Jeremy Smith is Managing Director and Managing Partner of 4C Associates.
I guess personally the biggest change, personally, is that I was recently promoted to Managing Director.
That has been interesting, in a good way. There has been a bit of change, not a huge amount, but we have used it to take stock and look at what was going well and what needed to change.
We have done that and we have a plan, almost a transformation programme of our own, to take the good stuff and change the things that could be better.
That has been good.
We last spoke in deepest darkest Covid, so a lot has changed since then, in general in both the consultancy world and in procurement.
Procurement has got a presence now that it probably didn’t use to have, or at least an acknowledgement now from those who used to see it as more bureaucratic and tactical, they have now realised there is a lot of value to be added which is great for the industry, but I still think there is more that could be done.
Consultancy has changed quite a lot if I am honest. I wouldn’t say it has turned up on its head but the whole bums on seats, always on your clients’ site, clients have now realised it is about deliverables, it is about outcomes, they trust you more and there is less room in office blocks now so they don’t want consultants filling it, they want their own staff filling it.
It is now going once or twice a week as opposed to bums on seats which is great, it is great for the staff but you still have to be there to get results and the delivery, but just not so much physically having to be there.
Is this good for unlocking a new talent pool that perhaps wouldn’t consider management consultancy before?
Yes, to an extent, it comes with its pros and cons, so yes it absolutely does because the travel requirement used to put people off so it has opened that up somewhat.
But the great unknown is still what are clients going to need going forward, there is no sign at the moment but I do see some other consultancies going a bit more 3-4-5 but most of ours are more let’s see you once a week and that means you can do the rest of the work from wherever.
So yes, but there is still the unknown of what do clients want. As soon as clients start saying they do want people back in, maybe the people who joined with an expectation of travelling once a week will then have to travel two or three times a week.
We will see, it is certainly not in 4C’s control or any other consultancies’ control. You are right though, it has opened up new demographics and pools of talent.
As a procurement leader who specialises in change management, among other things, how much have the fast-moving and numerous global situations impacted delivery would you say?
Most of it is related to that lack of need to be on-site.
We probably knew before Covid that you didn’t need to be on site. It was better because of the relationships but you didn’t need it.
Because of that, you can do global projects a lot easier.
It depends, if you’re in Europe. Yes we are in a similar timezone, so that makes it easier, but we have a lot of clients in the far east and a growing number of clients in the US and you can do it short term because people are a lot more tolerant of that remoteness but at the end of the day it is still a relationship game.
It has changed though, but I think it was always an output-driven thing for us. We have always been outcome driven but I think people now realise it doesn’t have to be in-person as much and it has worked out better for all.
It has worked out better for the client, it has worked out better for us and they get a more efficient delivery which lowers their costs and just makes it a more inclusive delivery approach as well because you can engage a lot more broadly, as opposed to waiting to get eight people in a room. People now just acknowledge the hybrid way.
Last year 4C was recognised by the late Queen for its work delivering PPE equipment during the pandemic, do you think procurement’s heightened profile as a result of the pandemic will endure?
Yes. I’m going to broaden it from procurement and say supply chain.
Supply chain’s heightened presence will endure because it wasn’t just Covid there was the Suez Canal, and Brexit, there were many things we have all lived through, and we have now got inflation and the war in Ukraine.
There are so many things that we are living through, just now, and we are just adapting and you become so much more aware of the interdependency between buyer and supplier and not just supplier at tier one, all the way down.
Covid really brought that home to a lot of people, consultants like us banging on about them really needing to understand below their first tier and all of a sudden all it took was one small supplier in a remote part of the world to have a cash constraint and the whole supply chain came crumbling down and no one was able to resolve it.
People realised that was a consequence of Covid. People have realised the dependency we have on each other, and that is for the better.
Who better placed than procurement and supply chain to facilitate and optimise that I think that is something that will endure.
There are many other issues that have still come to fruition from that period of time, that we need to get our heads around.
There are also still organisations where procurement is seen as administrative rather than strategic.
The pros and cons of this are that you are having the unravelling of some of the things that went on in an emergency, in relation to PPE sourcing, in a tough situation for the government, that you look back on now with a procurement hat on and think, wow I bet you wouldn’t have done that if you had a bit more time.
It is good in some ways that people are talking about these things and Procurement, mostly in the positive, but also in the negative.Around how could it be improved and that wasn’t happening before.
4C recently became a corporate partner of Springboard, an organisation that gives disadvantaged children across Britain the skills needed to enter the leisure and tourism sector.
How important is equality, diversity and inclusion to 4C and what role does procurement play in the organisation’s ED&I journey?
We actually cycled to Qatar and back, for Springboard!
The team managed it with one day to spare! Some of the team were doing over a hundred miles a day to make sure we made it so a shout out to our team who managed it and raise thousands of pounds for Springboard.
ED&I is very, very important. The power of procurement is bringing people together because we are so central in the organisations as you are talking to suppliers, supply chain, buying, procurement, legal, finance, and whatever business unit you are engaging with, and you are doing it globally.
So, procurement is that glue, and I don’t think a lot of people outside of procurement realise quite how integral and how joined up they are.
That is one of the great things about being involved in procurement and supply.
Because of that, you engage with a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds and places.
A lot of the time when you are going through some tough periods you wish that people had the same opinion, and you could get a quick decision, but the reality is lots of different views from different backgrounds gets a better eventual outcome.
That is the great thing about procurement. The question though, is procurement doing that particularly well? No. Not because it is doing badly compared to other functions but because we are all starting this journey from the beginning. It is not that we are holding anything back it is that we are starting from a place that you wouldn’t rather start from.
There are lots of different angles to ED&I and let’s just take gender as one of them.
It is still, historically, quite a male-dominated industry, you then apply consultancy on top and consultancy is also, though reducing, quite male-dominated as well.
You look at our stats at 4C, we are pretty good across the company, but we are not good at all grades, we are getting better and it is something we are working on.
But if you look at procurement in general, again not good but getting better so I think it is very important to do and I think it is important that procurement takes a lead as they are this glue that holds the departments together.
We are doing lots of things, we are looking at an application tracking system, we look at the statistics – is there unconscious bias?
Fortunately, so far there isn’t. We had some training on it last year, and it is amazing some of the things you don’t realise you do. Everybody does it to an extent. We are using data from that, we have got the Armed Forces covenant to try and bring people in from different routes. We have apprenticeships. We are not just going to redbrick universities. We have had some huge successes straight from school and we are broadening this demographic.
We are doing lots of things, we are trying our best and broadening from there.
The reason we are trying to do it is that we are putting people in these procurement teams and helping these procurement functions so we have got to demonstrate its value, breadth and diversity so procurement then takes it into those organisations.
What does your new role as Managing Director entail?
At its base level, I was heading up the private sector before so I have just gained overseeing of the public sector as well, but in reality, I was a bit surprised, the role is different, it really is.
I spend a lot more time dealing with strategy and the direction of the organisation.
I say strategy with a small ‘s’ here as my predecessor is still here, he is now in the 4C group CEO role which is where all the other companies the group has acquired sit, and he is looking at the acquisitions and integration going on there. He still does the overall strategy but I am now working on how we embed it and make sure all the values we believe in run through the organisation.
I thought, it is leading by example, which of course it is, but it is a lot harder than that.
So, we revisited our strategy, we have double-checked our vision and mission, we have tweaked our operating model, we have moved some deck chairs around and all in all so far so good.
I am only four months in and there is an energy around the place and that has been reflected in what we are doing in the marketplace as well.
I’ve mentioned we are going global, so it is a new focus, reinvigoration and a lot of learning on my part as we go, but I have a good team around me so that helps!
What do you see as some of the procurement trends in the consultancy space over the next 5 years?
So this year has been a bit different, there has been a lot more contingent labour supplementation, team augmentation, that we have done, and we don’t normally do that.
They come to us and say ‘can we have another two or three people to augment our team’ either on a category focus or on a regional focus to supplement our team. We have done a lot more than we normally do. Going back 10 years we did a lot of it but we moved away from that to be more strategic, cost optimisation, and function transformation focused, and we are still doing that but there is a lot of that augmentation.
I don’t think that is going to continue, I think we are going to go more into a view of end-to-end transformation and transparency because people have realised that procurement is not buying/sourcing, it is wider than that, and it is how procurement fits within the organisation and delivers incremental value.
You hear Procurement Business Partners mentioned a lot and I think it is going in that direction.
So, how does 4C fit, well organisations are almost trying to do what we’ve been doing for years
They are embedding themselves between the function and the business and being the glue that can integrate it into day-to-day delivery.
If they just go purely from a making things cheaper view it doesn’t get anyone out of bed in the morning. What they do get out of bed for is to make things better, and have a bigger impact, yes there is a monetary value to it, but these days it’s about more. Delivering greater impact on society and that’s how we are positioning 4C going forwards.
We do quite a lot of work in social housing, for instance, we are helping people have roofs over their heads. That gets you out of bed in the morning.
That is what the business wants, the business is spending money to do better, and that cascades through their organisation and sometimes that cascade blinkers people as to how they should spend their money better and that is where we come in, to a superpower that greater impact.
I think that is where it is going to go, that business partnering, it is already being rolled out but it allows procurement to embed themselves into the business and deliver that impact in a measurable way.
That is what we want to do and I like to believe that is what will happen.
Where do you see the major growth areas for you next year?
We have focused on the public sector and in the private sector it is consumer and retail and life sciences we do of course do other areas we have worked in pretty much everything while I have been here but those are the areas in we have a genuine niche versus our competitors and therefore the market comes to us as well as we go to it.
Now those areas are mature in general but as an example, I’ll illustrate the changes we are helping organisations with. Take consumer. People still have to buy things, but are they going to be buying from all the current people they buy from now? Will they buy the same products, with the same ethics and value proposition. No. It’s changing in front of our eyes and the supply chains need to be agile enough to adapt as those that don’t will not survive.
Buying behaviours are reverting back to what it was pre-Covid and that is less online.
It won’t go all the way back but people are starting to unravel what they have in place. There is certainly work to be done to help those supply chains survive.
We are looking more overseas, from the US, to Europe, we used to have a decent footprint there, covid distracted us from it but we are reinvigorating Europe.
We are sticking to the strategy of those areas. We may add one more. In areas we have creds and capability, and a defined niche, that if the market says do you know what you’re on about we can respond positively…Yes, we do! As opposed to what we know about procurement, so let us try, as other consultancies have been known to do in the past. We actually know your market, we know your sector, and we know what your competitors are doing.
We will grow a couple of those but most of our focus is now geographical.