Procurement delivered savings of £118m for the London 2012 Olympics © PA Archive/PA Images
Procurement delivered savings of £118m for the London 2012 Olympics © PA Archive/PA Images

How I built winning procurement team for London 2012 Olympics

Working in purchasing for the London 2012 Olympics meant a temporary position, uncompetitive salary and a lot of stress. So how did procurement boss Gerry Walsh attract the right talent?

Speaking at an event, Walsh revealed how he had overcome these obstacles by selling recruits a vision and offering valuable career development. 

Organisations don’t have to recruit simply based on money, said Walsh, then procurement director at LOCOG, the company responsible for organising both the Olympic and Paralympic games.

“You have to sell them a vision, your strategy and have them feeling, ‘Wow, I want to be part of this’,” he said.

Walsh, now CIPS interim CEO, told a CIPS Passion for Procurement event hosted by Bristol University of the challenges he faced hiring buyers for London 2012.

LOCOG was a temporary organisation, and the procurement jobs would only be in existence for a number of years. “Who wants to give up a full time job and move into a temporary organisation?” said Walsh. On top of this the salary offered wasn’t most competitive and the job was very high stress, not least because of the constant media attention.

Some of the tools Walsh used to attract talent were about selling the vision, he said. “We talked about the games, the fact that sustainability and inclusion was going to be part of what we did. That attracted lots of people who said, ‘Wow, we’ve never heard anybody in procurement talk about that with such passion ever before’.”

A star-studded office, including athletes Seb Coe, Jonathan Edwards, Lizzie Armitstead (now Deignan) and Dragon’s Den investor Deborah Meaden, offered glamour. “We set up a purchasing conference before the games and all of those people presented – I mean no other procurement group could ever imagine being involved in that kind of event,” said Walsh.

Training and personal development was also a big draw. Especially when hiring for roles that are to be made redundant, Walsh said managers need to know what they are going to do with their team at the end. “It wasn’t just about doing a good job, it was about developing and becoming a better procurement person during the course of that journey.”

The training was very personal to each individual’s role, said Walsh, and focused on giving employees exposure to the categories they were buying for. Buyers were sent to spend time with sports teams, venues and other events, such as the Chelsea Flower Show, to see how they were being delivered.

“I fundamentally disagree that [sector knowledge] should be the issue that it actually is,” said Walsh, who puts a higher value on knowledge of procurement processes. His hires for the Olympics didn’t necessarily have category knowledge, but were trained very quickly, he said.

Exposing buyers to new categories, and giving them different responsibilities through their time with LOCOG, helped with development and meant they were constantly learning. Walsh said not a single procurement person left the organisation before the launch of the games.

Procurement delivered £118m of savings on a total spend of £2.38bn. “Without procurement we wouldn’t have made a profit and everybody recognised the role that procurement played,” said Walsh.

The savings helped fill any budgeting gaps and allowed LOCOG to spend more on certain areas. “The opening ceremony for the London Games for example started off with a budget of £10m, it ended up with a budget of £40m,” said Walsh.

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