For Procurement Heads‘ latest Big Interview, he spoke with Will Cooke about his career and what Zurich is doing with regard to sustainability in the supply chain.

How did you get into procurement?

I have always been in procurement right from an internship I did at Lockheed Martin, as part of my time at university and have been in supply chain and commercial roles ever since.

While I have always been working in this area, there has been plenty of variety.

I have worked on pretty much every single indirect category that there is and on the direct side of things too.

For example, I have chartered aircraft to transport helicopters, equipped a workshop with tooling to build an armoured truck and sourced ventilators for the Zurich Foundation during the pandemic – which were donated to a clinic in India that was really struggling.

That said, most of my recent career has been spent sourcing professional services.

What are the roles and responsibilities that the procurement function holds within your organisation?

The Procurement and Vendor Management function is responsible for the entire sourcing lifecycle from source to pay within Zurich.

The function provides category management, third-party risk management, procurement operations and sustainability via a central group team, with local procurement teams in the business units supporting those businesses to procure the goods and services that they need.

I am part of the central group team and lead on our sustainable sourcing sustainable procurement programme, which aims to embed sustainability in our supply chain.

What are some of the challenges that you, your team and your colleagues are currently facing?

The challenges are different based on the individual’s category focus or the region they are based in.

So, for example, in the US and Europe, most Category Leads would probably cite inflation as a particular issue.

In some markets, inflation is actually still pretty low, in Switzerland, for example, inflation is much lower than we see in the UK and other parts of Europe but it is still increasing, so it is a serious challenge that all procurement teams are having to manage.

But we should put that into context because if we talk to colleagues in parts of South America, where inflation has been incredibly high for a long period of time, they would look at our levels and think it wasn’t too much of an issue to manage.

My primary challenge is ensuring that our suppliers and colleagues within procurement are engaged with our sustainability programme and are playing their part to support the company’s broader sustainability ambitions.

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

I have to say I am most passionate about embedding sustainability into procurement practices.

Procurement as a function is uniquely positioned to influence how a company spends its money.

We can influence our stakeholders in our respective companies to make better or more informed decisions and we can also influence suppliers in the way that we engage with them.

In the absence of strong government policies, like an effective price on carbon, it is down to businesses to drive the transformation to a more sustainable world.

As buyers and customers, we have loud voices and should use our influence for good.

Whether that is for climate action, human rights or supporting social enterprises and diverse suppliers to thrive.

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

Aside from the inflation topic I mentioned already, sustainability, I think, is a top three topic for any procurement organisation based on any of the reading that I do.

In addition to that, third-party risk management is a key topic, particularly in the financial services sector as there are increasing regulatory expectations and resilience risks which make the effective management of third parties a crucial focus area.

What are you and your organisation doing with regard to climate change?

The integration of sustainability into our procurement practices has been a long-term focus for us at Zurich.

I have been in this role for two or so years, but our work didn’t just start then.

Colleagues around the business have been leading the charge locally and I like to say that they were involved in sustainability before it was cool to do so!

We have some trailblazers around the group and over the last two years we have basically been developing a global programme, taking our best practices and implementing them in a globally consistent way.

One of the first things we did was define a Supplier Code of Conduct and this was a bit of a game changer for us as it defined a baseline with which we can evaluate supplier sustainability.

We have been on a journey; engaging and evaluating supplier performance against our code with the aim of driving up supply chain standards.

The code doesn’t just cover climate change and environmental impact but also social issues such as human rights, health and safety, diversity and inclusion and equal opportunities for example.

It also covers ethical or governance topics, things like compliance with data protection and financial crime requirements which are important to us in the insurance sector.

Our code provides the baseline for how we approach and engage with suppliers on sustainability issues.

Aside from engagement on our code, we do specifically aim to influence and encourage them to set their own science-based emission reduction targets to achieve net zero in their own operations.

We have set targets for the percentage of managed procurement spend that is with suppliers who have taken these steps – the details of which can be found on Zurich’s website.  

Can you tell me more about how you are thinking about and working with the social impacts that procurement can have?

We have two aspects to our approach – managing social issues and seeking out a positive social impact.

From a human rights perspective, in our engagement with suppliers we promote high labour standards, it is a core part of our Supplier Code of Conduct and we have specific supplier due diligence processes that kicks in when we procure goods or services that present an elevated human rights risk.

We aim to deliver positive social impact from our procurement practices, by engaging with social enterprises and certified diverse suppliers.

We do this by seeking to provide equal access to economic opportunities with companies of this type because of the social impact they can generate and have won awards for our work in this area.

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

I would have to say my first manager because ultimately, they took a chance on me over the other candidates that were applying for that internship.

There was only one role in the procurement function and if I hadn’t got it my career would probably look very different right now as the other internships I had applied for were in very different functions.

My manager at the time gave me a huge amount of responsibility and access to opportunities very early on but with the right amount of support.

In that year’s internship I learnt huge amounts and this greatly impacted my career.

What do you think are the current procurement hot topics and what emerging roles do you think we will see as a result?

I guess I have to say sustainability within procurement because this is a hot trend if you look at any of the industry surveys.

I think there is a general recognition now that the supply chain needs to be an integral part of the broader corporate sustainability strategy.  

If the Chief Sustainability Officer or their equivalent hasn’t already asked what their procurement function is doing to drive sustainability in the supply chain then they will be very shortly.

On this basis, I see the emergence of sustainable supply chain roles and understand there is a lot of demand for expertise in this area.

The other aspect of this is the emergence of the need for procurement functions to support their CSO by building a portfolio of carbon removal certificates, particularly those that have made net-zero commitments.

The way that a company achieves net zero is, firstly to reduce emissions as much as possible then after that, they must then remove the remaining residual emissions.

If procurement organisations are part of companies that have net-zero commitments and aren’t already involved in the carbon removal certificate procurement processes, then they should seek to start work in this area.

As a function procurement can provide tremendous value here.

The challenge with this market is that it is not up to scale and there is an insufficient level of supply to match the future demand that will come because of all the corporate net-zero pledges.

For this market to scale, it needs early involvement from buyers, because if we don’t invest in the solutions of tomorrow then these solutions and companies will not be there when needed.

What advice would you give someone who is considering a procurement career?

I would say go for it, reflecting on my personal experience I have never looked back. It is not a career or profession that most people aspire to do but it is a fantastic choice.

It is a very interesting, varied career path and I have found it to be rewarding.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

What I actually do in my spare time versus what I would like to do in my spare time are two different things.

I am basically a bit of a dad taxi and end up picking up and dropping off my children at various sports, hobbies and classes at the weekends but living on the south coast we do live in a fantastic part of the country and I love to be outside.

I run a fair amount to keep active, and I love kayaking and paddleboarding, especially with my family.

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

To be open-minded and not have too disciplined plans about where your career could or might take you.

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