In the latest of Procurement Heads‘ Big Interview series, we caught up with senior procurement and commercial professional Sarah Ellis.
Sarah has a with a wealth of ‘blue chip’ experience gained across a diverse range of business sectors, including, aviation, media, financial services, FMCG and leisure.
Following a successful corporate career, she established her own interim/consultancy company in 2013, the focus of which has been transformation and change management, with clients from both the private and public sectors.
Sarah has played an active role in the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) for a number of years and was awarded the Procurement Professional of the Year in 2011.
Serving on boards including the CIPS Council and Appointments Board and has been a Judge for the prestigious CIPS Excellence Awards on three occasions. She became a Fellow in 2007 and went onto serve on the Fellowship Committee.
Sarah holds an MBA in Strategy and Procurement, from the University of Birmingham and has a BA (Hons) in English and Philosophy from the University of Leeds.
How did you get into Procurement?
I was working in sales for Mars UK as part of the company’s commercial directorate when an opportunity arose in the Services Buying Team, specialising in European marketing – above and below-the-line.
Moving into a procurement role – and being able to see things from both the buying and selling angles – seemed like a natural progression.
What does your typical day at work look like?
As an interim, it really depends on each assignment.
Most days are a mixture of stakeholder and team meetings and specific, programme related tasks.
There are also various team management activities and general administrative actions.
Naturally there are elements of repetition, but largely roles tend to be fast moving and delivery focused.
What do you love about Procurement?
Quite simply, the ability to deliver organisation-wide benefits.
Are there any aspects of procurement you find challenging?
Probably too many to list in this short article!
Seriously though, every day brings with it challenges, which can range from technical, governance or people related to name but a few.
Challenges are part of the attraction.
Have you observed any trends in procurement recently?
One of the key aspects has been the recognition of the importance of contract management; ensuring that contracts deliver value to the organisation.
What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader?
Like any leadership role, the so-called ‘softer skills’ are paramount.
Excellent interpersonal and communication skills including proactive listening.
Plus, stakeholder engagement, business awareness, holding strong analytical skills – assimilating data/information, interpreting it and developing clear plans and selling, being able to sell an idea/plan both internally and externally.
If you could give advice to your younger self what would it be?
Make sure you move roles regularly and gain as much experience as you can.
This does not necessarily mean you need to change organisation as there may be a diverse range of opportunities internally.
Furthermore, not all your roles need to be procurement ones. It can be very beneficial to get another perspective, possibly in a stakeholder’s area.
What has been the best lesson you have learned in procurement?
That procurement is not ‘an island’. It exists as part of the bigger picture to support the delivery of the organisation’s goals and aspirations. It needs to carefully balance value and risk.
Who has had the most influence on your Procurement career?
Oh, my goodness, this is a hard one. I have been extremely fortunate to have worked for, and with, a number of people who have influenced my career. Some have provided me with inspirational leadership, technical knowledge and advice and others broader ‘softer’ skills which have helped me throughout my working life.
Mars UK provided me with an excellent business grounding, and I look back on my years there with both appreciation and fondness.
It would be difficult to single out any one individual.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
A few years ago, I rediscovered the gym and have been hooked ever since. I mainly focus on classes, High Intensity Training (HIT) and Pilates; plus, weekly Personal Training sessions.
My fitness level has dramatically improved and I really enjoy the buzz of challenging my performance.
I enjoy reading both fiction and non-fiction. Fiction wise, I like the Robert Goddard mysteries – which contain lots of twist and turns along the way. Recent favourites include ‘The Panic Room’ and ‘One False Move’. For non-fiction, I tend to opt for historical ones. I have just finished ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris, a truly compelling book which touches on so many emotions – sorrow, despair, cruelty and so importantly hope.
Meeting up with friends is very important to me. I have a great group of friends – not just from the commercial world I hasten to add! We go out to restaurants, exhibitions and of course the obligatory shopping!
Is work/life balance important to you / If so, How do you achieve it?
Work/life balance has become more important to me over the last few years.
Early on in my career it was more of an alien concept and it sadly did not feature on my radar.
It has been helped by the fact that organisations have become more receptive to this and, in many cases, positively support the approach.