Our interviews with business leaders span a range of organisations and areas of focus. Here Rob Turner talks to Paul Gurney, global purchasing director at GKN Land Systems about  his career, the importance of procurement to an organisation and people development. A global director in a blue chip manufacturing business and a mentor with an impressive track record, Paul has a wide-ranging background. He started his career at Brose while still a student, was fast tracked through to management and progressed to directorships in the automotive and aerospace sectors. Today, Paul leads a team of around 150 people at GKN Land Systems, a leading global supplier of technology differentiated power management solutions. 

How did you enter a career in purchasing and what attracted you to it?

I read engineering with business studies at university on a sandwich course that offered a year in the industry. This placement year was with Brose, a first tier automotive organisation. During the first month, I spent time in each department followed by a review by the business as to how I had settled in. Ultimately, they recognised how well I had performed in the purchasing department and how much I enjoyed it. My remaining time during this year was spent in the purchasing department where my passion and enthusiasm for the function grew. About a third of my way through the year, one of the senior buyers resigned and I was given a significant amount of responsibility. Thrown in at the deep end, I revelled in the commercial world and obviously did quite well. When my placement year was concluding Brose offered me a permanent position on completion of my degree and my career in purchasing began. 

How did you arrive in your current position?

I took Brose up on their offer and accepted a permanent position with them on completion of my degree. While I loved the environment, the opportunity for progression was limited and I moved to Reiter Automotive into a senior buyer’s position before joining Lear as a purchasing manager in 2001. Lear gave me the opportunity to grow and develop significantly while learning some excellent lessons. 
After three and a half years, I became group purchasing director with Triplex Components (later to become Amtek Automotive) before taking up the head of procurement role with Hexcel. The Hexcel role was a position I really enjoyed; it gave me insight into purchasing outside of the automotive sector however, the location was far from ideal and eventually another opportunity was offered to me in the form of May Gurney (no relation!). Again, this gave me the opportunity to explore purchasing in a new sector. Applying some of the structure and process from the automotive and aerospace world, allowed me to thrive, but with Kier’s acquisition of May Gurney, I found myself in the job market again and this gave me opportunity to join GKN.

What other areas of business do you believe should fall under the remit of procurement and supply chain that typically don’t? 

I would like to see more contact with customers, especially in and around product management. This would allow the supply chain team to understand the customer demands better and would support product development. This will allow significantly increased NPD ability and surges in product advancement.
I would also like to see greater internal visibility on business objectives, not just in procurement and supply chain. This relates to integration – a business that is fully integrated internally with common goals and threads, will always perform better than competitors. This has been demonstrated by our current CEO; he has made some very encouraging changes in GKN.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing procurement in UK manufacturing currently?

In the short term, I believe the fluctuations in exchange rates to be of particular significance. This is not purely GBP to Euro, but the current fluctuations across all financial markets. 
The geopolitical situation can have considerable impact on multinational businesses with a global footprint. The last couple of years have seen some major changes in plans for many businesses, influenced by the crisis in the Ukraine and resulting trade embargos on Russia, the Euro crisis in Greece and security issues across the Middle East. 

How do you manage talent?

I have been fortunate in my career to have had some excellent mentors who have helped me. I have carried this on in my current role by helping with a mentoring programme. 
I also encourage learning and development, including academic pursuits and seeking chartered or professional body memberships (CIPS etc). At GKN, we have developed a programme in conjunction with CIPS to develop a bespoke course for all GKN purchasing and supply chain employees across all our businesses. This PEP course is a challenging four module course spread over four years and incorporates weeks away in a number of our global locations. On completion, the course will deliver an MCIPS qualification. 
In addition, we have a global conference every two years for every purchasing and supply chain employee across GKN where we focus on business challenges, processes and procedures, and people development.  This is a significant undertaking with more than 500 people attending every year. 

Finally, what advice would you give to an aspiring buyer looking to progress in their career?

The key to everything is preparation. The more planning you do, the better you deliver your objectives. This may be a five year plan for personal development, or full preparation for a specific negotiation. Know who you are meeting, why, what you want to achieve by when and who the competitors are.
I would also encourage people to attend all training offered. Train as much as possible across all areas of business, be it Lean, Six Sigma or product. Successful purchasing professionals have a knowledge that extends beyond pure purchasing capability. In addition to this, seize the chance of any mentoring opportunities, both in your current business and those offered by external parties.
And finally, networking: get to know your peers, managers, directors, staff and suppliers. Build these relationships and maintain them. It is hard to measure this in the short term but over the course of your career, it will pay off. 
Paul was talking to Robert Turner, business manager for Michael Page Procurement & Supply Chain. Are you looking to take the next step in your career? Are you looking to hire procurement and supply chain talent? Or are you simply looking for some further advice on the procurement and supply chain market? Contact Robert for a confidential discussion.