“I’m an engineer by degree, but I always wanted to use those skills to do something commercial,” says Nick Welby, global business service director at Imperial Brands.
I did my year out placement in purchasing at Hewlett-Packard, then took a graduate job at BT, where I ended up in the purchasing function. I enjoyed that it dealt with the whole of the business: you could be talking to marketing in the morning, HR at lunch and sales in the afternoon.
I wanted global experience so left to join Toyota, living in Belgium. I’d encourage anyone to get that overseas experience. When I was at BAT later in my career, I commuted to Turkey each week to work on an acquisition. Managing multi-cultural teams in a different country teaches you to treat people as individuals, be humble and listen more than you talk. Dealing in Asia is different to the US, and Germany is different to Eastern Europe. It’s not one-size-fits-all and you have to experience that.
When you join Toyota, they teach you how to write. You go on a course that teaches you to get your message onto one sheet of A4. I still think about that. It has shaped a lot of my thinking in how to get things across. We live in a world where things are so fast-paced, juggling so much, you need to think about your key message, rather than hiding behind email. To talk for three hours is easy; to talk for three minutes is difficult. Selling the message is a big part of the CPO role: I call myself the CSO, as I’m selling procurement to the business.
In my current role, I look after IT as well, which I’ve not done before. But it’s about leading transformations and functions, which is transferable. Get good people around you and ask questions. Don’t be afraid if you don’t have the answers. Presenting to the board on something as technical as IT means keeping it simple, so sometimes not being a subject matter expert helps.
You need to own your career and develop yourself. Don’t wait for it to happen. I learned that at a young age, when I didn’t get the results I needed in my A-Levels due to spending too much time playing sport. That taught me the only person responsible for me was me, and to own that. There’s no point sitting and waiting for experience. You have to ask, even if the answer is sometimes no.
Get out from the corporate centre and experience life in a function or market. That means you can have those strategic conversations – you can run the back end of the process but if you haven’t understood the upfront bit, you’re chasing marginal gains.”
Other case studies
CPO, National Grid
Global head of supply chain management, Standard Chartered Bank
Adrian Cook FCIPS
Director of fresh foods, Sainsbury’s
Global VP procurement directs, Mars Wrigley
Melinda Johnson FCIPS
Commercial director, Department of Health and Social Care
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