image of procurement leader Lorna Baker

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

How did you get into procurement?

Well, like a lot of people, I fell into procurement really. 

After I graduated, I did struggle to find out what I wanted to do, so I went through a few temporary roles and at the same time I actually met a woman who worked in marketing for Peel Holdings in Manchester, and we walked our dogs at the same time in the same place.  

She said that she had the same issue when she started working, but she was so passionate about her job and what she did and she had so much energy when she talked about her job I thought I wanted to be like her.

It wasn’t that I wanted to work in marketing, but I wanted to care about what I did. 

I went to a job agency and I actually said I want to try a variety of short-term assignments, different positions and types of companies and see where I ended up.

One of those positions was supporting a Procurement Officer who was running a competitive dialogue for a joint venture. 

It is still the most challenging piece of procurement that I’ve ever been involved with, but I really enjoyed the work and after that I started applying for permanent procurement roles.

What are the roles and responsibilities the procurement function holds within Futures Housing Group?

We’re a centralised indirects procurement team with category management being introduced where it can in order to support the parts of the business where we need subject specialism. 

Procurement at Futures involves negotiating and renegotiating contracts for all goods, works and services. 

We’re responsible for the supplier management and then supporting the business in contract management as well. 

We’re a point of escalation, for dealing with issues and supporting through the exit of contracts. 

We’re subject to public contract regulations, so we’re running full tender processes and take part in market engagement as well.

What are the challenges that you and your team currently face?

Many of the current challenges come from COVID-19, which was a major challenge to all businesses. 

The ongoing impact of inflation and fluctuations in materials pricing continue to have an impact, and it’s increasingly challenging to negotiate because prices are changing significantly within a short period of time. 

We are having to become much more agile in our approach because suppliers are less willing to hold their pricing. 

There’s a lack of certainty over Ukraine and any escalation that’s going to happen. 

And of course, we’re all thinking about a general election that’s likely to happen in the next few years, which could influence procurement legislation being introduced following Brexit.

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

The thing I’m most passionate about is ensuring that we, as buyers, are ensuring the company uses the money and resources we’ve got in a way that benefits our customers and wider society so that we can get true value for money.

I see procurement very much as being a facilitator of relationships between internal businesses and business partners and the market so that we can actualise savings, improve demand planning and help our customers become more informed so that they understand their options and make better decisions.

I’m passionate about working in collaboration with the supply chain and allowing for constructive conversations so that we’re doing all we can to ensure the best value for money for our customers.

I’m also committed to making sure that we don’t ignore sustainability, EDI and social value which all need to be included in our bids and we’re in a perfect position in procurement to make sure that our colleagues are including that as part of their decision-making process when they’re evaluating quality bids coming through.

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

There are a number of key focus areas for procurement at the moment.

Sustainability is one of those, and supply chains can influence carbon emissions in a huge way. 

Procurement departments have got no choice but to be engaged with NetZero. 

If they’re not already, then they need to start looking beyond their Tier 1 suppliers further down their supply chain.

New procurement regulations for those of us in the public sector are going to be affecting both buyers and suppliers. 

The mandatory learning and development that’s going to get rolled out I think is going to show that there is a bit of a skills gap within the indirect market.

Automation is going to continue to ramp up. 

We’ve had some really excellent improvements actually within procurement of Futures, thanks to our automations developers within our digital team. 

Specifically, we have somebody called Alex Brown who has had a massive impact on improving the procurement processing of orders.

And what is your team doing in terms of sustainable procurement?

Sustainability is one of four key objectives at Futures, so it forms a major part of our strategic vision. 

It’s embedded throughout the organisation and procurement sits on the sustainability strategy steering group. 

We’re involved in monitoring progress, ensuring that resources are used and focused on what matters, which is creating a sustainable future.

With regards to what procurement is doing, we’re engaging with support partners in our supply chain to understand and reduce their environmental impact through improved emissions monitoring and sharing of waste management as well as circular economy best practices.

We’re working with SMEs to support the local community and the economy that we’re serving.

We procure responsibly sourced, environmentally friendly and recycled materials wherever we can and we make sure that sustainable practices and added social value are key requirements of tender opportunities.

What are your biggest achievements in your procurement career?

I’ve done a lot of different things, but I think the thing I’m most proud of is being involved in a programme that supported the recruitment of ex-offenders into the supply chain. 

I was working in a company based next door to a Probation Officer’s office. I was on a bus talking to a Probation Officer and I was saying that we were having some issues with accessing contractors, staff, and a skills shortage and they were talking about how difficult it was for people to escape the cycle of returning to criminality without work to go to.

We actually found work and training for 12 ex-offenders and we had 100% retention after 12 months. 

They all stayed at work and I’m really, really proud of having the chance to make a change for those people. 

But also for our customers at the time, which meant that we were able to deliver better services.

I’m really proud of working for a company that empowered me to be involved in a project like that and working with suppliers who were willing to be part of something along those lines as well.

That’s fantastic, and what inspires you as a procurement leader?

What inspires me is authenticity and commitment, so I’ve been privileged to work with some very talented procurers and wider teams. 

But one person who I considered inspired me the most is a Director whom I worked with at MHA called Annie Webber. 

She taught me a lot about being authentically yourself and resiliency.

The thing that always came across clearly from her was that she cared deeply about the quality of care provided to customers within a regulated environment. 

It really never did fail to be part of who she was as a leader.

We didn’t work together for very long and not even in the same team, but she had a huge influence on me and I’ve always aspired to just be somebody that she would have been proud to have worked with and to demonstrate those values myself.

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

I think the advice I’d go with is that no one really cares how much you know until they know how much you care. 

So in terms of your procurement success, it’s only going to rely on building connections with people, and they need to know that you care about the right outcome and not just about transacting a neat piece of procurement.

If you want to progress in your career, then you need to have a plan but be willing to adapt that plan, just to take advantage of any opportunities that come your way.

Make sure that you don’t stop once you get qualified because while CIPS is going to give you a great foundation, you do need to attend ongoing training either with them or with organisations like the Global Sourcing Association because they’re going to help you build networks that you’re going to need to be successful.

And what do you look for when you’re hiring?

I mostly look for a cultural fit for my team and the business more widely. 

I think that skills can be taught, so unless it’s a specific level of experience in relation to a specific category, I’m definitely more interested in a person’s temperament and resiliency, and willingness to learn.

Because we’re a centralised procurement team and due to the volume of work that we have, my Procurement Officers have to be able to multitask and manage their workloads effectively. They might be running a tender for legal services, negotiating a materials contract and then dealing with a compliance-based contract management issue for fire or asbestos, all in the same day or week. 

It’s a challenge, so having the right personality and fitting the values of the company is absolutely vital.

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

I do think that sustainability is now being taken much more seriously. 

Automation is ramping up, but more generally, procurement is shifting from being a very transactional subfunction of (usually) finance, but not always, to being seen as valuable in its own right. 

More and more companies are going to start realising the benefits of quality procurement, and the profile of procurement is going to rise as people realise that it’s much more than just buying things; that there’s legislation, policies, and the ability to influence the world for the better and have a direct impact actually on our customers and the communities that we work in.

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

Within the housing sector, we have to offer value for money, and essentially this means that we’re making the most efficient use of our resources, balancing our obligations to safety, and sustainability and then building new homes.

Historically, our income has increased in line with inflation, but we’ve had a cap put on us, so we can’t increase rent by as much as inflation this year, which means that the role of procurement has never been more important than it is now.

Procurement has to work with suppliers to help them to reduce their cost base through value engineering. 

We can’t do this if we don’t collaborate with them and look at helping our suppliers where they need it in terms of their cash flow through a variety of options from things like quicker payment terms, where that’s appropriate, through to allowing them to access our reduced rates through consolidation of our joint spend where that’s possible.

Sustainability isn’t just about environmental matters. 

It needs to include sustainable business practices. 

So if companies can resource better, because they know the amount of work that’s coming their way and we can commit to that, then we can support them in that way.

We do have a challenging period ahead of us and as a business, we’re having to look at things like extending the life of our assets. 

But it is vital that our customers remain at the heart of what we do and procurement can be a part of that.

What do you like doing in your spare time? 

I like to travel. I’m going to the Bahamas later this year to celebrate a birthday, during which my obsession with animals is probably going to come across loud and clear as I swim with pigs!

I have a dog and a horse and a cat. 

The cat comes on dog walks with us. 

I find that getting out and getting fresh air really helps me to put things into perspective. 

I often find myself thinking through work issues on my walks or my rides.

As an organisation we have an output-based work system, we don’t worry too much if somebody’s working in the evenings, so that they can go to the gym in the day or do what they need to do in the day, as long as business needs are being met. 

So it does help me to maintain a healthy work-life balance, lead by example and retain staff who also benefit from that flexibility and of course, the animals benefit from a nice walk in the daytime in the daylight, rather than trying to squeeze it in before or after work.

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

I think that that advice would be don’t be too hard on yourself.

Everybody’s learning and an ‘oops’ is better than a ‘what if’.Just do your very best because it’s going to be OK.

And finally, could you tell us an interesting fact about yourself?

My childhood was a little bit unusual because I actually grew up on an island called Benbecula on the Outer Hebrides and while I was there I became a British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) dive leader as a teenager. 

Because it was linked to a military branch of BSAC, it meant that I was scuba diving with the army and got to experience going out on much more powerful boats and do really challenging dives that I probably would never have had access to as a teenager in a normal diving group.

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