For our latest Talent Spotlight, we feature Andrew F. Smith, who spoke to us about his recent roles outside the UK and how his background in procurement helped prepare him for these challenges.
Andrew’s career started in supply chain and M&A roles in Unipart Group, before moving to Royal Mail where he was part of the procurement leadership team that transformed the function, achieving CIPS Gold accreditation in the process.
From there he moved to Avis Budget Group, where he established a global procurement and supply chain function before becoming General Manager/Managing Director for Avis Budget’s car rental and mobility businesses in Denmark and Sweden, from where he has just returned.
Collaboration and stakeholder engagement are much-used terms within procurement teams. How are these skills useful and applied in wider roles?
I think collaboration is key for all functions across companies, especially in global organisations that often have matrix structures.
But I think procurement leaders are often particularly skilled in this area; since it is often imperative to bring together different departments and stakeholders, for example, to agree on a specification or select a supplier.
I found that drawing on these skills developed in procurement roles was particularly useful when taking over a business that was underperforming.
Many functions were pointing fingers at each other and I had to establish a clear view of what was really going on and holding back performance.
Getting different stakeholders in a room and running workshops and sessions helped us get to a common view of what was going wrong, and what we all needed to do to jointly build a plan for success going forwards.
Central to collaboration is effective listening and hearing other points of view, which I think procurement professionals are very adept at.
The Covid pandemic had a big impact on the industry you were working in at the time, how did your procurement and supply chain background help you during this period?
The pandemic had a huge impact on many industries; in our case, our revenues dropped by around 40% almost overnight, plus our supply chain dramatically contracted as borders were closed and inventories dried up.
The immediate priority was to balance supply with demand, including using procurement and supply chain skills to identify and quickly form relationships with some new suppliers who did have stock and availability, which was made even more difficult by the travel restrictions which meant that much of this needed to happen virtually.
Also key was demand planning, matching our purchasing plans with the ever-changing demand situation.
Another priority was to attempt to match the costs of the organisation to the reduced revenues, which meant reorganising staffing, property and other costs to fit to the reduced income.
However, I think procurement professionals are often quite used to being in a crisis situation and can have a calmer head than others.
I think we also often have a leaning towards using facts and data, rather than being guided by emotions alone.
So, while of course, the pandemic was unlike anything that has been seen in recent times, I firmly believe that having a procurement background and being used to managing crises really helped during this challenging period.
What is it that you think makes procurement and supply chain professionals good problem solvers?
Most procurement and supply chain professionals are adept at keeping an open mind.
This isn’t always the case with other functions; we can all become conditioned to accept the current state as the only option.
Many suppliers also work hard to convince their stakeholders that this is the case; that any change represents a huge risk that is not worth taking!
Good procurement and supply chain professionals are always keeping an active watch on the marketplace, looking at what other companies are doing and alternative options.
We are normally ready to promote or try something new.
Working in the right organisation, this can be a very powerful set of traits.
Not only are procurement and supply chain professionals often quite methodical and are champions of change, but we often also have developed skills around change management, since these are required, for example, to introduce and onboard new suppliers of a product or a service.
Change management can often be underestimated and poorly applied in many organisations so these skills are highly valued and can easily be applied across many different roles.
How did your procurement background help you in a role based outside the UK?
Procurement professionals often have experience in working with different types of people, cultures and organisations, based around the world.
In my case, this, alongside the collaboration skills mentioned earlier, really helped me when taking on my General Manager/Managing Director role since I needed to quickly grasp different cultures and alternative ways of getting things done.
I was responsible for businesses in both Denmark and Sweden where the cultures were really quite different, so being able to understand and work in different environments was crucial for success.
It wasn’t always easy and I had to regularly remind myself which group I was working, which is easier said than done on a day when you have back-to-back meetings with both Danes and Swedes!
Andrew returned to the UK from Denmark at the start of April and is available for new permanent and/or interim opportunities. For a conversation about engaging Andrew’s services, contact Rupert Gaster via 01962 869838.