“Great leaders need to focus on growth, agility, strategy, technology – it’s not rocket science”
“Great leaders need to focus on growth, agility, strategy, technology – it’s not rocket science”

Great leaders need to focus on growth, agility and strategy, says Johnson Matthey CPO

Rachael Legg is CPO at Johnson Matthey, a chemicals company using science to develop new technologies. Legg, who is responsible for £2.2bn of third-party expenditure, talks to SM about leadership and remaining goal-oriented through challenging times

You led your team in a CIPS award-winning procurement transformation last year. As a leader, what’s your approach to ensuring project success?
It’s really about understanding the context within which you’re setting out your functional vision and strategy – what the business strategy is and what it’s trying to achieve. Yes, the company vision is the long-ranging aspiration, but then what is within the strategic horizon? Fortunately, Johnson Matthey (JM) was very clear about what it wants to achieve around its science, its customers – operationally speaking – and our people.

Building on that, do you have any goals or exciting projects in development for this year?
Well, we’re about to celebrate our first £100m value delivery goal. Procurement Excellence was the brainchild of Anna Manz, our former CFO, who built the case for procurement in JM. McKinsey at the time thought there was a base case of £50m, with a high saving opportunity at £80m. We’ve already delivered that – two years earlier than expected – so it’s a tremendous achievement for the team. And for me, I’m the sort of person who will use the platform I have to raise awareness and make an impact. The things that really matter to me are around equality, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs). That’s something I’m looking to taking a bigger role on within JM. Also, I want to broaden my board skills with my next non-executive director role in a more complex organisation where I can contribute my expertise.

Your work involves several areas of green industry, from renewable energies to low-emission steels. How does procurement support sustainability in the chemicals industry?
We have to be mindful and take the responsibility for our supply chain, selecting and influencing suppliers who share our values. I think people need to educate themselves as to what is responsible sourcing and sustainability, generally, because I find that some people don’t necessarily understand it. Or they don’t understand it in the context of their own business, so they need to work out what it actually means for their supply chains and their value chains. It’s difficult getting the agenda moving because it’s working the hard yards. Not everybody in the business might understand it so you’ve got to provide something where they can go, ‘Aha, I can see the contribution that’s making’.

What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of a successful leader?
The bar for effective leadership is high! For leaders introducing large-scale change and transformation, they need organisational agility, a growth mindset, and to show significant understanding of strategy, people, processes, systems and new technologies. Then there are soft skills. But when pulled in many directions, leaders also need to find ways to create downtime and build personal reserves, making time for their own and their teams’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing to be successful.

And what about the traits of successful women?
To all the aspiring women leaders out there, it’s important to recognise any social conditioning holding you back and focus on having a ‘successful mindset’. This means knowing you have an equal right to share your thoughts, ideas and opinions, and get comfortable sharing an idea even if it’s not totally thought through – you’re short-changing your business if you don’t speak up and share these. Stepping out of your comfort zone will help you grow – it’s ok to feel the ‘fear’, but do it anyway, and recognise that challenge and disagreements are part of creative discussions. Also, that there are times when being direct and using self-promotion are appropriate – know what you want and tell people; your work won’t speak for itself, so find a way to share your successes in a way that is helpful to others.

During your career you’ve worked in a variety of industries. Has this helped you on your journey to becoming a CPO?
I’ve always been curious to learn and experience new things. I think a lot of people aspire to the CPO role, certainly in the earlier years – everyone wants progression, right? I probably was focused on the job title, the salary, the typical things people measure themselves on to be successful. But very quickly I realised if I let go of that a bit, I could open myself up to other opportunities. To develop as a professional, I sought out roles across the disciplines procurement and supply chain had to offer. These included the breadth and depth of numerous direct and indirect categories; procurement operations; supply chain and manufacturing, as well as the nature of the organisations themselves. I was doing it automatically because I could see those opportunities and the gaps I needed to fill to gain the new experiences. But then I realised that I needed to do this consciously to develop.

Since March 2020 we’ve all struggled – with team bonding, motivation, virtual fatigue etc. How have you managed this and helped your team to thrive?
Many of us maybe took our ‘in office’ habits straight online as we all went virtual, but we need to think about how we can work differently. It’s about knowing your people and finding mechanisms to understand where they’re at – at any point in time. There must be reasons why some people are not stepping forward or contributing more so we’ve got to understand what it is that’s holding them back. We’ve got to make sure we think of this at an individual person basis, because we’re all different. One of the things I want to do more with the team is asynchronous working. When you’ve got global teams or people whose home life is getting in the way of them being able to work regular hours, they might need to find different ways of collaborating. With asynchronous working, you put work in a shared area where people can go to that same place and work on it in their own time to create concurrent output. We need more of that.

For yourself, what would you say you’ve taken away from the challenges of this last year?
Like many organisations, we transitioned online and had to establish new ways of working, literally overnight. How people took care of each other really impressed on me the importance of strong company values, supporting our people and the business in tough times. We continue to develop our thinking on what the future of work looks like for us, and focus on supporting our people’s wellbeing during these challenging times. Relationships with our core suppliers were key in our business’s ability to react, respond and recover from the impact of Covid-19, from sudden shutdown to a ramp up with global supply chain challenges at different times in different locations across the globe. The key takeaway isn’t rocket science: never take your people or suppliers for granted. Nurture these relationships to enable them to step in and step up when your business needs them most. Double down on supply failure risk management. Reassess your scenario planning and build capability for future events – the work we had done before the pandemic enabled us to pivot quickly and respond to the globally changing business environment.

As well as being a CPO, you’re a board trustee at UK charity Pancreatic Cancer Action and are seeking a new non-executive role. How do you remain focused and what drives you?
Being clear about your purpose helps you focus your time and energy on what matters most. For me, I’m passionate about making a positive difference to the lives of others. Knowing your purpose and how you can best contribute creates energy and sustains you, especially in tough times. As board trustee at Pancreatic Cancer Action, I contribute my expertise to ensure the charity makes decisions in line with good practice and their governing document, ensuring its hard-won income is most effectively and properly invested. Like most people I speak with, I was ignorant of this disease, its symptoms and risk factors, but May 2019 changed all this with the loss of my father two weeks after diagnosis. If you do one thing from reading this article, it would be to visit www.pancreaticcanceraction.org to learn how to help protect yourself and your loved ones.

So, bearing all of these roles in mind, what do you do to relax?
I’m still working on this one… especially after 2020! Aside from spending time with the family, I am guilty, like many people, of being a couch potato and bingeing on a Netflix series or two. I’m human, at the end of the day. But if I’m honest, I’ve always struggled to fully switch off. It doesn’t impact me from a physical or mental wellbeing point of view, but I’m constantly thinking about things. I realised, actually, how valuable just getting outside and walking is to your mental wellbeing and allowing you to process stress. So I do try and go walking, even if it’s just getting outside in whatever nature you’ve got available.

What has been the single most memorable or useful piece of advice you’ve been given?
Be open to new and unexpected opportunities, and find a path that enables you to be your most authentic self. Being open to new opportunities helps you step out of your comfort zone and continue to grow professionally and personally, while being authentic means being true to yourself, your nature and beliefs. At different stages of my career (often in male-dominated environments), I’ve felt I’ve had to compromise to fit in and have previously been told to ‘be more like the men’, to ‘care less’ and ‘be more aggressive’. They’re not all as overt as these examples, but not being able to bring your whole self to work is exhausting and frankly a waste of productive energy. As leaders, managers and colleagues we need to create safe spaces for individuals to be authentic, bringing their whole self to work, and as individuals we need to be bolder taking that step forward – you never know, you just might be pleasantly surprised.

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