The Big Interview with Julian Hackett

For Procurement Heads‘ latest Big Interview, he spoke with Gemma Burman about his procurement career.

How did you get into procurement?

My background before I went into procurement was in stores management and stock control.

I took a position with Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure and part of my remit was to set up new stores for them at their Beeston Depot.

While running the stores I kept finding better prices and making a bit of a nuisance of myself with the Procurement Manager until eventually they said to me, “Look there is a vacancy in procurement do you fancy it?”

So, I took the challenge on and started as a Buyer about 20 years ago and that is how I entered the wonderful world of procurement.

Balfour Beatty was really good to me and a great company to work for, I really enjoyed my time there and I was awarded four promotions in a short space of time.

While there I worked on a joint venture with National Grid and from this was offered the position of Procurement Manager within the plant and fleet business.

What are the roles and responsibilities that the procurement function holds here and how do you split that function out? 

Currently, I have seven staff within my team, and they all have their own individual jobs and projects that they look after.

Within the team, I have three Senior Buyers and two Buyers an Expeditor and an Admin Coordinator. 

Anything that is needed for our business comes through the procurement team. 

Within Loram UK we have many different projects the procurement team is working on; repair and maintenance, tendering and our aftersales business. 

What are the challenges you and your team currently face?

It is an exciting time for us, as alongside our repair and maintenance business we are also moving into manufacturing. 

Loram Maintenance of Way (our USA-based owner) manufactures rail grinding machines.

Primarily this machine moves along the rail track and grinds as it moves along, removing any abnormalities that are there.

The US business wanted us to start manufacturing in the UK.

It is a great challenge, and we are undergoing a massive learning curve at the minute, but we have a great team here at Loram UK and are confident we can rise to the challenge.

The team is quite new, so everyone is learning together.

It is a really big project and there are more than 33,000 parts that procurement needs to set up and buy. 

We have a challenge to onboard new suppliers to make sure they have the skill and capabilities required to help move us forward, not just in the rail grinding project but in all of the projects we are currently involved in.

It’s an exciting time and the biggest challenge we are facing at the moment. 

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

I just love the challenges that procurement brings.

I’m passionate about innovation, and finding a better way to do things and my mantra to my team is “Let’s take away the headaches”.

Also, cost saving is high on the list, as I guess it is with any Procurement Manager and I always liken a good cost saving to scoring a goal at football! 

I also like to look after my team and make sure they have got the right skills for the jobs they are doing. 

It is essential for me to know I have got a fully functioning team that are enjoying their work and I like to look after them and make sure they are having a bit of fun while we are at work as well. 

If my team is happy, I am happy.

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

I am a big believer in supplier relationship management.

Gone are the days when you could thump on the table and tell suppliers what you wanted. 

Now it is more about building relationships and working with them in partnerships and that is what we are currently aiming for at Loram UK.

We want to include our suppliers, if we can, within our tendering process to make sure all costs are accurate as the suppliers are the ones with specialist equipment or knowledge.

We want to include them in the early stages so we can take their information along with us when we make offers to our customers and potential customers to ensure the service or product we are offering is second to none. 

So, for me, supplier relationship management is a key factor in our business. 

Also, we are focused on challenging lead times and costs.

After Covid, Brexit, and the cost of living, increased lead times and costs have been a little out of control, so we have  to try and mitigate this by managing our suppliers and finding the best way forward

What do you look for when hiring?

For me, when hiring a new team member, it is a case of fitting a  is round pegs into round holes.

In other words, making sure the person will fit well within the team. 

My team is not big but with seven people it is still seven individuals, and everyone is different and that needs considering when building an effective team, so getting the right fit is essential for me. 

Part of my interview process now is introducing potential candidates to the team so they can have a chat to make sure they know what the team is like. 

Also, I need to make sure they have a good team and work ethic. 

It has been difficult to recruit after Covid because there is so much competition in the market currently so it’s harder to make sure you’re getting the right person because there is such a shortage of skills. 

This is why I like to encourage internal promotion and people I have known from other businesses.

I am really happy with the team I have currently, they are a great bunch. 

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

With sustainability, there is a lot of good work going on at the moment because all businesses, not just Loram, have realised that sustainable procurement is required. 

We are looking at packaging, and how items are presented that come into the business and have many streams to help recycle different items. 

We make sure our first-tier and second-tier suppliers have got good ethics when it comes to sustainability with the items they are selling in terms of the packaging and recyclability.

Things like making sure pallets and cardboard are reused. 

Where we can, we will look at sustainability and how to best promote it within our business. 

However, the jewel in the Loram UK crown currently is our Class 08 shunter locomotive.

This loco runs on HVO fuel and registers zero emissions.

I was part of the team which got the shunter into service which for me was a great eco-friendly achievement.

Tell us about the biggest achievements in your procurement career…

One of the things I am most proud of is working on the 2012 Olympic bid, with Balfour Beatty. 

We manufactured and installed the relaxation and interview suites for the swimming centre.

I had the opportunity to visit the Olympic site whilst it was under construction which was a great privilege.

On this project, I negotiated savings of more than £100,000 on the costs of these suites which was a great achievement.

Also, while at Brush Traction I worked on a hybrid concept called Flex 319 where we looked at putting diesel tanks into electric trains, making a hybrid unit.

It was a massive project and my negotiated savings there hit £1.4 million with face-to-face negotiations to get the costs down. 

These are my two biggest achievements personally, but I like to think that the teams I have had the privilege to manage have all been professional and high-performing teams. 

I am pleased to say that in 28 years of management, I have had only three people leave the teams I have managed.

I consider is a good result, not just for myself, but for the business I have worked for. 

I still keep in touch with a lot of people I’ve worked with that have been on my teams.

It is a big responsibility to manage people and keep them happy in their jobs. 

Gaining my CIPS qualifications also ranks high on my list.

I’m very proud to have the letters after my name and it is a great organisation.

What is the biggest risk you have taken?

I believe there is risk in negotiation and negotiation forms quite a big part of a procurement role. 

I have tried things like walking away from a deal when you know you really need to buy the goods.

You need to believe in your ability and hope if you walk away the supplier will come back to you. 

I implemented a supplier innovations day a couple of years ago, which the business didn’t think was a good idea but, in the end, I was confident and went through with it.

In the end, I made about £5,000 for the business and used the money to fund some of my team through their CIPS qualifications.

We also had a team building meeting and a trip to the theatre with the money.

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

You have to be methodical, conscientious and have a good knowledge of procurement and the systems and processes that you are working with.

Also, you need to be self-motivated and have trust in your own abilities.

The major thing for me was self-motivation. 

You have to keep going, keep pushing on with what you have to do and again have confidence in your own ability.

It is also important for me to use the skills of my team too and to trust them to carry out their duties in a professional manner as well.

Just because you’re the manager doesn’t mean you can’t ask your team’s advice either. 

I don’t want to micromanage and have never used this process of management in my time as a manager.

We are all adults and that is how I treat my team members.

Within my team, I have three Senior Buyers who are very intelligent and have lots of experience, so as a group we have a lot of procurement experience to draw upon and that’s what being part of a team is all about.

We are all cogs in the same machine, remove any of the cogs and the machine doesn’t work as well. 

Any team wants to see a happy boss, so I think that definitely is essential.

I’m lucky that for 95% of the time my cup is half full and I try to use the feeling that this brings in my day-to-day work. 

Good communication skills are essential too.

You have to listen and be prepared to take advice as well.

You need to keep a tight ship and implement your systems and procedures as there is always someone trying to bend the rules. 

What supply challenges are you currently facing?

Lead times, cost increases, and different ways of working as we transition from repair and maintenance into production along with different suppliers with different delivery timelines.

It is looking at all of that and seeing if you can improve what you have already got. 

For example, I’m just beginning a project myself looking at our top 10 suppliers and benchmarking them and seeing if we are getting the best value out of them and whether should we be looking elsewhere in the market.

Just because you have your approved supplier lists the door is never closed to other people that want to come and have a go. 

I’m always looking for continual improvement and better ways to do things that will help the business.

Innovation ideas and new ways of doing things, that is always a driving factor for me really.

Which direction do you see your industry heading?

The rail industry is very busy, and some people may think it is an old-fashioned industry, in some ways I think it probably is when you look at the big blue chip industries which are out there, but there is a lot of good work going on within the rail industry and a lot of innovation.

Many rail businesses are transitioning away from repair and maintenance work now as there are so many new vehicles coming into the industry.

The repair and maintenance on these new units have a 20-year life span, so the repairs and maintenance business isn’t as buoyant as it was. 

Businesses like Loram UK are having to diversify.

We deal a lot in freight, so we are looking into different fields at the moment, but the biggest thing is the transition into manufacturing. 

Although we are still heavily involved in the repair and maintenance work and there are still good opportunities out there.

Loram is a forward-thinking company, and we have a great commercial team who can go and win the work for us too.

We have a full order book for this year, so it is looking good.

What will you be able to capitalise on in procurement?

It has changed a lot since Covid.

The electronics market is extremely challenging too with the lead times for most items being weeks and not days as it was pre-Covid. 

For Loram, we are using the skills and experience we have got within the business along with the quality of work we carry out for our customers along with the new build we have going.

There is a lot of focus on this currently as there is a big market for these grinders not just in Europe but in Africa and the United Arab Emirates too.

How will the rate of inflation affect the company’s offering and what is the procurement function’s role in alleviating its impact?

It has an impact, but our customers are aware of it, so it is always discussed when negotiating our contracts.

A lot of the time if we go out to tender the quotes we get back only a three-or four-week lifespan. 

Whereas when I first started it was six months, now it is weeks! 

However, our customers are aware of the inflation we are all facing so when we are going out to tender and pricing jobs up it should never be a big shock for them.

That is all we can do really at the minute; we just tie prices down as quickly as we can and get the goods in. 

You tend to have to buy things and keep them on the shelf now, so you are tying your money up in inventory that is sitting on the shelf, it is a difficult thing to juggle but we are doing it quite well.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am a musician and am currently in a duo called The Lost.

We are currently rehearsing for some live gigs from June onwards this year, we are writing our own songs for that too.

I write comedy as well and have three plays read out on my local BBC station (Radio Derby).

Also, I just finished my first book which has a launch date of 6th October this year.

I also have a joint project book due for release in October.

I do loads of things really.

I love reading I am a regular theatre and cinema goer. 

Music is my first love though, I play the bass guitar and a six-string guitar, and I play a low C whistle as well. 

Where I live there is a pub next door with quite a social scene and many jamming sessions which I take part in and my wife and I sing in a choir. 

Two years ago, we both climbed Ben Nevis, which was always an ambition. 

I want to do the other two peaks before I am 60. 

I also want to walk the Thames paths and the coat to coast too.

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

Listen and learn.

Listen to people who have the experience, who have been there and done it, and learn from that. 

I came into procurement quite late.

When I first started work, I was down at the local coal mine, Rawdon Colliery.

So a lot has changed in my working life and that all seems a million miles away. 

It wasn’t until much later when I got married and had a child, I thought I have got responsibilities now I need to focus.

The best piece of advice I was given is to do the job you are doing and do it well and other things will come along.

I was always wanting to be the manager but didn’t have the experience. 

I must have been 28/29 before I started just concentrating on the job I was employed to do (walking before I could run).

It really worked for me along with learning self-motivation.

This is the third position where I have been Head of Procurement and I am really proud to have reached these heights from where I started out. It has been quite a journey.

Is there an interesting fact you can tell us about yourself?

The only thing I can think of is I played in brass bands for years and once represented the UK at an International Tuba Convention in France. 

There were nine people from the UK who went, along with around 350 tuba players who came from all over Europe. 

I was quite involved in the brass band scene and worked my way up the brass band ranks.

It is structured like football leagues.

I went from the youth division into like the Championship section and performed in front of around 2,000 people at some of the concerts we did around Europe, and I’ve played at many of the major venues around the UK.

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