The Big Interview with Chris Thomson

PROCUREMENT HEADS | The Big Interview with Chris Thomson

The Procurement Heads Big Interview Series launched in 2017, and features Procurement Professionals throughout London and the Home Counties. It’s an opportunity to shed some light on the specialist world of Procurement and those who work within it. To be featured in Procurement Head’s next Big Interview, contact


What does a typical day at work look like for you?

Really varied! I suppose that lots of people might say that, but there are a few reasons why I think that my role in particular is so varied. As well as the ‘normal Procurement’ – buying ingredients, packaging, services and things like that - I also have a team that looks after the milk supply chain (we buy about 500 million litres of raw milk from 330 farms across Devon and Cornwall every year). We manage that right back to farm. We work with individual farmers, as well as the collective body that represents them, so that has its own challenges and opportunities. Then there’s another part of the team that runs ‘trading’, which is basically a sales organisation. It’s a business unit with a P&L, managing the sourcing and sales of all of our bulk dairy commodities; milk, cream, butter – anything like that. That’s a sizeable business in itself! If you put those things together on top of ‘normal procurement’, my day is definitely varied!

From a personal point of view, I’m an early starter. I use the time first thing in the morning to get my head together, sort out my emails and plan the day. Most of my time is actually spent listening and talking with people – that’s the vast majority of my job, and it’s often the way I explain what I do! Some people would call it stakeholder management but primarily it’s about relationship building and maintenance - whether that’s internal stakeholders, our board, farmers or suppliers.

What do you love about Procurement?

Two things spring to mind. First – Procurement is at the heart of the business. We see everything, we hear everything, but we’re also involved from end to end and I love that. It gives you so much visibility and so much potential for impact, as well as knowledge of what’s happening too. The second thing, which I suppose is linked to that, is the sheer commerciality of Procurement; the commercial impact on the business in terms of cost, cash or revenue – just that ability to make a difference from a financial perspective is something that I really value.

What do you find challenging about your role?

I suppose what’s challenging, perhaps as for any Procurement leader at the moment, is recruiting and retaining great people. We’ve gone through quite a journey over the last 18 months since I re-joined the business. Back then we only had around half a dozen people in the Procurement team. We’ve now got 25 (including the milk and trading teams) that I mentioned earlier. We’ve experienced a real learning curve, in terms of what kind of talent we’re trying to attract and the sort of proposition we have to offer people joining us - both as Dairy Crest and as a Procurement team in particular. The market in general is very difficult and there’s lots of competition. From a leadership point of view, that’s one of the stand out challenges.


What inspires you as a Procurement leader?

Being part of Procurement as a function at the heart of the business, gives us the opportunity to drive and lead change. I find people who can lead through change and make things happen, while taking people along with them in a collaborative, positive and constructive way, really inspiring. Having the trust of the board and the business in terms of what we now manage is really positive. The other thing, from a personal point of view, is that I love to see others achieve, develop and grow. I’ve got to the point in my career where, yes - if I achieve something personally I get a buzz, but I get much more of a buzz if somebody else achieves it who I’ve been supporting.

What skills do you consider to be essential in Procurement?

We need to be business people. I know it’s a bit cliché but it happens to be true. If we’re going to be on the agenda driving revenue then we need to talk business language. We need to be commercial, understand the P&L’s and the key financial drivers of the business, but we also need to understand the marketing proposition. Dairy Crest is a very well branded business now and, as Procurement people sourcing goods or services for products like Cathedral City or Clover, we need to understand what those brands stand for. It’s so important that we empathise with stakeholders and earn our seat at the table.

I think you can train and develop a lot of skills around how to manage suppliers, negotiating, project management and all of those process skills that are very important - but it’s absolutely critical that Procurement people are able to build and sustain effective working relationships. Having done this for 20 years it still surprises me (I guess it shouldn’t!) how many people in our profession struggle with that – and it’s critical!

To read Chris Thomson’s full Big Interview and for further information about Procurement Heads, please visit the Procurement Heads website:


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