All posts by Ian Holcroft

My Number One Procurement Career Tip – Be Connected

As you move forward with your career, remember it is not just about the number of connections you have – it is about the quality of your connections. As the old adage goes “ it is about who you know, rather than what you know”.


As the majority of us spend more time working from home in the “new normal” way of working, being connected is more important than ever.

Be connected with your peers from a cross section of industries

Being connected to your peers, not from just your industry but across sectors, is a great way to learn both current and future best practice. You can discuss key topics of the day and benchmark your procurement and supply chain maturity, both as an individual and as an organisation.

I have learnt so much from being a member of The Faculty Roundtable (whilst I lived in Australia) and the Procurious Roundtable (now that I am back in the UK). Not only through the top drawer guest speakers that come and share their knowledge, but through the connections I have made from being a member.

Making the time to attend these events is always a stretch, but the benefits massively outweigh the time required to catch up at work.

Investing the time to listen to the challenges and opportunities that others face, and discussing these in an open forum with your peers, can be truly enlightening. When you have had the fortune to share ideas with the likes of Paul Menzies, Len Blackmore, Naomi Lloyd, Andrew Ordish and Matthew Kay in Sydney or Matt Beddoe, Phil English, Bruce Morrison, Lauren Ferry, Chris Eccleston and Ross Mandiwall in London (or virtually), you know the power of a strong peer network. Learning from professionals with extensive experience in a vast array of industries provides a diversity of thought that helps you improve as a person and enhances your strategic thinking and knowledge.

Be connected and highly engaged with your own team

With an ever-increasing myriad of stakeholders to manage, it is imperative that you create enough time to manage your own team. Whether face to face, by Teams, Skype or Zoom, I try and create enough time for team meetings, one to ones and other connection opportunities.

Building great relationships with your team helps you to build a great team ethos, with everyone pulling in the same direction with no room for mavericks or terrorists. I always remember someone telling me that you need to spend 30% of your time with your people, listening, encouraging and developing them. And they were right.

Also remember it is important to connect with not only your direct reports. Over the last couple of years we have introduced a Procurement Development Group at Murphy. It enables the up-and-coming procurement team members to work on some key topics set by the procurement leadership team. The Procurement Development Group presents their recommendations to the senior team, giving them exposure to people they don’t often come into contact with. This opportunity has been really appreciated by our future leaders and can lead to accelerated career progression. Their work has produced some fantastic results for our organisation – so it has been a win–win for everyone involved.

Be a Mentor and Be Mentored

Mentoring, or being mentored, is another great way of keeping connected. I am big believer that having the right mentor can help with your career progression. Each of the key members of my team are either mentored by a Senior Director at Murphy or by a leading CPO, arranged by Procurious, from an external organisation – and the feedback I receive on this is so positive!

I enjoy mentoring people. I get as much out of the sessions as the mentees. It is great to get different views, hear other’s perspectives and see their careers flourish.

Never be too intimidated to ask someone to mentor you. After all, what is the worst they can say? “No”? And if they say yes, remember that it is you – the mentee – who needs to drive the relationship. As with everything, you only get out what you put in. 

Be connected – inside work and out

With the COVID-imposed increased isolation, we are all faced with the challenge of ensuring we are both physically and mentally healthy. A great way of taking your mind off the job is by doing something outside work that you really enjoy and involves interaction with others.

We all need to give something back to society. It provides such fulfilment. So whether it is charitable work or sport, get connected externally and make a difference.

My great passion, in addition to my family, is rugby. It has given me so many amazing experiences and memories over the years.  When I was asked to become Chairman at the Club I played at for 20 years, there was only one answer!

I am now in my second season. This opportunity has given me a host of new challenges and learning experiences, which I am thoroughly enjoying. It has also afforded me the chance to meet and work with some more amazing people, keeping me ever more connected.     

And finally…

As you move forward with your career, remember it is not just about the number of connections you have: it is about the quality of your connections. As the old adage goes “it is about who you know, rather than what you know”.

It is much more important to maximise the value you get from a few, quality connections and making sure you deliver value to your connections.

Join the Roundtable in the UK by contacting Helen Mackenzie at [email protected] or in Australia by contacting Sally Lansbury at [email protected]

Want To Succeed As A Global CPO? Don’t Be A Procurement Butterfly!

This is no time for procurement professionals, let alone global CPOs, to float above the action or flit from minor issue to minor issue. It’s time to keep learning and get involved. 


Ian Holcroft’s careercurrently Procurement Director at Murphy, has given him a unique perspective on the situation currently facing procurement. Here, he offers some personal and professional tips on what we can learn from the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

You are never too old to learn something new. Even in the best of times, there is no excuse you can make to ever stop learning. The minute you think you have learned everything is the minute you are no longer relevant. 

My career in procurement has spanned 30 years and taken me all over the world. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked on some fantastic projects:  

  • the new EDF nuclear power station at Hinkley;  
  • the redevelopment of Liverpool City Centre, now known as Liverpool ONE; and 
  • the building of the Commonwealth Games Stadium in Manchester and its subsequent re-modelling to become the Etihad Stadium, the home of Manchester City Football Club, to name but a few. 

I’ve set up new manufacturing facilities and supply chains in India, experienced life on the other side as an interim HR Director for 9 months and set up Laing O’Rourke’s procurement and supply chain function in Australia. I met some extremely wonderful and inspirational people on the way, many of whom will be friends for life. 

The capacity to learn is a gift 

My four years in Australia were wonderful and it was there that I was lucky enough to meet Tania Seary, founder of Procurious. I also became a member of The Faculty’s CPO Roundtable, something that I have continued with, via Procurious, in the UK.  

The Roundtable has proven itself time again to be an incredibly valuable resource to Global CPOs, facilitating discussion, sharing experiences and, most importantly, learning from one another. This learning has been valuable over the past two and a half years in my current role as Procurement Director of Murphy.  

Murphy is a leading family owned infrastructure business that operates in the power, rail, construction and utility sectors in the UK, Ireland and Canada. Due to the nature of the work we undertake, most of our projects in the UK have still been operational during the pandemic. It would be remiss of me not to share some of my own learning from the challenges forced upon us by COVID-19. 

To be honest, the current situation has reinforced many of my beliefs about our profession: 

1. You must treat your suppliers as partners  

One thing I have always believed and shared with my fellow CPOs is that developing close relationships with your supply chain is crucial to your overall success. Those relationships, the key, strategic ones, need to have a solid foundation of trust and then be built around the concept of ‘tough love’.  

As with any relationship, there will be plenty times where you must have the ‘difficult’ conversations with your suppliers. However, it’s always better to have these conversations with a supplier you have a long relationship with, know inside and out and have worked well with in the past. It’s also infinitely better than a ‘slash and burn’ strategy (adopt, use, discard), or a master-slave relationship, as at some point, inevitably, you will need your supply chain more than they need you. 

Supply partners will help keep you going in the toughest of times, frequently going above and beyond their duty to keep projects going. They appreciate the openness, the loyalty and even the tough love to build up a trusting relationship over the years.  

2. You, both as a function and an individual, must be relevant 

In the current global crisis, procurement has an amazing opportunity to show how relevant and crucial it is to the success and survival of all organisations. Global leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have publicly stated how the German Government is utilising procurement as a strategic weapon to fight COVID-19.  

I’ve told my fellow global CPOs that if we can’t make our function relevant now, we never will. How do you stay relevant? Stay close to your stakeholders and help them deliver their targets. You can’t prove relevance from the stands – you need to be on the pitch. Ask yourself, “How close am I to the real action that makes a tangible difference to my business?” 

I am currently embroiled in it, very much by choice! If you’re not, then maybe it’s time to move on and let the next player on the pitch. Unfortunately, there are still far too many ‘procurement butterflies’ floating around, getting involved with this and that, without delivering anything of substance or relevance. It’s time for leaders to stop flitting about and really get involved. 

3. Build a great team – then trust them to deliver 

I have been incredibly fortunate to develop and work with some great teams throughout my career. My current team at Murphy is no different. We have some great, young talent coming through, we have been awarded the CIPS Excellence Standard – it has been a pleasure to lead it. 

But your team will never truly achieve greatness, unless you trust them to deliver. With all the virtual tools and means of communication we have available to us now, even a global pandemic is no excuse for not staying in touch. Just look at Procurious gathering its global CPO leaders virtually to exchange ideas and still achieving the depth of information and experience as it would have face-to-face. 

The procurement team of the future won’t need to travel as much as we used to and working from home will become the new normal. But only as long as everyone in the team has clear outcomes to achieve and a leader who is willing to let them get on with it (though on hand for advice and encouragement as appropriate).  

Plus, there’s still the chance to get together (virtually) for the team building exercises too! 

4. It’s still all about people – so make sure you look after yours 

No matter the technological advancements we have now and into the future, people will still be at the centre of everything we do. In strange and challenging times, it’s even more important to look after your people – understand what drives them, what challenges they have outside work, the status of their mental health, especially if (as it has been for many), they have been furloughed. 

Though physically further apart, there is an opportunity for us to be closer to our people than ever before. We still need to ensure that our people can develop through training. eLearning resources, such as the ones offered by Procurious and CIPS, are great for this. Encourage your team to utilise these and provide them with enough time to complete them. 

And, of course, don’t forget about yourself. As I have said, look after yourself and make sure you’re still learning. Never stop learning, setting yourself new challenges and winning that fight to stay relevant.  

Coming out stronger 

We are facing challenging and frequently troubling times. But I strongly believe that procurement and supply chain will come out the other side of this stronger and in a more influential position. We must seize this opportunity, use all of the resources at our disposal and lead our teams on the next steps in this journey. 

Don’t forget though, you are never alone. No matter your level, from the newest new start in procurement, right up to the most senior of global CPOs, there is always a chance to share. Use resources like the CPO Roundtable to bounce ideas off your peers, pick their brains and see where they have succeeded. And, just in case I haven’t mentioned it often enough – never stop learning! 

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