The Big Interview with Simon Feeney

He spoke with Procurement HeadsJames Dobbin to share more about his career and how he’s shaped the company’s function from the outset.

How did you get into Procurement? 

I took a career break in 2012 to complete a full-time MBA.

During this time I realised that I’d be interested in working in the aviation and travel industries.

After finishing my studies an opportunity surfaced within the Procurement team at Virgin Atlantic Airways and things evolved from there.

Why are you passionate about Procurement? 

Working in strategic procurement you get such a broad perspective across organisations, and you get to have a real and tangible impact on operational and commercial success.

You get to apply a wide range of professional and softer skills and interact with people across the organisation and within a variety of suppliers and industries.

It’s truly a role where no two days are the same!

As Procurement Director at Collinson, what are the most challenging aspects of your role? 

Appropriately balancing business innovation and agility with governance and risk management.

In my personal opinion, supplier sourcing and management are not complex topics in theory, but they can be hard in execution.

It’s important to build robust business systems that still allow processes to be tailored to each unique situation.

What are your biggest achievements in your Procurement career? 

It’s hard to pick, but two highlights spring to mind.

Firstly, working on the new aircraft programme for Virgin’s Airbus A350 fleet.

Working with an awesome cross-functional team of engineers, designers, financiers, project managers, customer experience leaders and of course Procurement experts, I led the Procurement activity for the introduction of this new fleet of aircraft.

This included the design, development and manufacturing of the entire cabin interiors, as well as life of aircraft maintenance contracts for major aircraft systems such as the wheels and brakes.

On projects such as these, you have to deal with a lot of complexity. For example, Airbus is both your supplier and your customer at the same time; you are negotiating both high-value CapEx development contracts and long-term operational services contracts, and you are operating in a highly regulated and time-critical environment whilst dealing with extended multi-year lead times.

After all that hard work, it was great to be able to see the aircraft take to the skies with such positive feedback.

Secondly, my current role, as Procurement Director at Collinson, where I’ve been building a new centralised Procurement function from the ground up.

Collinson is a global leader in loyalty, and the company behind well-known brands such as Priority Pass, Airport Dimensions, ValueDynamx, and Columbus Direct.

It’s been such a fantastic opportunity to shape a function from the outset, and we’re two years into delivering against a longer-term vision.

So, while I’m pleased with the work done so far, there’s always so much more to do!

What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader? 

I think most people will say you need a wide range of tools such as stakeholder management, project management, analytics, negotiation, commercial law etc…

I’d say the number one skill for success is to develop the skill of judging which of these varied skills to use when and why.

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

Have the confidence to move into new categories.

If you apply commercial and operational logic, you can add value even when you don’t fully understand a new category.

Have confidence in what you don’t know, ask as many questions as you can and show an interest in the subject matter and people will give you information; apply critical thought, think of parallels from your own experience and propose ideas and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can build trust and respect, and add value.

If it had been an external role, I’d never have had the confidence to move into an aerospace engineering Procurement role with no background in engineering.

However, it turned out to be one of the most fulfilling periods of my career.

What advice would you give someone who is embarking on a Procurement career? 

Processes and systems are important but don’t become a slave to them.

Make sure you remember to look up, think what you’re truly trying to achieve and why, gather varied inputs, assess and determine the right approach.

And be prepared to be resilient – life in Procurement can be a rollercoaster of emotions!

Tell us about yourself: What do you like doing in your spare time? 

For many years I played cricket in my spare time; more recently I’ve started doing trail and obstacle course running.

I’m not particularly good at them, but they give a great mental break from day-to-day life.

Do you have any favourite books, films, destinations, sports etc?

Travel has been my work and my passion over the last ten years.

It’s hard to pick a single favourite destination, but island hopping around the Greek Islands, road tripping around California and going on safari in South Africa have been big highlights.

And of course, whenever I travel I always have my Priority Pass close at hand to access airport lounges around the world!

Is work/life balance important? If so, how do you achieve it? 

It’s not just important, it’s essential for sustainable delivery, otherwise, you’ll burn out and not perform anyway.

I believe it’s about learning about yourself.

I’ve realised that I’m still guilty of working later than I should at times as an excuse not to go for that run!

For me, it’s about recognising the difference between working long hours on a particular day because you truly have to get something done versus working to avoid doing something else!

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