The Big Interview with Cameron Holder

An image of Cameron Holder, Head of Commercial, Sustainability & Strategic Projects (Interim)

Big Interview | Procurement Insights | Interim Careers

So Cameron, please introduce yourself and give us a little bit of a background on you, what you’ve done and why you’re operating as an interim at the moment.

I come from a lot of different places. Like many people I fell into procurement because I had a finance background but very quickly worked out that I enjoyed spending the money more than paying the bills.

I’ve done a lot of roles in many different industries;  my early career was spent at the likes of Kantar and Carphone Warehouse doing indirect procurement for retail.  Then I became a consultant for four years and jumped into lots of different clients, it was amazing to go rapidly from company to company, working on different projects and that really broadened my skill set.

I went back into permanent positions at O2 and then Nando’s, where I settled into food and hospitality initially with indirect procurement, but then took over the food procurement in a more commercial role where I was also looking at menu pricing as well as procurement so I could control the gross profit on Nando’s products.

After leaving Nando’s,  I came across Procurement Heads, who got me involved in my first interim role at Bread Factory.  Most people will know The Bread Factory because they own Gail’s; it’s been a really good interim journey to do a project with a defined outcome and some very specific challenges.

What I’ve really enjoyed about interim work is the focus of it all; being able to come in with a concrete challenge that you’re working on, get to the end of and then you go into your next challenge.

What is interim Management? And why would a business engage in interim and not a permanent person?

I think you’ve got to contextualise not just the challenge that the company has, but the general market environment. We’re in a market at the moment where companies may be a bit less sure about what the economy’s going to do, and so I think we’re in a position where a lot of companies need the help but don’t know how long they are going to need help for.  

Interims are really helpful in regards to picking up the slack. You know in moments where a company needs a bit of extra help for stuff while they work out a more permanent solution.

The other use case is when a company has a very specific problem. So as an example, I went into Gail’s because lots of people in their team left at the same time so they really needed to reboot their team.

There’s a lot of specific work that needs to happen in terms of building a team: building team morale up, hiring people, forming the new team, resetting processes, resetting strategy and direction etc.  That’s quite different to the skill set that you will need for somebody who’s going to then take over and run their team for the long term. 

So when you need somebody who’s got a skill set to do a niche thing I think interims are fantastic.  They do the change that’s needed and then they hand over to somebody to run the more steady state.

What is your core skill set?

How do you drive change to deliver that brief that you’re engaged for whether you know whether it’s this interim role or whether it’s any of the permanent roles.

At my core, I enjoy building stuff and turning stuff around so I’ve been in a lot of companies where I started procurement departments from a greenfield state, I’ve also reset teams that have needed a lot of change in order to be effective for a companies’ future, rather than historic, needs.

Particularly with new procurement departments, you need to help the business understand the value that procurement adds. 

A lot of the time, if you go into a business that isn’t used to having a procurement department and the stakeholders have been buying stuff themselves, they don’t really understand what procurement is there to do.  Half the battle is the stakeholder engagement piece and getting them to trust you to buy the stuff that they’re used to buying.

Turning things around is part of that same skill set. So, what I’ve just done in my last role is to take a function that needed to be restructured and reset it.

Because I’ve worked in a lot of different industries, I think what’s really helpful is I’ve got the generalist mindset of how to do stuff, I’ve seen how a lot of different industries approach the same problem, so I have that sense of going ‘Well, I know you’ve done it this way before, but I’ve got about four or five different ways that we could approach this problem. So, let’s talk about what’s best for this business at this point in time.”

Expectations: Interim vs Permanent

Do you think there is a different expectation from a client on how quickly an interim delivers compared to a permanent person having made that transition?

Yes absolutely, the time frame for delivery is much shorter and I think the expectations are higher.

You know you are expected to deliver more because you are relatively more expensive and you’ve got to justify that. But also, you’re expected it to hit the ground running.

My experience of building teams comes from my consulting work. But if you are experienced in a specific field like procurement, the expectation is that because you’ve done those projects many times before, you can hit the ground running and yes, you do need to do that faster I think than a permanent person would.

How do you respond when you hear comments about the cost of engaging an interim?

This is a common battle that we as the intermediaries face. A client may want a Head of Procurement on a permanent basis, but they need an interim to deliver the change piece and when they look at the day rate versus the permanent salary, you sometimes get a conversation around the cost of an interim.

I think it needs to be seen more holistically.

If you’re getting an interim (and particularly with procurement) this should be a very easy conversation because procurement interims deliver value and a procurement interim who costs you more but delivers more value (or delivers value more quickly) is going to end up saving you money over the long term.

If the interim is more expensive, but I need them to do a project quickly and because it’s an interim who can hit the ground running, they can deliver that project two months earlier, which means that the savings start delivering 2 months earlier.

You take those savings and you will usually find that they more than pay for the incremental costs of their day rate.  I don’t know what it’s like in other industries, but I think it should be an easier conversation for procurement professionals.

The commercial value of an Interim

It’s almost like hiring the permanent incumbent, plus potentially a coach and mentor at the same time. So I think there’s quite a lot of commercial value that the interim can bring.

I think there’s a lot of value that interims bring but companies need to be mindful to capture that value.

It’s very easy to bring in an interim to get them to do a specific job but my observation is when people bring interims in, it’s because they’re behind and they need to catch up and everybody’s a little bit overwhelmed. The temptation is to get the interim and go “Right, you know what you’re doing, go off and do it.” and let the interim do that by themselves.

Companies need to make sure that they are partnering the rest of their team up with the interim so that that osmosis can happen because it’s all too easy to let the interim go and do their own thing, deliver it and then leave.

Then as business you still don’t have the skill set because you forgot to put somebody else in there who can learn it.  That’s not the interim’s fault but it’s a missed opportunity for companies and something to be mindful of when you’re bringing people in with specific expertise.

What do you think the future landscape looks like for interim management?

Specifically across procurement and supply chain?

I’ve got an odd view of this because I think a lot of the time there’s a maturity journey that procurement goes through.  You’ll start a new team, you’ll grow your department. You set it up, you create a strategy, you do all the good things and you deliver a lot of value in your first few years negotiating your top supplier contracts, and then you get to the point where you are not sure if we need the number of people in year 4 and 5 compared to year 1-3 as things have got to a more steady state.

If companies are clever about how they want to do their procurement work, I can see a lot of value in having a cycle where you’ve got a core team and then you’ve got some specialised projects (contract renewals or tender projects) that come up which are quite lumpy so you get somebody in who is more specialised in the projects area to help you to do that specific project.

Once complete, that person leaves because there’s no reason to have a permanent person on the headcount, they do the project and then a member of the core team can deliver the contract management after the interim delivers the project.

The interim cost isn’t nearly as high as the value delivering the project and it’s also cheaper than having the extra permanent overhead, so there’s an opportunity to save a bit of money and still be as effective if they if have procurement teams that are set up that way.

Now you can have people in your team do the project but if they did the original tender, what incremental value are they delivering over what they delivered when they did the tender the first time?

What’s changed? Have they delivered well? Have they learned anything new that they can put into the tender of the new contract? Whereas, you can find an interim who has delivered a few similar tenders recently, knows the market well and knows where the suppliers in that market are currently positioned. 

Another case, which is where we are now, is when companies are unsure of what their resourcing levels need to be, because there is a lot of change and disruption in the economy, that procurement & supply chain are having to react to.

Businesses are still quite reticent to take on people, but the work still needs to be done.

People keep on saying that there’s going to be a time we’re not going to need additional resource to manage the changes, but we’ve been here now pretty much since 2016 (pre Brexit, Brexit, Covid, Ukraine, inflation), where there’s persistent uncertainty.

You don’t quite know what your team’s going to need to look like in a ‘steady state’, but the work still needs to be done. I hope the macro disruptions may ease up in the future but I don’t think it’s going to go away.

So then, to not have interims filling that gap is a missed opportunity, particularly in terms of savings that the team could be generating for a company at a time where we’re under inflation pressure and teams really need the help to deliver savings to mitigate inflation.

You need to drive change. You need to upskill; you need to be able to pivot at a moment’s notice. Utilising people on a short-term or on a gig economy type contract gives you flexibility agility.

Commerce, business and everything else has changed so much in the last 20 years, let alone the last 50 years. You need to be agile. You can utilise someone who’s got a specific knowledge base that you couldn’t typically afford long-term; plug and play the area of expertise that you need!

I agree with that and where I see this being a particular issue is mid to smaller teams. Organisations that have big procurement teams are more likely to be comfortable with this.

It’s the smaller organisations with smaller teams that seem to resist this idea, and they’re the ones who need it the most.

If you’ve got a team of 30/40/50 procurement people, you’re going to have a diverse mix of skill sets and yet you’ll bring interims in and take them out. When you’ve got a team of two or three people you know you’re missing skill sets so I feel smaller teams really would benefit from getting people in with different skill sets at different times to help them, they are going to have more gaps to fill.

Being fair to them, it’s likely a cost issue but with some work they should be able to prove the benefit.

Finally, tell us something that people don’t know about you.

Let’s have a little ‘get to know you’ piece. What’s one thing that people don’t really know about you?

I’m a qualified coach and I do some business coaching and performance coaching in my spare time so I usually have 1 or 2 coaching clients.

I really enjoy the people side of things, particularly working with people and helping them to improve their performance. That sounds really business-y but at the start of my career in South Africa, I was a youth worker and I used to work with teenagers, so helping people has always been a passion of mine.

Coaching is an extension of that, helping people to develop. In terms of business, you can help build teams, but also I enjoy it because it allows me to also meet people who are doing some really interesting work and feel like I’m helping them in some sort of way.

If you want something more ‘off the wall’ I’ve set myself a goal of doing a stand-up comedy set by the end of the year.

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