“After university, I joined the Army, working in junior officer appointments in the UK, Germany and Cyprus. I’ve never learned as much about leadership as in those years,” says Vivienne Bracken, CPO of National Grid.
There’s nothing like leading people to learn about how to motivate and set a strategy. It gave me life skills that I’ve never lost. It’s why at National Grid we try to give our graduates leadership experience early on.
I joined National Grid on a three-month contract after the Army, and never looked back. I’ve worked in strategy, business development, M&A, joint ventures – commercial work with a strategic sense. I was chief of staff to the newly appointed CEO [Steve Holliday, who was CEO from 2007 until 2016]. That was like a practical MBA, helping him set out and execute his 100-day plan. I’ve also run the metering business in the UK – managing a P&L; led the project to restructure the UK business’s operating model; and spent time in the US leading a struggling shared service function to recovery.
What was the common thread that got me into procurement [coming in at CPO level]? My strong commercial background, having done lots of strategy work, being used to leading transformational change, and understanding how to get things done in National Grid. They were prepared to take a risk on me doing procurement. All my skills come together in one job.
Getting a range of experience and doing a strategy role is key. Think about working somewhere in the business so you get that external perspective of what it’s like dealing with procurement. That will give you so much more to offer, and make you a really good procurement professional.
Go for breadth of experience early in your career; you can go narrow later. If you only ever procure indirects in a large corporate, that’s all you will be able to do. A range of experience makes you a better leader – it teaches you to flex your style and approach to solving a problem. And it helps as you become a leader, as the higher up you go, the less operational you become.
If you like commercial and strategy, procurement is a great place to work because that’s what we do in microcosm every day. It really makes you think and you get the chance to put your money where your mouth is. Now I’m here, I often think what a fabulous place procurement is.”
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