Leaders in procurement, supply chain, and business more broadly, are facing a host of challenges. They include inflation, recession, insolvencies, geo-political issues, cyber-crime, and the risks posed by China’s continuing Covid-19 restrictions.
Ross Dawson, Partner in the Operations, Procurement and Supply Chain practice at Eton Bridge Partners, supports corporate and private equity-backed clients across a wide range of sectors.
She recently placed Tim Waters, an entrepreneur and ex Managing Director & European Supply Chain Practice Lead for Alvarez & Marsal, to advise and support a PE-backed pharma carve-out client.
Eton Bridge Partners has also placed Robert Copeland, a highly reputable interim procurement leader, having gained exceptional experience from working in procurement and supply chain for more than 25 years, most recently Group Procurement & Supply Chain Director at G4S.
Ross spoke with both Tim and Robert, and shares their illuminating advice for interims, boards and C-suite individuals in the current marketplace.
The role, and perception, of supply chain in Private Equity has changed in recent years
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures taken to combat it, corporate and PE-backed organisations have a new appreciation of the benefits of a well-run supply chain. As Tim says: “Macro-economics and global geo-political issues are continuing to push sourcing decisions – with more to come, I fear – along with the knock-on effects on logistics, cost-of-goods inflation and staffing problems caused by immigration policies.
“The exodus of UK manufacturing to Eastern Europe and China in the ‘90s and 2000s has left behind a talent shortage in the supply chain disciplines, meaning demand for skilled interim supply chain work is high.”
What are the key skills required to be successful as an interim hire in supply chain transformation?
It’s important that a business understands precisely what is required to transform its supply chain. Some organisations, says Tim, confuse the term “supply chain” with either purchasing or logistics. He adds: “I consider supply chain to cover new product introduction, sourcing, make vs buy, purchasing, manufacturing, warehousing and logistics and shipping, as well as service and all the IT required to propel today’s modern supply chain.
“In terms of personality traits, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Above all else, what clients look for is pragmatism and the ability to get stuff done using experience of what works well – and what doesn’t.”
Robert is equally compelling on the need to have the right personality for the task. He says: “Process is great and important, but PE execs are needing people to move diplomatically through the business sensitively and quickly – without leaving destruction around you.
“If you want to succeed, you have to read the room, understand the priorities of the PE fund, and know how to navigate through an environment that’s likely to be resistant or unaccustomed to change.”
It’s essential to start off on the right foot – the first 30 days are key to enabling change
Tim says: “It’s critical to make sure you’re tackling the right problem. Sometimes the client sees the symptoms, but doesn’t understand the problem. Do some basic analysis to ensure the root causes are understood and being fixed first.
“This should form the early days in any engagement. Talk to as many people as possible in the business, not just in supply chain. Use hard data to prove or disprove your theories, form a plan and execute it. If you’re not seeing some success inside your first 30 days, there’s something slowing you down.
“Change is normal where disruption or turmoil exists. Ensure you agree changes with your client sponsor, and keep records of decisions – email will suffice. Communicate, then communicate some more, to ensure every stakeholder understands where you’re coming from and moving to. Prioritise tasks as a team; you’ll gain buy-in by doing so.”
The three elements required to underpin a successful experience
Mindset is key to working in PE for a procurement specialist, says Robert. He outlines the three key attributes that are needed to deliver a positive outcome:
- Pace: “Timely and decisive outcomes are paramount, though it must not be a case of ‘movement masking as progress’. PE is not a place for the Court of Infinite Appeal!”
- Pragmatism: “In a fast-paced environment, the need for calculated and pragmatic decision-making is important. The bigger picture must not be lost at the expense of local politics and ego.”
- Delivery: “PE is about increasing value and accelerating outcomes. The need to deliver measurable and tangible results in an acquired business not historically used to change or pace can be challenging. But with the right blend of commercial credibility, leadership, emotional intelligence and a healthy dose of resilience, the desired outcomes are often within reach.”
Robert adds: “For a procurement professional without a large ego, but with a desire to make tangible business improvements, Private Equity can be a great place to work in, surrounded by exceptionally bright, hard-working and professional people.”
Knowing when to move on and how to network to expand your opportunities
Tim owns and runs a micro-brewery but wanted to keep his knowledge and experience relevant through taking on additional part-time roles as an interim supply chain practitioner. “Every business is different, and I enjoy the challenge of understanding the issues, developing solutions and delivering value. Eton Bridge Partners have facilitated this for me. One of the hardest things for me is to continue to maintain my network. When you’re super busy it’s always the thing that gets left out. This is why so many sole trader consultancies fail in the long term because it’s difficult to sell / network and deliver at the same time. If you’ve done a great job, your developing brand will help you in finding more work, it’s a small world.”
The timing of your departure should be decided by you, not the client. Tim says: “We’ve all worked in organisations where consultants, advisors or interims have stayed around too long, and in the end add little value. Don’t be that person. Try to do a great job and leave before you’re asked to. You will get more work through recommendation than trying to hold on for more work.”
Ross agrees with Tim’s point; your brand is key in finding future work and in Private Equity environments, the size of the fund makes a difference to your ability to network effectively with them. Naturally, it’s easier to network across smaller funds.
Regardless of size, or indeed ownership of organisation, to continue the relationship, nothing speaks louder than being recommended internally, in PE, by the Investment Directors and Operating Partners you’ve delivered for. Specifically in larger funds, if you can get introduced to Head of Portfolio Operations, that creates more opportunity on the basis that they have oversight over the whole portfolio.
At Eton Bridge Partners, as specialists in interim management solutions we are seeing more need for agility, pace, commerciality and influencing skills in a market characterised by multiple challenges and cost restraints.
The ability to stay focused on end goals while pivoting when necessary is more important than ever. Having the humility and flexibility to do that is critical for many of our clients.
A recent Harvard Business Review article said PE executives now pay less attention to track record and experience, and give more weight to soft skills such as team building, resilience and authenticity.
Willingness to deliver bad news quickly and honestly is essential. In a public company, sharing negative information is a delicate process because it can move the stock price; but in a PE company, real-time sharing takes precedence.
The need for pragmatism, authentic and intelligent communication, and delivery is constant – and we look forward to continuing to support our candidates and clients as we navigate the continuing market challenges.
For more information about Procurement, Operations & Supply Chain, get in touch with Ross.
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