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Interim procurement expertise creating lasting value

In 2018, FPE Seals, the UK’s leading supplier of aftermarket hydraulic seals, decided to replace its outdated bespoke ERP system with Microsoft Dynamics 365, with the project beginning in 2019.

FPE intends to grow significantly during the next few years. It will achieve this with a mixture of organic growth, as well as through acquisition. According to Finance Director, Chris Southwood, Microsoft Dynamics 365 will facilitate FPE’s expansion by integrating various operational controls and processes, offer greater visibility of price changes, sales trends and general management information, improve stock forecasting, as well as make it easier to “bolt-on” acquisitions.

Chris says an ongoing challenge for FPE was having enough stock to satisfy “next day” customer demand, while ensuring cash wasn’t “tied up in surplus materials.” A historically sales focused distribution business with circa 125,000 parts, procurement was often overlooked in terms of its strategic importance to the business, and its ability to solve some of these issues.

With FPE’s Operations Manager – responsible for Warehousing, Procurement and IT – likely “massively overstretched” during the ERP System’s integration, Chris and Managing Director, Nick Davies, identified an opportunity to recruit an interim solution to “backfill” for the Operations Manager, while providing much needed purchasing and stock management expertise, as well as experience of ERP integration.


Nigel Wright secures top interim talent for FPE

Nigel Wright was the “natural first point of call” for this assignment, with Chris keen to leverage consultants’ procurement networks and expertise. A meeting was arranged with Peter Stephenson, Nigel Wright's Managing Consultant for Supply Chain and Procurement, who immediately understood the type of person FPE needed:

“Peter asked good questions, challenged us on the description of the role, and helped us shape the remit and the person that we wanted, as well as agree on a final job specification.”

Mooted as an Interim Head of Purchasing opportunity, Chris envisaged this individual would “leave a legacy of best practice within procurement.” Following the detailed briefing meeting, Peter advised FPE Seals to focus on candidates who could offer a strategic approach to vendor management – reviewing and rationalising FPE’s supplier-base, improving supplier management, ensuring the new ERP system worked from a procurement perspective, as well as developing the skills and knowledge of the existing purchasing team so they could manage the function moving forward.

Cultural fit was an important consideration too. While FPE were keen to attract someone from a “different kind of business,” bringing a degree of professionalism and operational discipline,  the ideal individual would need to work comfortably within FPE’s “easy-going” “non-corporate” environment, and with employees who have been with the business several years, having never worked anywhere else in some cases.

A confidential process, Peter Stephenson had several discreet conversations with prospective candidates in his network and used unbranded advertising to attract talent. He introduced candidates from different backgrounds and salary levels to give FPE a flavour of the type of talent available in the market. They were very impressed, as Chris explains:

“Peter’s honesty and integrity was refreshing. He was open about what we would and wouldn’t get at each salary level;  he knew his candidates really well – having interviewed and spent time with them, he clearly understood their strengths and weaknesses. His reasoning was based on what he knew of our business, attempting to match candidates with our culture. And when we met candidates, we were satisfied that Peter’s assessment of each of them was absolutely correct.”

Following a robust search and assessment process, Peter recommended four candidates for interview. Chris and the Executive team were confident all four candidates would add the value they needed, demonstrating the necessary skills, drive and experience, as well as being a good match for FPE’s culture.


The value of interim procurement

In October 2018, David Ballantine was appointed FPE’s Interim Purchasing Manager. A seasoned consumer industry executive already known to Nigel Wright, after an early career at Electrolux, he joined Penland Brands in 1997. He enjoyed over 20 years with the business,  holding senior UK and Asia based roles leading Supply Chain, Sourcing and Operations for Berghaus, Brasher and other brands. Since 2013, David had fulfilled two interim contracts with Clarks before joining FPE. 

Nine months in, Chris says David’s impact is already clear. Having segmented FPE’s supplier base, David established cross-functional teams and led critical cost saving projects in each area. Within packaging, for example, he investigated all outgoings and retendered the contract, achieving a significant reduction in spending. Another project involved consolidating raw-material spend, where he reduced FPE’s suppliers from five to two and got a better deal from those two suppliers than the existing one.

David has added real value, says Chris. And FPE is delighted with the templates he’s created too, creating a legacy which will allow the existing long serving team to replicate these projects again in the future.

Significantly, David has been a key part of the ERP team, working closely with Chris on project management and leading the purchasing side of the project. His efforts have raised the profile of purchasing across the business. Purchasing and sales are working closer together, says Chris, and there are now also monthly purchasing and finance meetings:

“Procurement is a more integral part of the business since David arrived. He has worked in such a way that he has ensured that everyone has gained significant learnings during the journey, through exposure to best practice and seeing how much value can be attributed to procurement.”

The ERP project goes live at end of January. And with the necessary infrastructure in place and the business enjoying steady organic growth, Chris expects FPE will make acquisitions in the near future.


Nigel Wright testimonial

“I’ve always worked with Nigel Wright during my career, as a candidate and as a client. The consultants are very professional and knowledgeable about the market and who is available. They always challenge you and tell you if your demands (salary, skill-sets, etc.) are unrealistic. Managing expectations is such an important and rare attribute within recruitment – Nigel Wright is always clear about what they can and can’t deliver.”

Chris Southwood, Finance Director – FPE Seals

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