Robert Skidmore is Head of Procurement OVO Energy.
For the latest in Procurement Heads‘ Big Interview series, he spoke with Hayey Pakcham to share what he sees as the key areas of Procurement right now, what inspires him as a leader and how OVO is tackling sustainability.
How did you get into Procurement?
I entered into Procurement by a very strange route.
I was playing professional football for Bristol City until a lack of talent finally found me out and forced an introduction to the real world. The Ministry of Defence was relocating Procurement to Bristol and I secured a role, it turned out to be a great foundation for a Procurement career and qualifications.
What is the immediate focus for your Procurement function?
I joined OVO Energy in September 2019 to lead the Procurement function and build the team, process and systems. Since the recent acquisition of SSE Energy Services, there has been an additional workstream of integrating a bigger business into OVO.
The immediate focus for the function is getting the Procurement basics right and ensuring we have the optimum data structure and talent within the team.
What are the challenges that you and your team currently face?
Following OVO’s acquisition of SSE Energy Services, we now have two fantastic and established brands. The task for the procurement team is an exciting one as we’re working on a process that balances the need for agility and governance at the same time as launching the combined procurement function.
What do you think are the key focus areas for Procurement right now?
Covid-19 and the current economic climate have put even more focus on Procurement demonstrating its impact on the bottom line and providing a valuable service to the business. However, it also presents an opportunity to shift the dial for many Procurement organisations to improve proactive supplier relationship management and sustainability.
What are your team and OVO doing with regards to sustainable Procurement?
I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great organisations such as BT and AXA that take sustainable Procurement incredibly seriously.
One of the reasons I joined OVO was because of its purpose: to power human progress with clean affordable energy for everyone.
In 2019, OVO launched its sustainability strategy Plan Zero. It marked the beginning of a new decade and a new chapter in our history, in recognition of the role that OVO must play in tackling the climate crisis.
Plan Zero has given us a clear mission – to drive progress towards zero-carbon living. It has put that mission at the heart of our business and it has become the guiding force behind how we are transforming every part of our organisation – from our own operations to the products and technologies that we provide to our customers to help them decarbonise their homes and their lifestyles.
It’s still early days – we’re just one year into implementing Plan Zero – but we are already starting to see evidence of the impact it has had on our carbon footprint.
It’s at the heart of everything we do at OVO and the opportunity for Procurement to play a key role in this was a major reason I joined the company.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?
I decided to take a risk and move out of Procurement into AXA’s Group HR Transformation project based out of it’s Paris HQ. A planned year’s secondment turned into an invaluable four-year experience in seeing Procurement from a customer perspective while also operating in a multicultural environment.
What inspires you as a Procurement leader?
We are in a very privileged position within Procurement in that we are exposed to just about every part of the business which gives the opportunity to meet and learn from so many inspirational stakeholders and colleagues.
What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader? What do you look for when hiring?
Technical skills are obviously expected as a minimum but critical in the modern Procurement organisation are emotional intelligence and influencing skills.
Who has had the most influence on your Procurement career and why?
I’ve been very fortunate to learn from some great managers.
Rob Reeves at BT taught me so much about cross-functional team leadership during the launch of the BT Home Hub project and more recently Julie Scott-Bryant and Kwasi Boateng at AXA where stakeholder management in complex organisations across multiple countries was a necessity.
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?
Data is becoming ever more critical and turning this into insights and being able to tell a story with it will be key.
My first hire at OVO, on the back of some very good advice regarding using data and storytelling, was a Procurement Data Analyst.
What have been the major challenges you and your teams have had to navigate during the pandemic?
OVO already had a flexible working policy and culture in place, even before the lockdown. The transition to home-based operations accelerated the need to ensure our employees were able to work from home and continue to serve our members.
Within the first couple of weeks, our IT team had successfully transitioned the majority of our customer service teams to work from home with 84% of our contact centre based at home within the first week.
While Procurement is a role that needs a level of face to face interaction, we’ve shifted in working styles and OVO has provided fantastic flexible working and technology to support the team during this period.
What do you like doing in your spare time? Do you have any favourite books, films, destinations, sports etc?
Running has kept me sane during lockdown, I was very fortunate to enjoy a week skiing earlier this year and can’t wait to get to the slopes again.
I’m currently reading The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Work hard and enjoy your life but try and get the balance right!
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
I once featured in a Ken Loach film….