Watch Rahim Ali Ahmad‘s conversation with Tiffany Howell, Head of Supply Chain at Stannah, to gain an understanding of the role Procurement Heads is recruiting, the organisation’s culture and why it is a great company to work for.

After completing a business degree 26 years ago I fell into procurement, which is pretty much what most business professionals say when I talk to them. It wasn’t that I went to university and thought I’m going to this degree and then I am going to go into a supply chain profession. It is something that I applied to do, I had a little knowledge about purchasing and procurement at the time and got my first role in a manufacturing company. 

I absolutely loved it, I enjoyed working in a manufacturing environment and very quickly understood how powerful negotiation and persuasive skills can be. 

I completed my CIPS and went on to work in a number of different companies, always within the procurement function, after completing some supply chain work in Sydney Australia I came to work at Stannah in Andover. 

Before that, I had only ever worked in companies for three or four years but Stannah is one of those companies that are really good to work for, it is all about the people. 

I haven’t been in the same role for 20 years, I started as a Supply Account Manager, which is the role we are recruiting for today, and then very quickly after 18 months I became a Team Leader, then Purchasing Manager. I then took on the responsibility of the planning team then an extended supply chain position which leads me up to today which is Head of Supply Chain. 

It shows how good Stannah is at developing internally and really recognising people and their attitudes and work ethic and seeing how somebody can develop into a more senior management position.

I love manufacturing, I love being part of starting with a concept and working with the engineering teams, seeing something on the page that transforms into a tangible project and changing people’s lives. 

The products that we manufacture actually change people’s lives. 

People that have not been upstairs in their house, or not been able to get out of their house, and when we go and install that product into their home some of our clients burst into tears and say how we’ve changed their lives and to be part of that process is magical.

Could you expand a little on what Stannah does?

Stannah is a group, it is a provider of lots of different products, so elevators, escalators, moving walkways like you see in supermarkets, manufacturer of stairlifts and platform lifts which is what this role is for, and is what people probably recognise us for mostly. 

We are a business that has been around for more than 150 years and are a British family-owned business, five generations on we have still got a lot of the family working and leading this business. 

Many of us will perhaps unknowingly come into contact with Stannah products more regularly than you think, it could be an escalator, a goods lift, or how goods are transported from the warehouse to the shop floor. 

Our range is really diverse, it offers passenger lifts, platform lifts, goods and service lifts, escalators and walkways and our newest launch which is a home lift. 

It is really about a family culture at Stannah. Within stairlifts which is what this role is about we are about exporting; we have five major customers and in particular one of our distribution networks in the USA is growing considerably. When I say customers I mean countries – so the UK, Germany, France, Italy and the USA. 

We have growth in all of those but particularly the USA.

How has the pandemic affected Stannah?

Well, I think it has affected everybody’s world, in most manufacturing businesses, the availability of materials and lead times are something we are having to manage on a daily basis not even a weekly basis.

It is really about survival and making sure that we can continue to manufacture. My team has a well-developed risk and vulnerability assessment, which we have honed through the last 18 months, mainly because everything that we buy is single-sourced and almost everything is bespoke so we are quite high risk. 

But, our assessment has faired us pretty well, thankfully the investment has paid off and we have continued to manufacture throughout. 

Other than a couple of months of low installations and sales the industry as a whole has been at the forefront of the front line. 

So, helping people get out of hospital and care homes quicker and preventing them from going into hospitals and care homes and allowing them to stay at home for longer. 

We had a core manufacturing team throughout because we needed to make sure we carried on manufacturing and that our suppliers didn’t shut down so that we could support the NHS by keeping people at home and allowing people to come home sooner. 

We spend about £50million on materials from a global supply chain, ideally, we would like to be able to source things locally, the Stannah family is very much about investing within the UK and supporting local businesses and we do that where possible. 

We are also a very competitive business, there are other stairlift businesses so we have to remain competitive so we source all over the world to do so – 80% of that £50million is with only 15 suppliers, which means that the team can work very closely and collaboratively with our first second and third-tier suppliers. 

We may have 100 suppliers total but 15 make up 80%. 

Those suppliers are seen as an extension of Stannah, that’s not to say we don’t change suppliers but we work with them to solve problems and on new ideas so that we don’t have the huge volumes of automotive which is why we single source. 

We want to be the number one, two or three customer with each of those suppliers so we get that flexibility and transparency and focus. As an example, the electronics climate has changed substantially and it looks like we are in for a bumpy ride over 2022. 

What we have done is worked closely with our UK and far eastern suppliers of electronics so we can keep our manufacturing sites building products where other larger companies like automotive have struggled they have had to slash their productions schedules by half. 

We are actually growing; we grew by 10% last year and look to grow about 12% this year. 

I think that the world has changed forever but in a strange way, the pandemic has encouraged my procurement team to be even more resilient to continue to be innovative and even more flexible to face the volatility that the supply changes present on a daily basis.

What does Stannah look like now and where is it headed?

Well, stairlifts is growing as is the whole group.

We are investing in new manufacturing sites, expanding our manufacturing operations we have noticed that shipping heavy stairlifts halfway across the world is expensive. 

If you take container costs, pre-pandemic a container would have cost about £1,700 before Christmas a container shipping in from China was round £12,000. 

So, it is really looking at reducing those transport costs and bringing material into the UK with Brexit changes again it has really made us reflect and look at what we are doing. 

It is not to say what we do in procurement will change it is just that we are spreading our risk around the world and reducing our costs where we can and also reducing our lead time, bringing material in from India or China used to be about six weeks, it is now 12. 

A typical customer purchasing a stairlift can take a few years to make the decision but once they have made that decision, they want the product quickly. I think going forward what it will look like is that we need to be flexible, as a company and a supply chain and procurement team to adapt to that growth in the market and adapt to what is happening in the market the industry is very competitive. 

I would also like to say that we are investing in our systems. 

We have quite an old MRP system but we recognise that and it is something we are working on this year. We have our inhouse IT department that is writing an open-source ERP system to have it bespoke to us and our needs at the moment, it is definitely an area we could improve on and we have identified that as a business and have started that journey some starts of the business have the business and within the manufacturing that is one of our focuses for 2022.

Tell us about this role and what it will entail. 

I am excited about this role, I have worked in procurement departments before, it is certainly not a purchasing role, it is a senior strategic procurement role, the department is structured to allow the Supplier Account Managers which is just a snazzy word for a real Strategic Senior Buyer, I just don’t like the word Buyer because it suggests that you go out and buy stuff this is not that role. 

It is about developing strategic relationships with our suppliers like I said we don’t have lots you can really spend time visiting those suppliers wherever they are in the world. It is about drafting and negotiating supply agreements that really does make sure that Stannah achieve what we want and they are happy too. 

It is about leading purchasing audits to make sure we have control of all of the products that come into Stannah we want to be able to use those parts and products right first time so we don’t have to stop that production line. 

It is about successfully risk assessing and implementing mitigation actions, even pre-pandemic there are risks, if we are sourcing globally there will be risks. 

It is about understanding those risks and putting in mitigating actions and monitoring and changing those to reduce the risks. It is also about working closely with our engineering teams, we are part of the early stages of helping to design these products together to meet the right cost, quality and performance targets of the business and what the customer needs. 

This role gives people the opportunity to develop those procurement skills and develop the technical knowledge of the commodities we try and group the suppliers to the commodity sets, but every couple of years we move things around so you can update your knowledge within the commodity sets. 

It gives you the opportunity to travel globally because you had been going out and lead auditing those supplies wherever they are in the world, even if they are not first-tier suppliers. 

You would accompany the Supplier as Lead Auditor to make sure the supplier has control, is complying with our modern slavery policies is making sure that environmentally it is ok. 

Our brand is very important and we need to make sure we have that control and the right suppliers. It is making you a strategic manager of that set of suppliers. 

What are you looking for in an individual for this role?

I am looking for somebody who is self-motivated and a self-starter, it certainly is not a role that is going to be micro-managed. 

Somebody that really wants to be creative in the role and is looking for good ideas. 

If you can come in with a good idea and can back it with a business case, we are all ears. If we could look at lighter materials or materials that are an extension of pieces of furniture so that there isn’t this resistance of buying a stairlift, we need to make sure that they are as attractive as possible. 

Do that people are quite proud of it and that we know what the people want and need. 

For example, the upholstery might match the sofa. We are looking for creative people. We want good persuasive and negotiation skills. The procurement team is very much a customer-facing team for most of the company, it is really being persuasive and working well internally as well as externally. 

It is also about being collaborative. We have regular reviews so that we can share and transfer knowledge. We have supplier days so that we can share and transfer knowledge with suppliers as well. I am looking for someone who is flexible and a problem solver. 

The electronics industry is changing on an hourly basis and we have to be flexible to deal with that. Also, a problem solver, if an issue arises, we need to be proactive and work out what we can do quickly to get the production line started again.

Ideally, I am looking for someone with a manufacturing background, but if there is an ideal candidate who has good transferable procurement skills then absolutely, they can adapt to this environment they don’t have to be from a manufacturing background. 

Really somebody with knowledge and experience within complex supply chains would be an advantage. Somebody who would like to learn about sourcing globally as I don’t see that changing in the short term.

Why work for Stannah?

For me, Stannah is all about the people. That is why so many people stay for a long time. 

Contrary to what people may think, stairlift design and manufacture is very competitive. We are really good at developing our people, I am a personal example of this, but it is not just localised to me. 

The current Factory Manager used to be an Operator on the shop floor five years ago. 

I have recently promoted two of my Supplier Account Managers to senior managerial roles within the business. 

We are constantly evolving and developing people, if you have the right attitude and a good work ethic then there are so many opportunities within our growing business at Stannah.

What does this role offer?

It offers personal development. 

We invest within the CIPS so somebody doesn’t have to have a CIPS qualification and we support people through that continued development.

It is not just CIPS it is a continued internal development for those candidates that would like to work for Stannah. 

Whether it is knowledge of commodities, legal, negotiating, financial, we can teach people how to do these things. 

We will invest in those areas of continued personal development for a candidate and also commodity and manufacturing experience it really does offer that development and a collaborative environment to work in. 

It is also about the perception and procurement is one of those roles that it is either a purchasing department or it is a procurement department, we are very much a procurement department. 

The profile of procurement is regarded very highly I have a monthly update of risk assessment with the Stannah family. 

Any one of the Stannah family could walk into the procurement department and not just know where we are located within the building, they would know people’s names and what they do. 

Pre-pandemic they knew it was an important part of the business, but through the pandemic that has just been heightened to a really high level now.  

It is understood how important and how valuable a good strong procurement team is to a growing business.

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