Jamie Foster of McLaren – Lessons from a Senior Procurement Career

The keynote at eWorld last week came from Jamie Foster, Group Procurement Director at McLaren Technology Group, and previously Procurement Director for several years at Hitachi Rail Europe.

He used his experience from both of those roles and more in what was very much a “practitioner” presentation. It was not as “strategic” as some we have heard in this setting, but that made it probably more useful for most of the audience; there was a lot of common sense and grounded advice based on his real experience as a CPO.

We also liked the honesty; he said that at Hitachi, he realised he was trying to build a huge and complex wedding cake (cue picture of wedding cake!) when really his role was about providing the ingredients and the recipes for others in the business to make their own cakes – an effective analogy to support his very business-centric approach to procurement leadership.

So, he said, “procurement needs to be seen as a decision enabler not a decision maker”, and he gave this summary of how he tried to make sure the function succeeded:

  • Whatever we did had to be effective and followed through
  • We needed to be ahead of the business – not miles, just ahead
  • We needed to create value and be responsive to the business needs
  • We needed to be able to change when going through stages of development

Procurement must also ensure it is appropriate – so for example, you might not need the all singing, all dancing technology immediately; it is a journey, and as procurement maturity develops, different solutions and approaches can become more relevant. That is good advice – as we’ve said before, if you go into an organisation that is lower quartile in procurement terms, your “transformation” goal should be about getting to mid-point on the scale in a reasonable timescale, not about trying to become upper decile in two years’ flat.

Foster talked about various processes he introduced, such as linking category managers and the business on contract management issues.  Operational staff had to sign off that they were happy with the contract before category managers could hand over the responsibility.

He also spoke about KPIs and the fact that “astronauts can only focus on seven things at a time – so why do we have 100 KPIs?”  His tracking and reporting was based on four simple dashboards: covering a programme progress tracker, process management, risk management / market trends, and programme budget tracking.  His rule was that if more were wanted, then one of the existing would have to go - “one in, one out”.

He then moved onto McLaren “because it was cool”. Yup, most of us can see that … He put in place a 100 Day Plan, and once he got to grips with the pace and culture of the business he built a development plan for procurement that was presented to the business.

Understanding the business was key – there is a “need for speed in every sense”. In some areas, ensuring high quality was absolutely. In others, “speed to market” might be top of the list for stakeholders. Meanwhile, the “mad scientists” looking at longer-term futures for the firm want the supply chain to provide access to next generation technology.

Foster was interesting on people.  He is concerned that when recruiting new people, he too often finds interviewees are confrontational in terms of their approach to stakeholders. They want to apply “governance”, when he prefers to ask “does it matter?”  Sometimes it is better to help the business, even if the process is not as it should be, and suggest that next time they try a different approach. Don’t get hung up on occasional non-compliance.

So, at the end of a content-full session, this was his final advice (all of it good):

  • Keep it simple – don’t over complicate
  • Understand where the business is in its evolution
  • Don’t think procurement is the centre of the world – check where we are in the process
  • Stop chasing quick wins – they are just the first steps on a journey
  • Listen to your customer

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