Boohoo At The Procurement Summit – Procurement In An Entrepreneurial Environment

We told you a little here about the Procurement Summit on November 15th, a free-to-practitioners event held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. One of the speakers is Jo Watson, Head of Procurement and Facilities at Boohoo. She has been at the firm for three years, after a career including time at Arcadia and the Co-op group in different procurement roles.

Now if you are a 50-year-old bloke, you may never have heard of Boohoo. If you are a fashionable but value-conscious young woman, you will know them well.  As one of the leading online fashion retailers*, the business is now valued at over £1 billion, having seen their share price triple this year.

We caught up briefly this week with Jo to ask her about the session at the event, and it sounds like it will be fascinating. She works in a very different environment to most procurement professionals – yet we suspect she has some interesting comments and suggestions which are applicable more widely.

Boohoo was founded by entrepreneur Mahmud Kamani, wo still runs the business now it is a public company. This is not a situation where the CPO has to convince the CEO that procurement is important; Watson has almost the opposite problem, as she found when she became the first professional recruit on the “goods not for resale” side of the business.

“The owner told me that he still wanted to have the final say on all negotiations – even for stationery! He had been involved in every deal personally, because he did see it as so important”.

Watson has managed to develop a workable process with Mr Kamani, so we’ll get some interesting insight in Manchester on how to work with entrepreneurs or others in our businesses who do want to be heavily involved in procurement (and maybe believe that they are also the best negotiators in the business)!

She will also talk about the people aspects of building a procurement team; you have to get the right fit with the culture, which is even more important than technical ability. Stakeholder management capability is vital, which is in part the ability to stand up to and work successfully with very strong characters in the business.

But we’re also interested in what procurement generally can learn from successful entrepreneurs like Kamani. “Agility and flexibility are key – entrepreneurs don’t get bogged down in process”, Watson says. Of course part of her role is “protecting the business” as she puts it, but the environment is one where “we must never be scared of trying something new and failing. Entrepreneurs make mistakes but they pick themselves up and carry on”. That approach rubs off on her role and procurement in Boohoo.

Having just personally written several thousand words about “risk aversion in public sector procurement” for our Public Spend Forum website, that is a significant area for the profession generally. As business moves faster and faster, procurement has to be agile, take risks and keep up or we will be left behind and eventually forgotten. So understanding how the function can thrive in an environment like Boohoo may just be valuable for many of us in procurement.

You can book here for the event – see you in Manchester!

*Of course I haven’t just wasted 20 minutes looking at their online catalogue -  what do you think I am!

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