Fabienne Lesbros – A New Role and Thoughts on “Talent” from ProcureCon

A few months back, we featured Fabienne Lesbros in our "procurement provocateurs" series, when she was CPO at Britvic Drinks. She recently announced that she was moving to take up a similar position at the Co-operative Group, and she was also a participant in the recent ProcureCon Europe event in Berlin, so we caught up with her to kill two birds with one stone.

Congratulations on the new role - have you started yet?

Yes, I'm one month into it. It is the Co-operative group, not the Bank which is now largely separate, but a complex business including a major grocery retailer, a funeral business, an insurance company and so on. The total revenues are around £10 billion. My primary focus is "goods not for resale"  in terms of the retail business, but it is still quite a range of businesses and spend categories.

So how is procurement organised?

We work across all the businesses and functions. My role is to make sure procurement works as an extended arm of each business, helping them deliver their goals, and bringing innovation and information from the market. Procurement is quite centralised currently - we are working to see how we can be more integrated with the businesses and that structure will be reviewed in the next six to nine months.

Why did you move from Britvic - you seemed very happy there?

I was, but I had been there for six years and the Co-op is just a new, very different and interesting challenge. I like the fact that we are a member-based business, with a clear purpose of championing a better way of doing business for our members and the communities in which they live. In procurement we are spending money on behalf of those members! The Co-op also already has a real impact on local communities and we are excited by the opportunities for this positive impact to increase in the years ahead. For example there are interesting opportunities for us to increase our support for SME and local suppliers, which aligns perfectly with our brand and local community focus. So although the Co-operative movement has been around for almost 200 years, its motivations feel very contemporary and in line with the Millennial generation! It's exciting to be part of that.

Let's move on to your ProcureCon session - all about the “competition for talent” in world-class  procurement organisations.  Why did you want to speak on that topic?

It is an important subject - that's why it is always on the agenda at conferences! As the profession has developed, and business has recognised what procurement can do, there is more demand for top talent. A lot of us got into procurement by accident - however, we are now seeing more young people now who really want to do procurement. I think that will help, but we are in a transition phase as that talent comes through. So there is not enough supply still at the moment.

So what are the answers?

I think we have to develop our own teams - just poaching from others does not work. People move too quickly when that happens, and salaries can get out of line with their value. I expect a certain skill set, technical and soft, and I have been disappointed sometimes particularly on the soft side with people earning quite high salaries who have perhaps moved upwards too quickly without really developing the right skills.

What are you going to do about it at the Co-op?

We are tapping into the general graduate trainee scheme, and also plan to develop our own "procurement academy". That will be an attraction and help recruitment and retention, we believe. We will also seek people in the business who want to get into procurement and have the right approach.

What is the right approach - what do you look for in someone from another function perhaps?

I like to see some technical capability already - not procurement of course, but having other technical skills shows they can learn and have the discipline to master techniques - which I want them to do in procurement. Then I look for the soft skills; engagement, commerciality, people who can work in extended teams.

Procurement people should be people who one wants to work with, but also have the technical skills that add value to the business. And we still have a governance role - to make sure the business does not bring risk into the organisation from the supply markets. But with the right people, we can achieve that and also get to the point where business colleagues want procurement to be naturally involved in their activities and consider procurement people to be part of team overall.

Thanks to Fabienne and we wish her good luck in her new role!

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