Procurement and Supply Chain

An interview with Richard Denney of Communisis

Richard Denney
Our interviews with business leaders span a range of organisations and areas of focus. Richard Denney, the strategic sourcing director at Communisis talks to Sarah Simpson about business, the importance of a commercially minded procurement team and his career. A CIPS fellow and mentor with a very successful and impressive track record, Richard has a wide ranging background. He started his career at GK N Westland Helicopters, which was followed by time in consulting and a strong career in Aviva where he progressed through to acting group procurement director leading a team of around 80 people. Now he is at Communisis, a global multi-channel customer business.

How did you end up in your role at Communisis and what attracted you?

I was approached directly through a contact from my network who was working at Communisis and thought my skill set would add value to the business. After doing my research three main things attracted me to the position. Firstly, the opportunity to bring to the table transferable skills, techniques and experiences that I was sure could have a positive impact on the business. Secondly, the opportunity to work in a business that is trusted by its clients to do procurement on their behalf was very appealing. Last and by no means least the people I met made me believe that culturally there would be a good fit. All these three things have proven to be right and I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here at Communisis. 

What role does talent management play in your business?

This is first and foremost a people business, with human capital being a real differentiator for us. For me talent management starts with talent acquisition, it’s so important to hire the right talent in the first place. Happily good people tend to attract other good people, so it often perpetuates. For existing employees Communisis has a talent management framework where performance, development and aspirations are managed in a transparent way. The importance of coaching is understood too.

What three qualities do you look for when recruiting and how do you measure success?

I think the key things these days are around the softer skills, interpersonal skills such as influencing and communication. Also the ability to learn and develop quickly is really important, as are judgment and initiative – i.e. ‘what you do when you don’t know what to do’. I think success is measured in the short term by how quickly the person settles in to the role and the organisation, whilst in the longer term it’s about the difference the person makes to the organisation and the difference it makes to their fulfilment at work and more broadly their career.

What do you see the role of a procurement and supply chain team in any business?

Put simply the role of procurement is to deliver three things, create margin contribution (P&L benefit), positively impact working capital (cash flow and liquidity) and create enterprise value. This latter deliverable can be very different depending on the nature of the organisation. For Communisis it’s about driving excellence in procurement throughout our business so that existing clients want to continue to partner with us and new clients are attracted to us.
Where is the procurement team now in comparison to when you started and how have you achieved your goals?
I joined in April 2014 and we were a team of 10 people. We have since added six new faces to the team, which has supported considerable growth in our business, particularly across mainland Europe. As well as investing in people we have also applied new tools and processes, laying the foundations for driving further excellence in procurement and supporting further business growth.

What’s next in your career?

In the first 20 years in my career I had just three employers, so having only recently joined my fourth it’s perhaps no surprise that I’m not really thinking too deeply at this stage about a next step. After nine months I still feel the role has lots to offer, and that I have lots to offer the business. The next stage for me here at Communisis is to play a leading role in the next stage in the evolution and growth of our business, positively influencing commercial and procurement practices right across the organisation.

You have a very good reputation with people who have worked for you and with you, why do you think that is?

It’s nice of you to say so and I guess I’m happy to assume you’re right! OK, so I’d like to think I’m pretty straight forward, and as a leader I try to set clear expectations and empower people to deliver, ensuring they get the credit for their successes. I tend to offer trust automatically rather than requiring people to earn it. Some might consider this to be risky, but I can’t remember this approach letting me down.  I like to give people the opportunity and the room to develop, providing support as and when required. Essentially I think it’s important to create an environment that enables people to be the best they can be, and at the same time to be able to enjoy what they are doing. 

What do you think are the key attributes ‘a head of’ needs to be successful? 

I don’t believe there is a single recipe for success. For me I’ve focused on being honest, hard-working and trying to ensure a strong affinity with the company I work for. In more senior roles it’s crucial to think well beyond your own function/job role so that you’re in tune with the wider goals and imperatives of the organisation, and indeed beyond that to the organisation’s external stakeholders too. 

Finally who have you found inspirational in your career?

The key influences on me were probably at the latter stages of my education and the start of my career. My business studies teacher at school along with a few lecturers at university strongly influenced my interest in the world of commerce. Starting my career at Westland Helicopters gave me a fantastic grounding in procurement, with great training and a very capable bunch of colleagues to learn from. Right now it’s fantastic to be part of a business where procurement sits at the heart of its value proposition. 
For more articles on procurement and supply chain recruitment please visit the procurement and supply chain section of the Michael Page website.