An Evening with Paul Howard – New Zealand Defence Force Procurement Leader

On Friday we mentioned my evening with Paul Howard, previously a procurement executive in several UK central government organisations. Paul moved out to New Zealand in early 2015, and for the last 18 months has held the position of Director, Commercial Services for the New Zealand Defence Force – basically the top procurement / commercial man in that organisation.

Whilst the spend is obviously not comparable to UK military procurement in scale, we are still talking about a 10-digit annual third-party spend. And one interesting aspect of the role and the supply chain situation he faces is that it is surprisingly similar to those in the UK and facing other defence forces generally.

So for instance, because there are very few “home grown” suppliers of defence equipment or indeed the services around that equipment, Howard’s top suppliers are very familiar names – Lockheed Martin, Rolls-Royce and Babcock amongst them. The same issues of competition (or lack of) in certain markets  apply just as they do elsewhere in the defence sector. Given the global nature of the supply base, Howard travels often, and this trip includes London, the south coast to see suppliers, then he is off to Washington DC next week before returning home.

There are some differences though compared to the UK. I did ask the question that has puzzled me since Howard took the job – why exactly does New Zealand need a defence force at all? Who exactly is going to invade? Is it a revolt by the sheep or the penguins that concerns the populace? It is hard to see that Russia, China, (or the US for that matter) are going to bother given the remoteness of the country.  That is a serious issue, because it must play into the decisions about where to put resources. I guess no politician would want to take the risk of saying “we aren’t going to defend our country”!

Other common issues with the UK situation include a procurement skills shortage, and good people moving from permanent positions into the interim market because they can earn more there. Howard met with Crown Commercial Service and Cabinet Office in London to discuss their approach to talent and see if there are ideas he can apply at home.

There is also a debate that will sound very familiar to many of us here around how far centralisation of public sector procurement should go in New Zealand. Howard is pretty relaxed about this – as he says, he is more interested in planes and boats than stationery or temporary staff. But every government department there is truly independent, which is different from the situation here  – there is no concept of a single “civil service” in the country, which is perhaps surprising.

We also touched on how to make sure procurement people both face the market effectively and develop expertise in their particular spend categories but also put effort into managing the internal dimension and key “business” stakeholders. That’s a debate and issue that procurement leaders are no doubt having in every country around the world.

On a personal level, his family – wife and three kids – are enjoying life, but he says the aspect he misses most is live music. (That’s one reason we spent our evening last week at the Water Rats taking in some bands). Some of the big names do come to town – Ed Sheeran is in New Zealand next March (which didn’t seem to excite Paul for some reason), but it is not like London or Manchester where you can see a range of artists any day of the week. But the sport is good, and we did touch on the Lions rugby tour which is certainly demonstrating the strength of the country in that field.

Finally, Howard is looking for good procurement people to work in his team, whether that’s Kiwis who might like to return home or indeed Brits who might fancy a change of scenery. If you’re interested, I’m sure you can track him down on LinkedIn or elsewhere, or drop me an email if you want a direct link.

First Voice

  1. Paul Howard:

    Thanks Peter, just for clarification about why NZ needs a Defence Force, on top of the reason you’ve advanced it’s worth noting that our ocean patrol area is bigger than the entire continent of Europe and ranges from tropical waters to the Antarctic ice, we are a crucial part of global security and logistical support to our allies in this part of the world but our true value comes into play during natural disasters such as tropical cyclones or earthquakes (which tend to happen a lot here!).

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