“The whole world of retail is changing. We need to look at our product and make sure it is relevant. And what people want to buy,” says Beverley Tew ©David Woolfall
“The whole world of retail is changing. We need to look at our product and make sure it is relevant. And what people want to buy,” says Beverley Tew ©David Woolfall

Profile: Burberry's Beverley Tew

Beverley Tew, head of Burberry’s business transformation, is qualified in procurement and finance, which benefits both roles – and has helped her build her career based on passion and purpose

There’s a discreet door in Burberry’s reception area that leads to an exclusive and private waiting area for celebrities. The slick London headquarters of the luxury fashion designer has all the markings of a business steeped in glamour, with beautifully dressed employees and minimalist offices styled by the company’s former designer and CEO, Christopher Bailey, with an almost obsessive attention to appearance – even coloured Post-It Notes were banned at one point.

Now an established luxury brand, Burberry grew “very, very quickly” under Bailey, and the business infrastructure is now being transformed to fit the needs of a business that now has a £2.7bn global revenue, explains Beverley Tew, programme director for business transformation. 

Tew is a chartered accountant as well as a procurement professional, and it is this combination of expertise that equips her particularly well to oversee Burberry’s business transformation – and has helped her to craft her career around her passions.

Tew trained as an accountant with Ernst and Young, then took a finance role at the BBC, pursuing her passion for the media – which grew into a passion for the BBC, she says. “Public sector broadcasting is really important – I still check the BBC website first thing every morning.”

When Greg Dyke became director general in 2000, he brought procurement under the umbrella of the finance department, and Tew showed an interest in leading it. 

Implementing change

By the time she moved to Burberry 18 years later – pursuing another passion, this time for fashion – she was a fully-fledged procurement professional, a CIPS Fellow, had served on the CIPS board, and had a number of large scale procurement transformation successes under her belt, with outsourcing a particular specialism. 

She is clear about what procurement knowledge brings to accountants. “When you are tendering contracts you have to understand the services that you buy in and [procurement] really gets you into the heart of what an organisation does. It also gives you an operational understanding of how a business runs, in additional to financial understanding – which I think has helped me,” she says. “Because accountants are looking for growth in sales and reduction in costs, to really understand the levers behind some of those drivers makes you a better finance person.” 

Tew is overseeing a raft of projects that will help to deliver the £120m the company has committed to save over four years. A listed company since 2002, it’s a very public savings plan, with shareholders in the City watching to make sure it delivers. Two years in, it has saved £60m, she says. But it is not just about reducing costs. “Most importantly, it is about making the business a simpler place to work.” 

The projects cover indirect procurement, finance transformation, back office operation and design, and a “raft of projects around supply chain, and technology implementation projects to support all of this”, explains Tew. “They are all really big projects: they have budgets, milestone plans and their roadmaps to delivery.”

Her transformation task is to apply big project discipline to an organisation that is going through change but wasn’t necessarily experienced in managing change, she explains. “The challenge for Burberry is that there are so many things happening at one time and they all impact each other. We are putting in new technology platforms at the same time as relocating people and moving distribution centres from Hong Kong to Italy. We are renegotiating indirect procurement contracts, and having new suppliers.” 

Her first role was to set up the Burberry Business Service centre in Leeds – where it already has manufacturing facilities – moving finance, procurement, HR and customer services out of London, and ultimately reducing the property footprint there. “We were still operating accounts payable from prime Westminster estate, and not many businesses do that nowadays.” 

This involved finding a building, equipping it, making sure the technology worked, and by May this year, 350 staff members moved in to the Leeds office. “We had to go through our financial year-end and have our accounts audited with a whole new team in a whole new location. Did we have hairy moments on that journey, that process? Yes. Did we manage them tightly? Yes,” she says. 

When a project is in difficulty Tew works to understand the problems and helps the project team resolve the issues, whether that is resourcing, funding or working with other areas. “With all the discipline, monthly reporting and project management tools, we spot issues early,” she says. 

Tew reports to the COO. She has few reports of her own, but often works with third parties, having employed a large team from Accenture for the move to Leeds. “I work with virtual teams,” she says.  

Futureproof processes

The next phase of the transformation is looking at how the company works globally, and preparing for the future, using the savings so far to invest back into the business. “The whole world of retail is changing. We need to invest in the brand, reach our customers in a different way through digital, social media, Instagram. We need to look at our product and make sure it is relevant. And what people want to buy.”

Supply chains are a huge part of Burberry, and in the luxury sector it is about buying the best quality materials to make the product, and working with the most innovative, agile companies. A luxury experience now includes delivering the product quickly, she says. “The big delivery for supply chain is omnichannel.” That includes making sure they can get the product to the customers quickly and being clear about where the inventory is, she says. If a customer in China wants a product that has sold out there, it can be hard to weave through all the different trade compliancy issues of shipping stock from the US, especially if the systems aren’t talking to each other, she explains.

So part of the transformation is to simplify the network, reducing distribution centres – it has already moved its Hong Kong distribution centre to Italy – and look at selling direct from stores. “It is all about getting product to customers quickly.”

CPO Paul Bestford was brought in to modernise the company’s indirect procurement processes and bring best-in-class practices to indirect spend. “As well as corporate costs, such as insurance and electricity… this covers some important contracts that affect customer experience, such as courier contracts and packaging contracts,” she says.

Bestford will manage the introduction of a new purchase to pay system. “One of the core processes to get right is the contract with the suppliers,” says Tew. “For example, a courier service is really complex in a retail organisation. We have thousands of transactions that need to be invoiced and paid and checked.

“We are looking at how to make that simpler, talking to the supplier about how they can provide us with information and invoicing in the simplest way possible so we can understand the cost to run our business, and enable us to check what they are charging us and pay them in an efficient way.”

And will Burberry be taking over other suppliers as it did with small Italian leather handbag manufacturer CP&F, bringing expertise in-house? “No,” she says. “Leather is a specific area of focus for us. By taking over what is a small niche luxury company it makes the design process for future products quick and innovative – and unique.”

Brexit is an unknown. “Our biggest market is Asia,” she points out. “We make a lot of product in the UK, we have distribution in Italy… we are waiting to see what happens.” 

Importance of supply chain

The company has always manufactured its own trenchcoats – since they were made for soldiers in World War One, with “little hooks to attach the grenade, and reinforced shoulders to reduce kickback from the guns”. Cotton is sourced from South America, and the fabric is woven in a mill in Silsden in Yorkshire then made by hand in a factory in Castleford. 

“The cashmere scarves are ‘rinsed in the rivers of Scotland’,” says Tew, quoting the product description. “We are aiming to source 100% of our cotton through the Better Cotton Initiative by 2022 in line with our CSR ambitions,” she adds. These ambitions also look at ways to reduce waste, she says. “We have forged partnerships with organisations who are developing new approaches to using waste and trying to affect real system change.”

The company’s commitments in this area were put to the test this summer, when Burberry came under fire for burning unsold stock, a practice that is reported to be common amongst luxury brands. As well as immediately pointing out that it harnessed the energy produced, making the process environmentally friendly,  less than two months later the company announced it will no longer destroy unsaleable products, expanding its efforts to reuse, repair, donate or recycle unsaleable products.

Burberry sources its other clothes from third parties all over the world. “Fabric selection is an integral part of our look and design, and we work in partnership with our supply chain,” she says. The company is committed to transparency, which is reflected in its reporting policies.

The processes introduced through operational excellence will help the company to manage its continued growth. “We are famous for beautiful trenchcoats, cashmere scarves and the Burberry check. But luxury consumers want more than one or two heritage pieces in their wardrobe.”

So, is Tew finance first, procurement second? “It depends who I talk to,” she admits. “I will often tell a strategic supplier that I am a chartered accountant. Kind of like: don’t think you can baffle me with numbers because you won’t be able to.”

“Being good at numbers is a core skill,” she adds. “I would encourage people in procurement to have a grounding in finance.” She would also like to look at more robust finance skills, perhaps adding a module through CIPS.

As well as being transformation director at Burberry, she also works one day a week for the Cabinet Office, helping to manage strategic suppliers. “I look after two suppliers and make sure the government is leveraging itself as one organisation across many contracts and many departments.”

Her skills also allow her to indulge her extra-curricular interests by sitting on boards. “As I am an accountant and a procurement person, they get two for the price of one.” She was a trustee on the BBC Children in Need board, and is now involved in Plan International – another children’s charity – amongst others. “I do these roles because it is a great way of broadening your experience in areas you care about,” she says, and adds: “And I am on the BAFTA audit committee – because it is really glamorous.”  

Procurement lessons

Tew fell into procurement at the BBC, and found she enjoyed working in a commercial function. “My career grew and I acquired different areas,” she says. “It was a snowball effect.” She became CPO at the BBC and in 2010 was asked to run a large outsourced contract management role for TV licencing. They wanted to introduce online licence renewal. “We had to find an innovative web designer and solution to sit over a database of names and addresses.”

“We had a big contract to collect the TV licence with Capita but [the supplier] didn’t have the skills to build a really user-friendly, funky front end to a website. We chose a small web designer, and it was quite a journey– they had never taken on anything as big as this.

“We need to nurture SMEs, pay them on time or give better payment terms because they can’t cash-flow like the big companies. The rigour we put into the delivery of that project added a whole level of administration to what was already a small organisation trying to deliver something at scale.” With working groups and milestone reporting you can’t pull six web designers off a project for half a day to pull together a board paper on how they are doing, she says. “So we had to find a more agile way of working.”

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