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The Supply Chain Social - Interview with Lucy Bennell at Bennell Associates

Written by: Supply Chain Online
Published on: 30 Sep 2015

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Name: Lucy Bennell
Company: Bennell Associates
Position: Director

What did you want to be when you were at school?
I wanted to be a rock guitarist. Then I thought if I’m not going to be a rock guitarist, I’ll be a recruitment consultant!

When did you first start out in the Recruitment industry?
1992. I started in a finance recruitment company. We took that business from a fully contingent model only for accountants, to 70% retained search and selection across every management function. 

How did Bennell Associates come about?
I had built up a network of loyal clients and candidates and realised that I could work as a true partner with them if I set up my own business, not restricted by the terms of a big search firm. I felt there must be a better way than just the standard 30% approach.

What kind of jobs does Bennell Associates specialise in, and which regions do you cover?
About 80% is Procurement, 20% is Supply Chain from manager to director level. I have gained experience of recruiting into many diverse functions especially those that touch procurement/supply chain and also some highly technical engineering and science roles. The scope is predominantly the UK and Western Europe

What sets Bennell Associates apart from your competitors?
We don’t spread ourselves too thin; working closely, on a repeat basis with a just few clients at any one time. Gaining a detailed insight of their vision and providing a positive hiring experience to candidates. A good example is Weetabix. Since the Procurement Director joined in 2010, we have worked together to deliver his vision to transform a reactive, operational procurement function into a pro-active team, fully aligned with the stakeholders. I have helped the Weetabix procurement team deliver these strategic goals, which is really motivating. Weetabix have very high standards and will not compromise on candidate quality (and their location is a challenge). By working together we have been able to attract real talent. It is amazing what they have achieved and how they continue to drive their vision forward. In ingredients, they are developing some truly leading edge commodity strategies that impact the value of the brand. In indirects, they are redefining “business partnering” as far as I am concerned.  

On the candidate side, I get to know them very well, keeping in touch with them over many years. A significant number of clients are former candidates. The way I work with candidates dramatically reduces the time clients spend interviewing. Introduction to hire ratios are typically higher than 75%.

What's been the biggest challenge you and the company have faced since launch?
The over-riding challenge is no surprise; the pool of talent is getting smaller and smaller (there are some great people in the pool - just fewer of them). There are many contributory factors in my opinion. For example, it seems to me that Procurement hasn’t consistently invested in graduate recruitment, training and development. This has resulted in fewer people coming through the management levels. The relocation of group procurement functions to locations like Switzerland or beyond, has also resulted in a migration of talent away from UK and has changed how some stakeholders interact with their procurement teams (it is a concern to me that practitioners are developing their procurement skills while being so physically remote from their key stakeholders). There are also fewer individuals who have started their career in manufacturing, due to reduction in manufacturing in the UK. This has resulted in a smaller proportion of procurement professionals with experience of direct spend/raw materials. I appreciate that indirect procurement has come a long way over the last 20 years (engagement and influencing are critical when you don’t own the budget), but nothing beats the skills you learn when you are responsible for direct spend strategies. The most talented procurement professionals, in my opinion, started out in Automotive, FMCG, or own-label food manufacturing. Experience of business critical categories, where every glitch can result in down-time or a product recall, and every penny dramatically impacts profit margin requires real professional proficiency. 

There can be no doubt that the rise of social media has had a significant impact on the recruitment industry. How has social media changed the way you work?
Social Media has totally changed the way I work, and there have been some great developments. When I started out in recruitment we didn’t even have emails or mobile phones. LinkedIn is a very powerful source of potential candidates and a great business tool. It is important to recognise that LinkedIn has turned every single person out there into a passive candidate. It’s a double-edged sword. Candidates are constantly approached for new roles and are becoming exhausted by the number of calls they get from recruiters. It can be relentless and cause “career opportunity fatigue”.  So it’s more important than ever to take time to find out about people, and make approaches intelligent and personalised.

How important are job boards within your marketing strategy?
Job boards are an integral part of a digital marketing campaign, and you can’t disregard digital marketing in this day and age. Job boards do need to continue to transform. The best are those that are specialist and driving thought leadership; generating a pool of knowledge and driving traffic to their sites via thought-provoking content. Adverts on job boards work best when they are managed by the recruiter alongside the other channels. It is important for candidates to have a “joined up” experience, so they receive the same level of response and personal attention. I dislike automated responses to job board adverts and so many people tell me that they receive no response at all.   

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.

What one piece of advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs starting out?
Give good feedback, give career advice; be loyal to your candidates as well as your clients. 

What's the latest news at Bennell Associates?
We are going to be working on some senior executive level roles and there are some new client relationships in the pipeline. I am also working again with Weetabix on the next phase of their procurement strategy (watch this space!). 

Where would you like Bennell Associates to be in 5 years’ time?
I think the recruitment market will continue to change and so Bennell Associates needs to change with it. It’s difficult to say exactly how these changes will manifest, but I do believe it is all about long-term relationships. That is developing a deep understanding of client strategies and challenges and appreciating candidates’ career aspirations and motivators. We all know how unpredictable recruitment can be. I hope to continue to partner with long-standing clients and witness the individuals I am working with now, develop into the game-changers I believe they will be.

Interview by Richard Marshall - Managing Director of Supply Chain Online

Contact Lucy Bennell at lucy@bennellassociates.com
Twitter: @lucybennell
www.bennellassociates.com