For Procurement Heads‘ latest Big Interview, he spoke with Hayley Packham spoke to share how the procurement team has juggled the challenges of COVID while responding quickly and effectively to the pandemic.

How did you get into Procurement?  

After my degree, I worked for a year as an officer of the Students’ Union at Staffordshire Poly and was involved in many aspects of the SU’s work – from buying minibuses to negotiating contracts for bands. When I subsequently went to a grad fair in London, Leyland DAF’s HR team suggested that Procurement was for me, so I applied, only to miss out on the final selection. Weeks later they wrote to say extra places had been signed off, and I was in, which was a result!  

What are the roles and responsibilities the Procurement function holds within Mitie? How do you split the function out?  

We operate a hybrid structure that keeps a strong focus on the needs and demands of our customers. This has three ‘frontline’ teams operating, which represent each of our Core Operational Business Units, alongside a central Procurement Operations team and a central team covering Procurement processes.   

I lead Procurement Operations. We provide flexible project resources to “frontline” Procurement for the Business Units at Mitie to land our strategic plan, engage with the business to ensure supplier agreements hit the mark, identify and deliver cost reduction opportunities, and step in to backfill when emergencies hit.  

Our strategic delivery works hand-in-hand with the central Procurement process team, which is responsible for defining our ways of working, designing the framework for our transformation, maintaining policies, and reporting performance.   

What are the challenges you and your team are currently facing?  

To work at Mitie you need commitment, passion and the ability to make positive change happen in pragmatic ways. In Procurement ops our key challenges are: getting ever closer to our stakeholders (from our key frontline workers, such as cleaners and security guards to institutional investors); becoming better equipped to deal with unrelenting change; and building better career paths for our people. All while keeping our multi-million-pound savings plan on track of course!  

This means our strategic plan must keep the momentum up on good Procurement outcomes, but never be too rigid or dogmatic that we become detached from changes in either our business or our customers.  

What are you most passionate about when it comes to Procurement?  

I want Procurement to be continually innovating to add value. This includes talking to suppliers to understand where they are heading, and doing the same within our business to see how we can deliver more without increasing budgets. Procurement is about leveraging shared objectives and, where objectives conflict with suppliers and our own business, maintaining a positive tension. This is what I love about Procurement – challenging each other, successfully resolving disparate objectives, and action towards a positive outcome.  

What do you think are the key focus areas for Procurement right now? 

I once worked with a very capable Retail Head who told me that being ‘good’ at everything is the key to successful retail, i.e. being brilliant at some things might cause a blip but won’t deliver sustainable growth. 

That’s where I feel Procurement is now. In my first Head of role, I had three KPIs: savings, cost base deflation, and % spend influence. Today we have a Power BI dashboard with several pages covering important success factors that Procurement must hit, including diversity, sustainability, economic growth, engagement/wellbeing, and risk. To deal with this necessary level of complexity, Procurement teams need to be ‘good’ at everything.  

What are your team and organisation doing with regards to sustainable procurement?  

Working with colleagues in Fleet and our Fleet partner Lex Autolease, we have sourced hundreds of fully electric cars and vans to support the business’ transition to 100% electric by 2025 – part of Mitie’s industry-leading ‘Plan Zero’ commitment. We also have a range of social value targets and this coming year will see a key transition as sustainable procurement moves from a series of projects to being driven by KPIs embedded into all our targets.   

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?   

In 2012, Clarks Shoes restructured and after 14 years of team progression – including a CIPS Award – I found myself unemployed. My instinct was to go for another senior operational Procurement role, but I felt being at one place for so long must have affected my breadth of vision. So, I took a gamble and joined IBM’s Supply Chain consultancy practice. At that time (and considering the potential impact on my family/lifestyle) it was a big risk for me, but working for Mark Ellis at IBM, and subsequently for PwC and Ebit, made me a much more rounded leader; and they got some value out of me too!  

What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader? What do you look for when hiring?  

A leader needs to have three essential traits: consistency – in purpose, expectation and behaviours; self-assurance – being ‘comfortable in their own skin’; and an ability to persuade and motivate – their teams, their peers, and senior leaders within the business, so that everyone buys-in to a shared vision.   

In new recruits, I look for candidates who have resilience, motivation, take calculated risks, and can work with others. A big challenge is assessing this ability to work with others, without it becoming ‘someone like me’.  

Procurement must tap into the widest talent pool, not just people who conform with personal preferences/biases. This is an area where partners in recruitment agencies can do more, only last year several agencies told me they couldn’t pull more diversity into their candidate lists, and that was for a job commutable from London.  

We must all do more to encourage diversity and support an inclusive workplace.  

What has been the best lesson you’ve learned in Procurement?  

Early in my career I regularly had to ask a Materials Controller for help. He’d learnt his trade in the then recently closed Bathgate Truck factory (yes – of “Bathgate no more” Proclaimers song fame). As a fresh-faced graduate, dealing with his abuse was “character building” and “good for development”.   

The lesson? Abuse and aggression are never character-forming – they are bullying and should be stood up to, called out and addressed. People learn from being empowered, from doing, and from being in charge of their own success and, on occasions, failure.  

I encourage this empowerment at all levels in my teams.   

Who has had the most influence on your Procurement career and why?  

Mike Jones, my boss at Leyland DAF in the early 1990s (subsequently known for running Optimum Procurement) was a big influence. He showed me that great supplier relationships are built on personal trust; and that choosing the right time and place to set unreasonable expectations is a fabulous skill.  

Alongside Mike, I’d say Andrew Carter (a very effective Procurement “gun for hire”) had a similar level of influence. He helped me understand that I would only fulfil my potential by building on the specific strengths of my character, rather than trying to emulate other successful people. 

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? 

Digitisation and technology will continue its journey towards being an absolute necessity. The internet of things and tools like Microsoft’s Power BI and Power Apps are shifting the balance of power between technology vendors and “build your own” solutions.  

Procurement must embrace these changes and develop new skills and “savvy” to master this evolving digital landscape. In addition, on an individual level, mastering social media and other mobile comms channels to maintain good business engagement and supplier relationships is a must.   

As a result, I see a much more strategic role for technology and communications experts within Procurement. The Procurement ‘super-user’ role will evolve from the person who explains how to use the ERP system, to become the trusted advisor to the CPO: bringing some key technology in-house and guiding investment decisions to support strategic transformation.  

What role have you and the Procurement function played in enabling Mitie to face the pandemic?  

Procurement has played a massive role – we’ve sourced millions pounds worth of PPE and other emergency supplies, we seconded people (sometimes at a day’s notice) to support Mitie project teams, like Ysbyty Calon y Ddraig (Dragon’s Heart Hospital) in Cardiff, and my team backfilled Category Managers’ tasks. This backfill allowed our frontline Procurement teams to go ‘all-in’ on our COVID-19 response, de-risking the impact of dropping the day job and allowing Mitie to deliver on urgent customer needs: such as launching COVID-19 test centres and setting up of our new PPE warehouse in a matter of days.    

What have been the major challenges you and your teams have had to navigate during the pandemic?  

As a Procurement team, we responded quickly and effectively to the pandemic emergency. The big challenge has been communicating change to stakeholders as we make a myriad of rapid decisions to get ‘the day job’ done – while supporting so much else.  

That, and dealing with the many, many people wanting to sell me face masks via LinkedIn.  

How has the business changed since lockdown?  

I’d say the biggest cultural change is that we look out for each other more – devoting extra time to keep in touch with colleagues and learning more about each other has been an unexpected bonus.  

Cats, dogs, children, and delivery drivers have little respect for a Teams video call, so we’ve had to let the home/office boundaries blur, and it seems to be a good thing!  

What impact has COVID had on Mitie?

I’ve been proud to see the resilience of our business and Mitie’s ability to adapt and find innovative solutions. At a high level, our technical services operation has been set the biggest challenge, as our customers dropped maintenance spend overnight and closed their factories and offices. Our Business Services operation had a different demand challenge – shifting from broadly predictable work to urgent reactive work like large-scale deep cleans and screening services.   

We are all very aware of the painful impact the pandemic has had on people, including friends and family who are no longer with us. I also remain aware of the many colleagues still on furlough and how difficult that is for some.  

What has worked well and what would you do differently with the benefit of hindsight?  

Genuinely, it feels like we are still in the thick of it, changing and adapting as the next new challenge comes along, so I don’t yet have the distance required for hindsight.   

How do you see the Procurement function changing as a result of COVID?  

I don’t believe the function will change dramatically. So far, we have been tested and been found to be fit for purpose. I hope it gives us greater confidence in the ongoing evolution of the profession generally.  

What do you like doing in your spare time? Do you have any favourite books, films, destinations, sports?  

In lock-down, I’ve appreciated the company of my extended family. With children straddling the university years it’s been a bonus to get to spend time with them, and their partners, at this stage in their lives, albeit seven adults in a house can be a challenge when you need the loo!   

I keep myself busy refurbishing the old stone outhouse in my garden – it’s now watertight and has power and broadband, so is getting ever closer to ‘man-shed’ status. I’m also an avid gig-goer – I love trips to venues in Bristol and work as a volunteer every year at Glastonbury Festival, but no such luck in 2020.  

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?  

I once bumped into one of my heroes, Jarvis Cocker – lead singer of Pulp – in a bar. Other than the bar staff, just he and I were in the room. I looked at Jarvis and decided anything I said would probably come out as trivial, foolish, or a bit creepy so raised my glass to him in a toast, smiled, and drank my cider. I would deploy the same tactic if I met my younger self.  

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.  

I can juggle with clubs and I met the love of my life through circus skills.   

Do you have a personal motto that you live by? If so, what is it?   

What would David Bowie do? 

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