International Women’s Day is this week and to mark the occasion, I spoke to Fabienne Lesbros, chief procurement officer, at the Co-op about her career path, her passion for innovation and her top tips for women (and men) looking to succeed in the procurement industry.
Fabienne Lesbros, chief procurement officer, Co-op
What made you decide to work in procurement?
Like 90% of people, I fell into procurement by accident. I was working as an analyst for the Channel Tunnel project in the procurement department in a cross functional role with both planners and buyers. I came to realise just how procurement touches every function. I’m especially interested in linking external market information and bringing it back into an organisation to help it succeed. With the Channel Tunnel project the innovation aspect was really exciting as we were investing in tech that didn’t even exist at the time.
How did you land your current role and what was it that appealed to you about it?
I’ve been at the Co-op for 18 months, commuting from my home in Windsor every week. It was my network that led me to this opportunity. What really attracted me was that, at the time, the Co-op was in a rebuild phase with lots of change. I’m someone who likes to make things happen, add value and shape the business of the future. And of course, you can’t overlook the Co-op business model overall which is different, appealing and has a societal aspect. I was determined to help preserve an icon in the business world. In common with most of my colleagues I suppose I feel protective of the brand and have pride and a sense of ownership that drives me in the workplace.
What is the current make-up of your team and how would you encourage more women to consider a career in procurement?
My team is almost 40% female and as a business we are conscious of the benefit of diversity. I am personally very supportive of encouraging more women in procurement and I don’t feel there are enough at the moment. Primarily this is an education issue, as a profession we don’t have an acknowledged qualification path like law or medicine and most fall into the industry rather than really considering it at school. In school, no one tells you about procurement as a career! We are in a funny situation where we really need a step change, especially as procurement has the opportunity to make a much bigger impact in a business. It’s a paradox!
I wouldn’t say there are particular barriers for women but I think they have a lot of innate skills that would help them succeed. We are natural buyers for a start! Women do tend to do the majority of purchasing for the home, why not look at that as a career too? We are good at juggling competing tasks, planning and influencing others in a socially adept manner. Women generally are meticulous, which helps with the attention to detail the profession requires.
What steps are you/your company taking to redress gender pay inequality, in light of new legislation that requires larger companies to publish statistics on the gender pay gap?
We have been doing significant preparatory work to get ourselves ready to publish our Gender Pay Gap statistics. We are fully committed to meeting the legislative requirement of Gender Pay Gap Reporting.
What do you think has helped you to get to where you are in your career at the moment?
In the early stages in particular it’s important to stay with a company for some time and buy in as many different categories of products and services as you can. With a firm foundation it’s then time to change sectors and industries for more experience with a different aspect. When you come to more senior roles that breadth of exposure means you can have an opinion with credibility.
How would you explain your job to a 10 year old?
I buy products and services for a company that are the right quality, fit with the company’s purpose, with the right suppliers, for the right price.
What does a typical day look like and what makes for a good day in the office?
There’s no such thing as typical as you have to do a bit of everything. One minute you are a lawyer, a negotiator, then an influencer. You need a broad skill set that balances technical and behavioural skills. To an extent the technical skills are assumed - that you know how to source and buy - but the behavioural skills are becoming more and more important. This is a reflection of the world of work as a whole where strategy and influence are highly valued.
I have a lot of interaction with business leaders and need to keep abreast of a changing geographic and political landscape. Preparing for Brexit means we need to ensure our supply chain is safe and strong for the future and we stay competitive. And of course, I’m constantly liaising with suppliers.
What advice would you give to other, more junior women in the industry?
I would really encourage women to put themselves forward for things they have not already done. While a male candidate might see a role as a challenge and say “I’ll do it” even if they don’t have the exact experience, in my experience women tend to want to know they have every single skillset listed and so block themselves.
My advice is even if you go into a role with just 50-60% of the skills you will learn more and faster doing the job. So go for it!
What makes for a good day in the office?
A great day would be one where I discover some innovation that excites the business and helps it progress. Something they’ve not previously thought of that can help it go further. I love creativity and new things so this would be exciting for me.
Interview by Louise Gapp, partner and head of procurement division, Cedar.