The Big Interview with Nathalie Adotevi

For Procurement Heads’ latest Big Interview, she spoke to Will Cooke about her career.

How did you get into procurement?

I studied procurement and obtained a Master’s degree in supply chain and international procurement.

Following three years of studying international business, I had the option to choose across various specialisations for my Master’s degree and decided to try something completely new, which would sort of enhance my curriculum.

So, unlike many of my peers, I didn’t fall into procurement, I actually chose it.

Following that, I did a year of what we call a co-op programme, which meant rotating between two weeks at my host company in France, and then one week at school and I really enjoyed it.

I found the unique role that procurement plays in being at the heart of a business’ strategy as well as at the very source of its operational performance really interesting.

Since I graduated, I’ve always worked in procurement and supply chain across both indirect and direct categories, across different geographies and also worked as a Consultant delivering transformational projects.

And what are the roles and responsibilities the procurement function holds within your organisation and how do you split the function out?

The procurement team is a key enabler in BP’s strategy to transition from an international oil company (IOC) to an integrated energy company (IEC).

We manage billions of dollars worth of spend.

Therefore, we need to ensure that we have a competitive supply chain, obviously, but more importantly that we drive a safe and sustainable supply chain.

The function is split between business-facing, supply-facing, and enabling teams.

There is also a separate team that looks after sourcing, contracting and payment activities.

It’s quite a large team of more than 1,500 people spread globally.

This structure allows us to bring in business-centricity and innovative supply strategies while delivering efficient and compliant operations.

I sit in the supply-facing team, in digital and talent and specifically in the innovation team: our team drives new ways of doing procurement by digitising our ways of working, leading strategic category transformations and bringing impactful supply market insights.

We strive to be a data-driven team using innovative digital solutions.

I’m really excited about what we’re trying to achieve – looking beyond traditional procurement operating models, and using agile ways of working, in the context of BP’s biggest strategic shift of its existence!

And what are the challenges that you and your team are currently facing?

So, for the last two years, I’ve been leading the procurement function for our Launchpad businesses, which are essentially digitally-led startups looking to disrupt energy systems.

The focus has been to grow and generate revenues for these businesses while preserving cash flow, which is obviously a vital element to their growth.

Inflation has been a challenge: we’ve had to negotiate supplier requests to increase cost.

We’ve also had to deal with supply chain disruptions, specifically on semiconductors and go deeper into the supply chain at tier 2, 3 and 4 levels.

In this really challenging environment, more emphasis has to be put on supplier risk management and building strong relationships with critical and strategic suppliers.

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

What I’ve always loved about procurement is that it is multifaceted.

It requires so many different skills: commercial, financial, stakeholder management, project management, influencing … the list goes on.

It requires engagement across the business, so it’s really internal facing as well as external as we engage with suppliers, external stakeholders, partners etc. I don’t think there’s any job out there that allows you to have such a central position and the ability to align internal objectives with external capabilities.

I would also add that procurement has changed so much over the last few years – from a cost and process-driven function to tackling broader issues such as sustainability and supply diversity.

The evolution of digital solutions now allows procurement to operate at pace, bring efficiencies and improve stakeholders’ and suppliers’ user experience.

I suppose linking to that, what do you think are the key focus areas for procurement right now?

2023 is still a year of inflationary pressure and high volatility.

Just recently we woke up to the news of SVB collapse and increased fears over the global banking system.

Uncertainty is the new normal, so what capabilities can procurement deploy to have businesses navigate these words of complexities?

I believe procurement’s focus will still be to protect margin, limit cost escalation and supply disruption, and provide proactive risk management solutions.

But, at the same time, procurement is uniquely positioned to capture business opportunities by focusing on growth and innovation (e.g. building supply ecosystems and strategic partnerships, digitising operations) and make a real difference for society through sustainability.

What do you look for when you’re hiring?

It really depends on the role and seniority, but for mid-level, senior roles I typically look for someone who has a broad range of experience relating to different industries and the various aspect of procurement, such as category management, sourcing, contracting etc.

I don’t necessarily focus on experience within a specific category (unless it is absolutely critical for the role), as I believe procurement skills can be applied in any category.

I actually value someone who has worked across different categories or someone who is new to procurement.

I think it can demonstrate that they have great adaptability and a growth mindset and bring different perspectives to the team.

Soft skills are equally important, therefore, the ability to influence, and communicate effectively is key, as well as the ability to network and create connections internally and externally.

Also, individuals with great problem-solving skills, who are innovative, with an “entrepreneurial” mindset who can identify opportunities and is not shy to go after them.

As BP is reimagining energy for people and the planet with the aim to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner, I believe these are critical skills that we need.

Finally, how the individual shows up is super important, bringing the right energy and passion and demonstrating the ability to align with BP’s core values of safety and care.

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

I would say that there are two elements.

First, is that, as I mentioned, BP’s aiming to get to net zero by 2050 or sooner.

So it is setting up new businesses and teams that are looking at new options to bring low-carbon energy products and solutions to customers.

We support by providing access to new supply chains and building supply ecosystems and strategic partners.

Secondly, we are also on a journey of driving a sustainable agenda across our procurement organisation, which supports BP’s sustainability frame with 20 aims for getting to net zero, improving people’s lives and caring for our planet.

That basically broadens our sustainability goals beyond climate.

There are dedicated teams who are tasked with embedding sustainability into a procurement process as well as looking at things like circularity, supplier diversity, and localised supply chains amongst other activities.

What inspires you as a procurement leader?

I am inspired by true value creation – which tends to happen before and after a supplier is sourced and a contract is put in place.

So, when business partnering occurs with internal stakeholders and strategic connections are made with suppliers to bring innovation and different perspectives.

And after when delivering end-to-end management: improvement initiatives, supplier relationships, risk management and real-time data insights with the ability to articulate these back to the business.

I’m inspired by what procurement has to offer and how it can make a long-lasting impact beyond the “simple” act of buying.

What skills do you consider to be essential?

I think you need to have passion and be highly capable in change management.

Passion motivates you to make things happen, to coach, guide and mentor your team but also to connect with your internal stakeholders to understand the business strategy and what drives value and also with suppliers to understand the ever-changing external capability landscape.

And then change management allows you to quickly build internal alignment to move the business into action.

As I mentioned before, we operate in such a complex environment that these skills are critical to successfully leading procurement functions today.

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

Do not read general articles about procurement careers, they tend to be dull and boring.

Rather there are now some fantastic procurement network communities and thought leadership that allows you to connect with forward-thinking professionals and get inspired by the art of the possible in procurement!

The profession has evolved so much in recent years.

It is a very exciting place to be.

I would also advise you to be curious about the role in general, but also about the business, and new procurement trends and to ask lots of questions and listen.

It will enrich your experience and boost your performance.

What do you think are the current procurement trends or hot topics and what role do you think will see in procurement as a result of those?

As previously mentioned, hot topics include sustainability and, more broadly, I would say a move away from a sole focus on cost reduction and the bottom line.

Supplier risk management is another one and I think the ability for procurement to use technology to gather real-time and predictive data and then collaboratively work with the business to build resiliency into the supply chain and make informed decisions will differentiate leading procurement teams from others.

In terms of Section 3, how can procurement support a business’ growth agenda outside of just the cost savings?

I find this growth space fascinating.

I mean, often, procurement is not seen as a strategic function but rather can be seen as a back office that does purchasing and P2P activities.

The journey I’ve been through with BP Launchpad has been very interesting in the sense that we started with that perception, you know, procurement has cumbersome processes which get in the way of agility, pace and ultimately the growing business.

But what we’ve been able to do at Launchpad is to really engage with the business, to define what value means (which was not so much about cost reduction), what challenges they faced in meeting their growth objectives and work with them to build a fit for purpose procurement process that gives them the ability – depending on the criticality of the procurement – to engage with third parties without the need to go through a heavy process, obviously within the boundaries of specific compliance and governance requirements.

The basis of it was this way of working was that it was flexible and adaptable with the ability to react quickly to shifts in strategy or external disruption, so it is really important to build flexibility into your way of working.

This model allowed us to build trust with the business and focus more on value creation.

We’ve been able to demonstrate the expertise that procurement brings when scaling a business, which includes establishing new supply chains when expanding in new geographies, looking at third-party risk management, bringing supplier-led innovations or collaborating with suppliers to enhance existing products or services.

To drive a growth agenda, procurement mindset has to shift to foster a more creative working environment that encourages a ‘let’s try it’ attitude and ultimately focuses on the end customer.

What do you like doing in your spare time? Do you have any favourite books, films, destinations or sports?

I enjoy spending quality time with my family and friends.

I have an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old, so they keep me very busy.

Weekends for us are a great opportunity to wind down once they have done all their activities including birthday parties!

We enjoy walking to the park, watching TV together or treating ourselves to nice restaurants.

And if you could give some advice to your younger self, what do you think it would be?

Be kind and patient to yourself, that it is OK not to excel at everything and not have all the answers. Nobody does!

Could you tell us an interesting fact about yourself?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a journalist.

I’ve always been interested in other people’s stories, understanding the world and broader issues.

So, you know, travelling, meeting people and sharing those stories back.

Who knows, I may have the opportunity to do this at some point in the near future!

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