Pat Condon - What I’ve learned, team building and mentors
Following on from part one of Banner’s interview with Pat Condon, Contracting and Compliance Manager at CPC, in B Procurement, below we find out how Pat ‘fell’ into procurement, his approach to managing a team and the people that have made all the difference to his career:
Falling into procurement
Pat explains that he, like many other senior procurement professionals, ‘fell’ into the role simply because: “back in the day (the 1980’s), there was no defined career path for procurement. It was usually known as buying. The job was perceived as ‘a bloke who sat in the corner’ looking studious. It was seen as a bit of a dark art.
“When I worked for a large print business in the West Midlands, I knew nothing about purchasing at first but soon picked up a few tips and I liked it. I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise at that age and was happily moving from one job to another. That changed when I moved to the College in 1993. They expected employees to undertake further study and gain qualifications, so I did my Level 4 HNC in Business and Finance before moving on to formal CIPS qualifications.”
“The college gave me the opportunity to widen the scope of the role and get involved in every facet of procurement, insurance and contracts. I oversaw procurement for numerous projects, including the usual areas such as IT, furniture, catering etc, but also some more interesting projects including; ships mission bridge and marine engineering simulation equipment. I was the central purchasing person and I worked hard to win people’s trust. I showed them the role wasn’t just about cutting costs but about delivering best value for them to assist in delivering the best curriculum for their learners. The FD knew I had oversight, that I’d checked the specifications for compliance before we went to market, and that the end result delivered value for the business.”
“My team here at CPC is absolutely superb, and relationships across the business are all-important. We’re too small for these not to work. When we have issues or concerns, we discuss them as a team and always come away from them with key learning points.
“You always know a team will be wary when a new manager comes along, but I made it clear on day one that I would always have their back and If anything goes wrong, I’ll take the hit. It’s important they trust me and know that I will stand up for them. I promised them training, support and development and the entire team has progressed in the time that I have been here. Having introduced a “grow your own” policy for procurement at the College through the apprenticeship route, I introduced this at CPC and we are now supporting 3 junior members of the contracting team to achieve professional qualifications. I strongly believe that if you invest in your team, giving them the skills and support to achieve, then the business will greatly benefit as a consequence of that investment.”
“I want everyone I work with to feel valued. CPC has a family feel about it and is a great place to work. I’m very interested in coaching, working with colleagues to give them the chance to do and be their best. I always knew the heart of this business was very good and hopefully the commercial acumen I’ve gained over the years and brought with me has benefited the business.”
“If anyone has a thorny problem to resolve, rather than me simply giving them the answer, I ask them to go away and think about the solution. This helps them to learn and grow and ultimately this empowers them.
“It’s really rewarding seeing the team develop and getting positive feedback from them and from our members.”
“As well as our grow your own policy, the team has undertaken a significant amount of training since I got here, from law and contracting to facilities management, Insurance, M&E and EU procurement regulations. We’ve increased people’s knowledge. I’m a great believer that whatever’s in your head shouldn’t stay there, it should be shared. I want everyone to have the same knowledge at the same time. It’s important everyone knows they’re valued and there are no barriers to bringing good ideas to the business. If anyone thinks they know a better way, they can tell us, and we’ll action it.”
Although Pat encourages his team at CPC to study for professional qualifications, he knows they’re not compulsory for success: “There are probably plenty of people without CIPS qualifications doing a fantastic job. But I know studying gives you a greater strategic understanding and helps to improve your business communication skills. When I’m interviewing, I put MCIPS qualified or being prepared to study for MCIPS as a requirement because I know it will stand employees in great stead for their future. There is a shortage of procurement professionals in the UK, so if we equip the ones we do have, that can only be a good thing.
“I’d say the key skills for success in procurement are adaptability, attention to detail, commercial acumen, empathy, a desire to continuously learn and a willingness to stick your head above the parapet. I’ve always volunteered to do things even if I didn’t know a lot about them. It’s another learning opportunity after all”
“I encourage the team to read around different subjects in a wider business context, to be commercial and understand the terminology that we deal with. It’s important to know about our marketplace and all the stakeholders we deal with.”
“I also like the team to get out of the office with colleagues from our sister company Tenet Education Services and meet members face to face in the colleges. They’ve said this is really useful as it’s helping them learn. I think you have to visit your customers and see your work come to life. It’s fantastic to see a new IT suite all set up thanks to our involvement in producing a framework contract for our members. The job involves much more than sitting at a desk all day.
Key turning points
“One of my key turning points was a manager telling me in my late 20’s that whatever career path I wanted to go down, to get it done and qualified by the age of 35. He believed you could build from there up into your early 50s. I was qualified by 35 and then I went up and up, so I think I really took that advice on board.
“If I was advising my younger self, I’d say get professionally qualified as soon as you can, and an apprenticeship in procurement may prove to be a great career path to choose as ultimately if you’re committed and able, the path to MCIPS can open up rapidly. I flitted from job to job with no idea what I wanted to do for about 12 years. It was only when I was 30 and working at the college that my career really started. If I had someone mentoring me at 20 it may have been different.
“I’ve probably got two mentors who stand out. My manager, Derek Lloyd in an envelope manufacturing plant, who made me do all my production calculations by hand. For a whole year he made me write everything on paper, even though there was a computer. I thought he was being evil in the extreme, but I realised later on he was teaching me about attention to detail (there was a lot of red pen used on my paperwork for a while). It’s held me in such good stead working with procurement documentation (especially EU regulations), contracts and legal work and dealing with insurance claims.
“My other mentor would be my former boss at the college, Anne Edington. When she was promoted to FD, she told me that I was in charge of procurement and to go away and do it. She gave me the freedom to grow and she’s the reason I’m here, doing this today.”