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
A bit of everything, I have three daughters so that keeps me busy!
My wife has been doing a doctorate so that is something we have been adapting to. I used to play cricket but my knees have fallen apart! I do quite a lot of reading, and travel quite a lot, I have travelled a lot both personally and for work and I really miss it.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?
Listen to older people more – they have been there and done it and got the experiences. It is not the arrogance of youth, it is the over confidence of youth – I would say listen more.
Do you have an interesting fact about yourself?
I once lived on a beach in Jamaica for six months. I will have to leave it there though!
Do you have a personal motto that you live by?
The times I don’t enjoy at work are when I am not prepared, when I haven’t thought through what I need to do or say sufficiently.
If anything it would be prepared, or if you want to put it in Latin, “semper paratus”.