Lifetime of Achievement: Ninian Wilson

Vodafone Procurement Chief Ninian Wilson on the evolution of procurement

Since beginning his career at British Gas in 1990 straight from university, Ninian Wilson has seen first hand how procurement has evolved from the back office to the forefront of a business. He began in the supplies and transport function at British Gas before stepping into his first senior management role at Transco in 1995.  

This ultimately led him to Cable & Wireless in 2000 before progressing into his first Chief Procurement Officer role at the age of just 34. “I learned a lot in the Cable & Wireless role,” he says. “It was my introduction not only to telecoms, but also to international procurement.”

His final stop before reaching Vodafone was at Royal Mail where he was Procurement Director and then Operations Director, where he managed the largest workforce in the UK and had full accountability for the delivery of Royal Mail’s transformation programme.

This was also the location for what he considers one of the largest challenges of his varied career, where as Operations Director he was tasked with re-establishing the quality of service standards for their customers.  

At Royal Mail, Ninian Wilson says he had 158,000 people working with him or for him. “I learned a lot about what it takes to work with a huge workforce,” he said “It showed me the pros of my management style, but also the limitations. 

“I like to be on first-name terms with everyone, though obviously, it's difficult to remember everybody's name. But you meet some wonderful people from very diverse backgrounds, and I think you bring all that knowledge and those experiences with you when you take on a role like mine at a multinational company like Vodafone.”

His Vodafone career began in 2009 and then he became CEO of their Procurement Company in 2016. This post has been the location of his proudest achievement so far in his career, with the opening of their joint innovation centre with the Luxembourg Government and the chance to interact with the innovative scale-up companies that work there. 

With over three decades of experience, he is consistent in the simple advice he gives procurement professionals earlier in their careers. “Always be yourself,” he says, “and never try to be someone you are not and be super professional in everything you do.”

Through those years of industry expertise, he reflects on the journey that procurement has been on in that time. “There has been an amazing change from a back office function to a key enabler of the business and a role in managing and orchestrating the supplier ecosystem” he adds.  

He also believes it is an inspiring time to be part of the sector, and much of that is through embracing the technological opportunities presented to us. “The future is digital and in procurement we have the opportunity to both lead and help our own organisations digitise. It is a really exciting time to be in procurement.”

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