The Big Interview with Tom Hajek

He spoke with Procurement Heads‘ Operations Director Hayley Packham about his career and what he sees the key areas of focus for Procurement should be.

How did you get into Procurement?

Having worked previously in IT project delivery, my big break was back in 2008 at the time of the global financial crisis. I worked on a fantastic assignment at Serco as Commercial Manager for a £200m Homeland Security subcontract for our customer Raytheon Systems, who in turn delivered the prime contact to the Home Office.

I found that I enjoyed commercial contract management; managing risk, scope and commercials with customers, suppliers and our organisation to run a successful contract. At that point, I knew I wanted to specialise in Procurement and vendor management, and have worked in the profession ever since.

What challenges are you and your team currently facing?

Our main challenge is delivering business growth. My current client is a UK leader in mobile telecoms tower infrastructure and a major challenge is securing additional supplier capacity to roll out 5G infrastructure upgrades at pace and scale across thousands of sites.

The complexity of the challenge has increased with the recent UK Government’s decision to ban Huawei from involvement in 5G rollout, as well as replacing Huawei-installed equipment.

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

I’m passionate about the objective of creating successful, sustainable agreements with the right supplier.

I enjoy staying current, connected and networked with suppliers, and aware of evolving technologies, to be able to advise business leaders and internal customers on supplier strategy.

I think one or two days a year at expos is time well spent; Procurement professionals should not be isolated.

Leading the end-to-end vendor selection process, getting involved at the outset to identify companies with innovation, capabilities and good fit. I conduct extensive due diligence, site visits, to find companies that will thrive working with us.

I enjoy the “art of the deal”, to maximise value for our business as well as the supplier. I find that negotiation is a skill that needs ongoing practice and refinement to stay sharp. I highly recommend The Complete Skilled Negotiator by GAP Partnership and have benefitted hugely from it.

However, I avoid negotiating for the sake of negotiating; it becomes predictable to your counterpart and they will just pre-empt it.

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

I think developments this year with COVID have raised the profile and relevance of Procurement and highlighted tangible examples of good and bad Procurement.

I think that key focus areas include proactively supporting and guiding businesses back to profitability, for example advising on sourcing strategies for significantly different operating models arising from working from home.

Tight contract management to terminate unused services will also be critically important.

Other important areas include working with suppliers to evolve contracts and ensuring vendor selection, pitches and negotiations are effective via video calls.

Post-contract, staying influential with suppliers while working remotely, managing suppliers without site visits and using a data-driven approach.

Moving forward, awareness of supplier base and who is fit-for-purpose and continues to deliver value, has adapted well with new ways of working.

Overall, managing and leading disruption rather than being a passenger.

What have been your best and worst business decisions?

Without a doubt: Recruitment for both best and worst.

Having built Procurement teams in several companies, I’ve recruited some superb people who have gone on to do great things and be an asset to the business, as well as becoming close friends, mentors and mentees.

Others haven’t gone so well and frankly, I’ve regretted hiring them. Having the expertise of Procurement Heads to provide quality, screened candidates has enabled me to make better recruitment decisions. 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?

Moving to Hong Kong with my wife and two-month-old son in 2010, to pursue an opportunity with Cathay Pacific Airways. Over the six years, it was a good move professionally for both of us, but the first couple of years were tough; I learnt the hard way about “optimism bias” when comparing remuneration between UK and HK.

At the time, the city was booming and truly living up to its tagline as “Asia’s World City” as the primary business city in Asia, competing fiercely with Singapore. I pivoted into Financial Services and enjoyed an Asia-wide role in managing suppliers and doing deals across the region.

The best thing about it was working with great people from all over the world, who I continue to be in touch with. The network I built in Asia has directly helped me since I moved back; I got my first contract role in 2018 with Pete Ryan, a brilliant Portfolio Manager I worked with at Cathay, and I’ve referred people I met in HK to roles I’ve been too busy to apply for.

What skills do you consider essential to be a Procurement leader? What do you look for when hiring?

To be able to lead by example, have strong negotiation prowess and commercial acumen are all important.

An active, useful network is helpful – especially when it comes to recruitment.

Having deep sector, category expertise and market awareness are also useful.

When it comes to hiring, I look for credibility, gravitas and the ability to add value to the senior business leaders and communicate Procurement’s mission effectively.

Being able to pivot from strategy to value and the knowhow to make the best use of people processes and technology are also key.

Having a pragmatic approach, focusing on value add over procedural correctness and being able to lead the team by communicating objectives clearly alongside developing staff are important.

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

Find ways of reaching out for advice to people working in Procurement. Most people like to help others. Do extensive research, recognise it’s a very broad discipline, for example, there’s far more to it than transactional buying.

Take the time to explore different areas of the profession to find your area of natural expertise, then focus, specialise and gain more experience in the area you naturally excel at. Focus on developing your strongest strengths not remedying weaknesses.

COVID lockdown restrictions permitting – invite yourself to as many Procurement and supplier expos as possible.

Don’t underestimate the value of learning on the job. As you develop your career, take stock of and have confidence in your knowledge and expertise and ways of working – don’t defer excessively to so-called experts.

Proactively develop your network and nourish it.

Go for it – Procurement brings many transferable skills even if it’s not for you. Recognise that to succeed and assume a leadership position in Procurement you need to develop a range of skills. 

What emerging roles do you think we will see in Procurement?

Advising on and facilitating new ways of working, for instance, office space reduction and reconfiguration. Tech to sustainably enable home working. Advisor to facilities and HR. I’m also seeing a surge in public sector Procurement, for example, HS2 seems to be ramping up significantly.

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

I really enjoy exploring the great outdoors with my family. We like mountain hiking and had a superb trip to the Lake District earlier this year.

Since COVID, I’ve started getting fit and got back into mountain biking, I recently did the South Downs Way. In addition to the fitness benefits, it’s great fun to enjoy the beautiful scenery around Hampshire, which you just don’t see by car.

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

Don’t get too corporate or be an insecure overachiever, back yourself.

Image of maps accompanying the blog about Procurement Consultant Tom Hajek

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

I am obsessed with maps, cartography and geographic information systems. I spend hours reading maps, often to plan my next holiday – there’s a huge amount of interesting info.

Do you have a personal motto that you live by?

I value my time and like to get out and do stuff, I can sleep when I’m dead!

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