Emma Giles is SRM & ESG Manager, Procurement at leading international financial services provider Allianz. For our latest Big Interview, Emma spoke with Will Cooke, Recruitment Consultant – Financial & Professional Services, about her career and how she juggles a successful procurement career with motherhood.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you got into procurement?
I’m a proud Mauritian, living in Poole, Dorset since 2009, where I met my husband while studying at the Open University and working at my local hospital as a healthcare assistant.
My husband and I welcomed our most perfect little girl among the chaos of Covid in 2020 and we are currently preparing to be bossed around by a second little human, due imminently!
While my dreams of being a surgeon didn’t quite materialise, I did follow my passion for science and have a Masters in Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Biology which, in a roundabout way, helped me land my first role in pharmaceutical procurement many moons ago in what was then Sigma Aldrich.
From then, seeking a new challenge, I moved to LV= to IT procurement a couple of years later and didn’t look back until earlier this year when I was presented with a great opportunity to head up the non-Claims Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) team here at Allianz Holdings, after first TUPE’ing across at the start of 2020.
What roles and responsibilities does Procurement/ SRM have within Allianz?
It’s all the things you would expect in terms of robust Sourcing, SRM and category management across our supply chain, working closely with our business stakeholders and achieving excellent year-on-year results against an ever-increasing set of challenging KPIs.
We work within the Allianz group structure with group policies and systems and I think that, within the Allianz group, we enjoy a good position of trust and visibility in recognition of our maturity levels.
We’re certainly not shy when it comes to taking a seat at the table and making suggestions and challenges to help evolve the way things are done.
In terms of SRM, as the saying goes, ‘don’t waste a good crisis’.
We are, like many others, thinking hard about how we mature as an SRM team given the increasingly complex landscape we operate (and want to succeed) in as a business.
I certainly feel very passionate, now leading the SRM team, in championing our position as supply chain management experts and being clear about how far our speciality area has come; there still seem to be some people around who think we’re here to give a little tick after reviewing last month’s performance metrics.
We’re thinking hard about broader end-to-end supplier health, end-to-end supply chain health, and the key measures to track so that we can respond to as many scenarios thrown our way however workshopped or not the disaster scenario has been.
I feel really energised by the opportunity to work more closely and seamlessly with other expert teams such as info sec and protection and resilience to build that robust and unified view and pinpoint the weaknesses and opportunities in our supply chain, some of which undoubtedly link to the changing regulatory landscape within financial services.
We’re also on a journey to fully embed ESG within all that we do and in that Allianz is certainly a very inspiring place to work given how passionate we are about the topic and how many incredibly dedicated colleagues are leading the way, locally and globally.
There’s just so much to go after!
It’s very exciting to see how SRM is developing and growing and from being a ‘die-hard’ IT Category Manager, I’ve certainly been converted!
However excited I am to be away from the business soon with my little one, I am also already very much looking forward to coming back and continuing to learn more about what we can do in this space and try new things.
Have you faced any barriers as a woman in the industry?
I can’t say that I reflect back on my career and feel I have.
I have been very lucky to work for inspiring Heads of Procurement from the very beginning of my career back in 2013.
They all took a personal interest in helping me develop, giving me opportunities and challenging me out of my comfort zone.
I feel privileged to have been in the right environments at the right time with the right people and to have my hard work rewarded through secondments/special projects and formal promotions.
Having spent most of my career in IT procurement, I also can’t say that I feel I had a tougher time being a woman within that specific category space.
In fact, the IT Sourcing & SRM team at LV= was predominantly women for a number of years and we had a tremendous amount of fun as a team while working really hard and having robust, credible relationships with our IT function.
What can be done to support and encourage women to progress in their careers in procurement?
For any leaders reading this, please, please don’t forget about your female team members while they’re on maternity leave and assume they don’t want to hear from you until they’re formally back in – take their steer but keep in touch, include them in succession planning, ensure they know of the opportunities going live in the team.
That way, we feel valued, we settle back into roles quicker and we remain motivated and engaged in our roles and our careers.
You better believe my Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) has a cracking list of suggested opportunities for keeping in touch this second time around too!
More broadly, invest your budget in training programmes, conferences, and networking events and keep an eye on industry awards to provide additional opportunities to shout about your high achievers.
From personal experience, I still feel the benefits of the Leadership for High Performing Women training programme I was lucky enough to be selected for back in 2018 at LV=.
The time and space to break through some self-limiting beliefs, think about my triggers and strengths and recalibrate have been invaluable since then to support the leadership roles I have taken on while also generally supporting how I present myself.
In my 14 months back from maternity, I have been promoted twice and been privileged enough to be nominated for the Women in Insurance Awards earlier this year too. I honestly never dreamt that my career would still progress at pace, in a challenging and satisfying way, when I made the decision to grow my family.
Those milestones have done a lot to support me in coming back into the business in a confident way and make me feel valued. I hope that the multitude of similar examples and successes around help women invest in themselves and feel brave and confident about forging their own path ahead.
I also don’t underestimate how much Allianz’s paid maternity leave policy and the autonomy provided to manage my day/week in a way that works for me and my family have also afforded me the opportunity of quality time away from work and the ability to juggle once I’m back without the need to consider slowing down my career or my ambitions.
What do you think the procurement industry as a whole needs to improve upon?
We are still very much on a journey to be seen as more than PO processors, contract signers and budget stealers and I think that’s ok because we are making steady progress.
But organisations need to consider the key performance indicators and objectives flown down to procurement and where procurement sits from a C-suite perspective in order to maximise visibility/reach/opportunity to be seen as equal business partners.
I think we ourselves also need to lean more into being seen as just robust, well-rounded business people who are putting the business needs, strategy and growth first just like our business unit stakeholders.
Let’s soften the barriers between us and our business stakeholders, let’s speak the same language, let’s show we understand the business and then let’s show the sharp skillset we bring to the table and the things we are better positioned to focus on and provide a steer on.
What advice would you give someone who is embarking on a Procurement career?
- Get in front of your business stakeholders, listen actively, and put them first
- Don’t use jargon
- Ask lots of questions
- Pay attention to the detail
- Get involved with your colleagues to see the end-to-end view; learn about other categories/disciplines within procurement
- Be resilient!
Procurement is a fantastic career choice; you never get bored as it is so multi-faceted and requires such a broad range of skills.
So think about that when you go about your day and make sure you build a strong development plan to support you.
Lastly, get yourself sponsored for CIPS as the time invested will be rewarded as you learn and build yourself a strong toolkit and ultimately grow your confidence and credibility.
What are your biggest achievements in your procurement career so far?
I think I’m better at seeing the day-to-day wins; a really well-executed negotiation, a breakthrough with a stakeholder, an energising workshop that brings people together, a paper that lands well, an insightful one-to-one with a team member.
I enjoy having a little fist in the air and head bob about it at the end of the day!
In terms of big wins and achievements I honestly don’t know what I would point to (I think I’ve been brave about shouting out a few throughout this piece to be fair!).
From a personal perspective, I’m proud to have built a thriving career off the back of that very first job in procurement where I still didn’t have a clue what procurement was on day one of the job.
From a more professional perspective, I’d like to think that I work hard, am a reliable colleague, support others wherever I can and always try to have open and honest conversations with my stakeholders.
As such, I think I’ve built a decent reputation as a strong, resilient, no-nonsense procurement partner who achieves results. As achievements go, if I’ve managed to help others and be a steady presence, with the day-to-day wins thrown in, then I think I’m achieving in the ways that matter to me and others.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
What is spare time again? …
We are 13 months (and counting) into a big ‘home under the hammer’-type renovation project which I am project managing beautifully whilst my husband executes my million and one requests diligently.
Outside of that, work and mummy life, I haven’t had much chance to carve out time to get back to any of my pre-Covid/pre-baby hobbies such as running or daytime cocktails with the girls, but let’s see if I can do better in 2023!