For our latest Big Interview, Rahim Ali Ahmad spoke with Lorraine Ashover, Director of Minerva Procurement Consultancy Services Limited.
Fulfilling a long-standing ambition to be her own boss, Lorraine set up Minerva in 2010 in direct response to feedback from the bursar and School Business Manager community and helps schools reduce costs, streamline procurement practices and save time. Minerva enables schools to conduct their procurement activities in the most compliant manner possible and ensure that they achieve the best value for money outcome possible. The company offers advice and guidance on all aspects of school procurement including full support for tenders which require a process under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.
Rahim is working with Minerva to recruit a Procurement Account Manager, details of which can be found at the end of the blog.
Tell us about yourself
Well, I don’t have much spare time at the moment, most of it is spent working and it is a very busy period for us, as it is our peak time for business.
But, when I do get some spare time I have a teenage daughter who is 15 years old, so I am mostly a taxi!
Although I have been lucky in the last 12 months as I probably haven’t had as much taxi servicing as I would have done if there wasn’t a pandemic.
Other than that I like to watch stuff on TV, I love the theatre, comedy, I am a Nottingham Forest fan – for my sins!
I like a good crime show or novel, that’s me in a nutshell!
Tell us about Minerva as a company.
Prior to setting Minerva up about 11 years ago, I was working for a high street bank in their corporate team.
My industry specialism within the bank was education, I was working with universities, schools and colleges helping them with finance and funding and I loved it, the people and the sector.
It was an absolute pleasure, so towards the end of my time at the bank things changed, it was the end of the credit crunch and I lost the passion for what I was doing.
I also felt the bank lost focus on their customers as a result of the credit crunch.
For me, the customer is always at the centre of everything we do.
I always tell my team the customer is the ones who pay our wages.
So I lost the passion for what I was doing and decided after 20 years of being there it was time to think about something else.
I actually did the opposite of what you would expect when you set up a business. Normally you would look at your product or service and work out what market you wanted to serve.
I knew which market I wanted to serve and then thought about what I could do for them.
I wanted to work with schools and could have done banking and finance consultancy, but that would have been a niche offering in a niche market.
My partner at the time was in procurement, and I thought that was interesting, buying stuff and saving money.
Schools were talking about the fact that they were trying to make very stretched budgets go even further, even 11 years ago, so I left the bank and said to some of my old clients, “This is my plan would you mind being my guinea pig? I would like to see if there is a way to save you money and if I can make a living from this.”
That was 11 years ago, so we must be doing something right as we are still growing.
What does Minerva look like now?
When we first started it was just me working from home.
We are still a small team, there are just four of us.
The individual we will be recruiting will be the fifth person.
Interestingly, because of the level of business we are currently dealing with, and looking into the future, there will probably be another person following shortly.
We are really in a good space and what I have prided myself on is being very careful about the growth, and I think working in a bank has made me very risk-averse as that is what you do in a bank you assess risk.
What it has done is allowed me to build some really solid foundations for the business, I have spent a lot of time working on templates and processes and procedures, we are ISO 9001 accredited, which for a small company is quite a big thing.
Everything is very process-driven and very organised.
There are templates and staff knowledge. There is a lot of stuff we have in place. When people come in they get an induction, but there is a lot of stuff around them that can help.
We wanted to grow organically and carefully, it is a really exciting time, Laura joined us last November and we are hoping to get a repeat experience and get another fantastic candidate to join our team.
Tell us about this role and what it will entail.
This role is a Procurement Officer position and it is really an opportunity that is very diverse, it will appeal to somebody who likes diversity or it won’t.
The role will involve evaluation of tenders, our schools in the main are part of the public sector and therefore the Public Contract Regulations 2015 is very applicable to a lot of the work we do.
Some of our schools are small, so they don’t breach that threshold, but yes it is going to be supporting those schools in going out to tender for lots of different goods and services they may require.
Things like cleaning, catering, Planned and Preventive Maintenance, grounds maintenance, payroll, MIS systems – there is a wide variety of things.
As I said, there are some that are above the threshold, some are below, so there is a variety in the type of documentation and the type of evaluation and scoring.
The schools are anything from large multi-academy trusts to small stand-alone primary schools.
So there is a wide variety of clients, that is something I would be looking for in a candidate, the ability to deal with stakeholders at all different levels.
You will deal with Managing Directors of large national companies through to owner managers of small local cleaning companies.
For me, one of the joys of the job is that every day is different.
What are you looking for in an individual for this role?
One of the key things is attention to detail.
What we do is very compliance orientated. It is so critically important because our clients, when they engage us, do this as they need to be compliant and often don’t have the expertise to do that themselves.
That is the role we need to fulfil for them, at the end of the day they are the contracting authority it is their reputation on the line if we don’t get that right.
That is why we have got a lot of manuals and automation through our CRM system which tells you which part of the job you need to do next.
That is there to help and support you through the process and make sure nothing gets missed.
Also important is the ability to analyse large quantities of data, lots of the bids we get in have complex financials, there is a lot of work with Excel documents, so a degree of knowledge and understanding of Excel would be needed – and analysing responses and looking at and evaluating those and giving a score to it.
You also will be dealing with customers on a day-to-day basis, so you need to feel confident and happy to talk to people on the phone and be happy to be out and about as well, we do attend site visits at the schools and the presentation days when bidders come and we support those.
If you don’t like to be out and about the role probably wouldn’t suit you.
It is quite a diverse role and I recognise the skills we are asking for are quite wide, but I think that is one of the joys of the job that there is so much to do that is different.
Why work for Minerva?
What is really great is that we do have fun.
We enjoy ourselves in our work, we have quarterly strategy days that involve everybody, the beauty of having a small organisation is that you are really in the thick of it all.
You see what is going on, you are involved in plans for the future, I am very open I will always give honest answers.
You will always be very much part of the team. I recognise that I am only one individual and I am only as strong as the team around me. I can’t be an expert in all the elements of the business so that is why I am keen to tap into all of the team and the collective brains that we have.
That is one thing you will find you are really involved in the strategy and growth of the business and because of that you get to see the impact of the work that you do.
In a huge organisation, it can be hard to see the outputs of the work you are generating but with what we do you really do see it as you speak directly with the client, you really get a sense of ownership.
The people we work with are a joy to work with, and so hugely appreciative of the work we do.
I think that knowing what you do has a direct impact on the educational outcomes of children, you can’t put a price on that.
As well as keeping them compliant and out of trouble we actually save them some money on their contracts, that money they save in their budget will go to other things.
It could be that they don’t have to let a Teaching Assistant go that they otherwise would have had to, it could be that a child with special educational needs gets some additional support or it could be some resources they could buy that they otherwise couldn’t.
For me, it is one of the best things about the job actually.
What do you offer in terms of training and progression?
I am a huge fan of training we have a one-to-one with each member of the team each month and training is a standard agenda item.
What training have you had, how has it benefited you and what do you want moving forward.
It isn’t mandatory and sometimes you get to a point where you have done more formal training and you want to embed that and learn on the job.
For me, the only way the business will develop, and the only way that we will develop, is when we are all learning.
In terms of CIPS, we do offer funding for people who are doing the CIPS qualification, we are very happy to support that because again from a compliance point of view the more qualified people are the more beneficial that is to my business so we do offer that opportunity as well.