For the latest Procurement Heads‘ Big Interviews, Julia shares more about her career and how she thinks we can encourage more women to choose Procurement as a viable career.
How did you get into Procurement?
As Business and Strategy Manager for technical claims at Aviva, I became familiar early on with supplier management and supply chains, but getting into Procurement was a bit of a lightbulb moment in terms of bringing my skill set together.
I realised my job was essentially that of a fixer with an enterprise risk management diploma and transformational skills, which closely aligned to the requirements of a Procurement function.
I emailed Allianz’s CIO and pitched this to him and he must have agreed as he brought me in to work on the IT supplier estate, first to derisk it and then to maximise its value both in terms of service and spend.
What are the challenges that you and your team are currently facing?
The rise in technology and digitalisation is impacting every area of the business from product development to customer experience and employee experience. It means we are busier than ever and working across all categories not just our own
Now COVID and home working is driving tech, alongside existing digitalisation strategies.
Ultimately it boils down to risk management and value delivery and those remain our focus.
What are you most passionate about when it comes to Procurement?
I love adding value and business partnering in its truest sense, that means understanding the overall vision of the business. I always encourage my teams to be strategic in their thinking, set clear expectations, be consistent and advise based on what is best for the business by balancing safeguarding with value delivery.
What do you think are the key focus areas for Procurement right now?
I heard a quote at a Gartner conference that referred to moving from being an insurance company that does tech, to a tech company that does insurance. One of our biggest challenges in IT Procurement is staying at the forefront of such a quickly moving industry by staying up to date with new trends and technology so the business can operate as effectively as possible. Especially now since the pandemic has forced us all home.
Equally, we need to simplify. We shouldn’t be afraid to demystify tech, even those who are not from traditionally technical functions need to understand the role of software in our daily lives it’s all around us, in the cars we drive to how we run our homes, it doesn’t have to be the ‘dark arts’.
What are your team and organisation doing with regards to sustainable Procurement?
Sustainability is a massive global and local focus for Allianz and we are creating a culture that ensures sustainability is a key focus within our Procurement function.
I work closely with the Head of SRM to create a culture that has this at its fore, from alignment with sustainable codes of conduct through to embedding it in the segmentation of suppliers.
Our ambition is to ensure that we replicate this ethos with our suppliers and set the same expectations, so setting standards for existing suppliers and new sourcing activities that suppliers must attain.
We are also looking to gain external accreditations and to utilise partners to ensure we have access to valuable data that can truly drive sustainability within our supply chain.
What have been your best and worst business decisions?
The best is certainly taking my current role, which has been a huge challenge, but massively rewarding.
Turning the IT category around while standing up services for two additional businesses – L&G and LV – has probably been the biggest achievement of my career.
The worst was being persuaded to take part in Aviva’s Got Talent and singing on a stage in front of about 300 people – cringe!
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?
To make a huge change and start my development consultancy when I did and a move that took my focus to people and transformation from enterprise risk management. Ironically! I learnt a huge amount about myself personally and professionally.
What inspires you as a Procurement leader?
Watching my team grow in confidence and develop into trusted advisors to the business – with each of their individual strengths and skills at the forefront.
What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader? What do you look for when hiring?
Being a fixer, excellent organiser and articulate.
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?
There is certainly increased volatility in the market due to the recession brought on by COVID, but we do need to maintain focus on sustainability and ethics in the supply chain.
There is also the ongoing digital transformation, and how we support the use of automation, robotics and AI in terms of helping the business to simplify and grow simultaneously.
I hope this will lead to a continued focus on building deeper supplier relationships, where suppliers are very much seen as strategic partners to support the speed of change to tech.
We must also continue to focus on delivering value beyond savings. Being a multi-entity business and having just merged it’s not just about squeezing cost out, but what value we add back in terms of best in market products, software choices (SAAS, PAAS etc) and all the timekeeping regulators happy and our focus on risk mitigation.
What have been the major challenges you and your teams have had to navigate during the pandemic?
In IT software, the impact has been fairly minimal on the supply chain.
I don’t deal with hardware, and software is a commodity that has been able to continue to operate largely unscathed.
We have ensured regular reporting on supplier dynamics – IT is obviously at the centre of the switch to working from home, but we also work with workspace services and the impact in that area of the business has been huge.
How has the business changed since lockdown?
Well, we are all at home and isolated in our little satellite worlds.
As a team, we have all had to work especially hard to remain connected and it’s my job to drive that as a leader in the business.
I think there had been a shift to a more human way of working and thinking.
The veneer has shattered to a degree- we are all working in each other’s houses and spare rooms now – the corporate mask has to be taken off and I think that’s a revelation!
What impact has COVID had on your organisation? What worked well and what would you do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Mobilising the business to working from home was a huge undertaking, as was ensuring the safety of our surveyors and those who were the frontline staff.
As a business we processed more than 950 COVID-19 Business Interruption claims, totalling £14m paid out (to date), as well as COVID-19 travel insurance claims to the value of £10m.
I can’t see how we could have done anything differently, we responded quickly and effectively, everyone was set up and able to operate in a matter of weeks – it was an incredible feat!
How do you see the Procurement function changing as a result of COVID?
Flexible working will be beneficial, in terms of not being bound to a location to get the right talent into the business. I also hope we continue to see a better work/life balance for people – less commuting time and increased productivity!
What challenges have you faced (if any) as a woman in the industry?
I found the challenge in financial services more so than just procurement.
It was hard to be so outnumbered 20 years ago when I was starting in the industry.
The lack of people to have as mentors or role models in my community of interest meant I couldn’t imagine how I could juggle career success and family focus.
Without evidence of other women living it and proving it, guidance on understanding my options and what the trajectory could look like was difficult.
Now with social media, we can connect and share stories.
LinkedIn changed how I saw my career and how I saw people living their own story and finding ways that worked for them.
How can we encourage more women to choose Procurement as a viable career?
It’s about how we sell Procurement and generate awareness of it as a function.
I matched my skill set to Procurement but didn’t know much about it.
We need to make it front and centre.
COVID has certainly made it more obvious as safeguarding the business, and it holds its own as a key function of the business.
Perhaps we need awareness campaigns! In terms of promoting it to women specifically, there can be great flexibility, which isn’t always possible in other areas. As a career, it can work for lifestyle and family.
Looking at the workforce of the future, flexibility and lifestyle balance will be key. It’s not just about work from home, its true flexibility – Procurement lends itself to juggling family and home life as well as being a rewarding career.
I think it’s great that Procurement Heads is driving this initiative, connecting and sharing stories, which may be inspiring to others.
This is how history is made, and stories are told, and the world is changed.
What advice would you give women setting out on the profession?
Learn from others, take all opportunities to mentor and be mentored.
Support and develop others. I try to mentor and coach as many people as I can. It’s important to give back and the learning cycle is so positive.
Don’t be frightened to ask for what you want and be clear about what that is, and don’t pre-empt what others are thinking.
The biggest downfall can be your assumptions of the demands and thoughts of ‘can I do this’.
Owning issues and having the integrity and wanting to be the sole problem solver is not the be-all-and-end-all, it’s about focusing on the deliverables and working as a team to achieve that.
Supportive teams are everything. There’s no place for the 1980s operational management style. We’re all a fluid unit now and we need to work as a pack.
Who has inspired you throughout your career?
Maya Angelou is a particular hero.
I’m always drawn to activists and people who can creatively stand up against injustice or deconstruct problems to their simplest form, it’s also important to find the humanity in things, especially corporate business at times!
Discovering Brene Brown was a turning point for me as someone who was prepared to be authentic and honest, she talked about ‘showing up’ as your authentic self and embracing the concept of honest failure.
The realisation that I did not have to match men and male skillsets was a fundamental one for me and changed the way I operated. There was no need to be an aggressive ‘ball breaker’- plus it was exhausting!
The amount of resilience we all have to show is immense, particularly in the world of tech.
Brene teaches that as a manager we should allow people to be their authentic selves and that the ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality is on the way out.
Work is now more experiential and about being able to be your true self. Millennials are championing that and have this amazing ability to stand up and call things out when they see injustice or want to see change.
What is your view on how women are represented across the profession?
I see a lot of representation in Procurement compared to other business areas.
There are a lot of up-and-comers and Procurements lends itself to the innate strengths of women, value-add relationship-building sits within a woman’s toolkit!
Women are coming through the ranks, but it’s how we push them to CPOs, directorships and board level, but also Procurement as a whole needs its place at that level.
Self-doubt is a problem; we need confidence and belief in the rationale to be there. I think we will see more and more representation of Procurement at board level and as a result hopefully more women as a result.
What skills are essential to be a good Procurement leader?
We all do things differently so we should celebrate that!
Attacking problems and deconstructing and finding issues can be done in a myriad of ways. That said, talking too much about ‘strengths and weaknesses’ is a dangerous place to go.
Too much focus on strengths can turn on you, for instance, confidence becomes arrogance, perfectionism becomes rigidity.
The focus should be on encouraging and empowering people to do it their way, everyone can deconstruct complex challenges and issues to find effective solutions.
What do you like doing in your spare time? Do you have any favourite books, films, destinations, sports etc?
I’m a huge Charles Dickens fan and my favourite book is Great Expectations.
I love music, musical theatre, the arts and acting.
My family are all actors, so creativity is something that I believe nurtures the soul.
I try to be involved with it as often as I can.
I’ve also just started running – I like the way it clears your mind.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
You are enough.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
I have a Master’s Degree in Shakespeare!
Do you have a personal motto that you live by?
If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.