“I moved to Hong Kong in the early nineties, when it was the definition of a boomtown. People were taking a job on a Monday morning, and by lunchtime they would have a better one,” says Andrew Cannon-Brookes, global head of supply chain management at Standard Chartered Bank.
I had a quality inspector job, travelling around Chinese factories, before being asked to set up a new procurement team from scratch in China. I had no procurement experience, so it was in at the deep end.
I moved back to Singapore and started working for IBM, setting commodities sourcing strategies – everyone was interested in Asia. IBM moved me to China, doing high-volume, high-value procurement, supporting joint ventures, building an R&D lab. There was this great sense that anything was possible. After that, I moved to the US to run procurement for the ThinkPad brand.
A consultancy role took me back to Asia, and then I returned to the UK and joined the Ministry of Defence in a supply chain role, back to my engineering roots. I’m now in Singapore again.
In my career I’ve tended to jump at whatever opportunities are presented because that’s how you learn. Staying fresh is important – if you’re not trying new things you are not pushing yourself.
Living overseas, I see myself as a local, not an expat. Don’t try to be a Westerner in a foreign land. If you stay in the company headquarters I think you miss out on a lot of life. It’s not just the career; it’s the experience, learning about new cultures. A lot of leadership is transferable – selling your vision and setting clear goals – but it is different dealing with a group of 50-something Japanese men to a team of 23-year-old Brazilians. You have to adapt for the culture.
When you’re in the unknown, if you don’t know how to handle yourself you’ll be in trouble. You need to have core skills and capabilities. Integrity is key. You have to be squeaky clean as one wrong call could wreck a procurement career. It doesn’t matter how technically brilliant you are if you are not ethically sound.
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