Bekki Andreou, category manager at utility firm British Gas, picked up the Future Leader Award at the 2016 World Procurement Awards and she talks to Procurement Leaders about her journey into the function, what the award win means to her and what challenges she thinks the function will face.
Procurement Leaders (PL): How did you get into procurement?
Bekki Andreou (BA): My journey into procurement started when I was a student at Hull University studying a degree in supply chain management and logistics. As part of my studies I did two modules on procurement and that was where my interest in working within the function began. As part of my studies I had the opportunity to do an industrial placement with the energy supplier British Gas, where I was able to get experience of purchasing both on the direct and indirect side.
That placement was 14 months long and I worked in many different parts of the function. I spent six months in the metering and marketing team and a further eight months in the services category. While this gave me experience of what it would be like to work in the function I was also able to meet and develop relationships with suppliers and other stakeholders as well as the chance to learn how to network and engage with them.
Following on from that, my final year of university saw me get involved with the IBM Business Challenge. Here you are given theoretical funds to run a business and there are activities and events to give people practical experiences of working at corporate organisations and experience the challenges this brings
Once I had finished university I went back to procurement at British Gas full time as part of its ‘unofficial’ graduate scheme as it was then. They hired two people straight from university, me being one of them, and they gave us dedicated training in terms of how to be the procurement professional they were looking for.
PL: What are the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career so far?
BA: Being younger within procurement can sometimes lead people to assume that you are less experienced. Far from being a hindrance this has actually pushed me out of my comfort zone and has helped me to develop an understanding of how I get my voice heard. You need to build a foundation of technical skills and trust with stakeholder alongside, but you also need the self-confidence to push yourself.
Another big challenge for me personally has always been balancing my work life with my personal life. It is only recently that I have started to try and strike the right balance between the two.
Through a number of different performance programmes, I’ve learnt how important separating your personal and work life is and that is something I am trying to instil in my own team too because I don’t want them working till 9 o’clock at night either. It’s all about making sure you’re in the best condition you can be day-in day-out and if you are working long hours day-after-day that is impossible to maintain.
I’ve also been lucky enough to get a place on the Springboard 7 programme, which is the elite performance programme that Centrica, the owners of British Gas, run. On this programme we work on self-awareness and building up resilience. We use a methodology called the ‘Performance Pie’, which is all about looking at our personality traits, breaking them down into different elements, looking at them individually and understanding how they make us tick.
Over the last six to eight months I’ve used what I have learnt here to change my lifestyle quite significantly and we have also been encouraged, as a group, to challenge ourselves. We went white water rafting, which was a fantastic experience; we went from a group of ladies who didn’t know each other to being able to paddle in synchronisation and all work together to get ourselves down the course, without anyone falling out.
For me the key is to keep challenging myself outside of my comfort zone.
PL: What in your mind are the challenges that the procurement function faces in the next couple of years?
BA: I think the biggest challenge for the function is bringing in new talent. When I went to university there were five logistics degrees of which only two modules were in procurement. It’s just not something that is currently taught in universities, but that has to change and we have to help.
Most people I speak to who work in procurement seem to have just fallen into it. I think it’s really important that we get our recruitment schemes right so we can start building the procurement professionals we want to see in the future.
For me it’s all about raising awareness and education in our young people. I don’t think we are seen as a ‘sexy’ industry, but once you get under the skin, you realise that it is actually an incredibly interesting job. There aren’t many roles where you get complete oversight of a business.
When I think of my job, one day I might be negotiating a healthcare contract and the next day I’m working with HR on how we might bring people into the business. There aren’t many jobs where you get that diversity and I’m very lucky to be in category where we are constantly innovating.
A good example of this is the healthcare solution we are currently investigating. We are looking at a proactive healthcare management solution, so rather than treating symptoms it’s about treating behaviour and proactively managing it before it manifests into anything more serious.
PL: You won the Future Leader Award at the 2016 World Procurement Awards, what are your thoughts on leadership and what qualities do you think determine a good leader?
BA: Everyone leads in a slightly different way and when I think about myself it’s about inspiring people and being authentic. I want my team to feel as if they can talk to me about anything but I also try and be the same person I am at home to the one I am at work.
Being a good communicator is also important and having an open door policy where people can come in and tell you their ideas is also essential.
Also, everyone who knows me knows I love to learn new things. So, for me, it is important to empower my team so that they can make their own decisions and know that they’re in a safe environment where their views will be trusted and supported. Being able to build trust and be trusted is vital but also empowering your team to make their own decisions.
PL: Looking at the future, what skills do you think will be in more demand from the function in the future?
BA: From my perspective it’s all about collaborating. At British Gas we try and uncover the insights that each individual can bring, what skills they can bring and how we can then work with other stakeholders to bring in more innovation.
We talk a lot about the importance of those softer skills and ask ourselves how we can bring people together, how we implement ideas and how we make sure that everyone who needs to talk to each other is doing so.
Leading projects and doing procurement well is a bi-product of stakeholder management, networking and ensuring that all stakeholders are getting what they need.
Softer skills are really important in the procurement world, but, saying that, we will always need those core procurement skills like negotiating.
PL: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
BA: I’m procurement through and through. I love procurement and I love the fact I’m doing something different every day. I love the fact that I can engage with so many people across the business and can see so many different innovative things happening. I’m very passionate about procurement and I’m very passionate about getting young people involved. In 10 years’ time, even 15 years, I will definitely still be in procurement.
PL: What do you think can be done to encourage more women to get into procurement?
BA: I think it’s really interesting because if you look at indirect categories it’s probably more of a 50/50 split between men and women, but if you look at directs or IT, it is more male dominated. I went along to the Procurement Leaders Women in Procurement dinner and that was really interesting. However, I’m not sure we need to focus just on women, it’s about promoting young people in general to come into the function.
People need to understand the flexibility that the function offers because it’s not a 9-5 world anymore, especially at British Gas. I think perhaps women don’t know about the flexibility that is on offer through the function. Whether they are male or female, it’s about making people aware of the benefits we offer and that the function is the perfect place for them.
For me it goes back to education. Educating everyone, not just women. Showing them the excitement behind what we do and catching them young, getting them moulded in to the procurement people we want.
This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.
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