Robert Copeland: Structuring the unstructured

Robert Copeland, Group Procurement & Supply Chain Director of G4S provides a few helpful pointers for organisations looking to structure the unstructured


Robert Copeland is a name that you may already know if you are in the procurement and supply scene. 

Having worked across numerous industries with a focus on cost transformation in the most challenging of environments, often low margin, multinational businesses. He has developed a playbook capturing the lessons from the hits and sometimes misses over the years, to enable teams to become agile and entrepreneurial in delivering positive commercial outcomes.

How can procurement establish a reputation as an effective agent of change?

For Procurement to establish its reputation as an effective agent of change, it needs to be on the front foot. However you don’t need to be so far ahead you lose sight of ‘todays’ challenges faced by the business. Procurement must capitalise on its unique insight and help the business to gain a competitive edge, you must find time to start building credibility and business traction.

We can do this by doing a ‘business or industry’ pulse check, to understand what will impact the business (externally and internally) in the coming months, years,

for which management will be looking for answers. How can procurement position itself as an enabler and not just a process to follow.  

Added to this, instead of just aligning to the business budget cycle as per traditional procurement, we should be represented at leadership meetings to know what’s going on, to be able to adapt, we must be done with waiting for the patient to come to us, we need to go to the patient, because often by the time the business comes to you it’s too late to add value or influence the outcome.

Why is it important to measure success based on what you have implemented and not the sourcing event?

I have often seen highly experienced procurement professionals fail in the eyes of the business, sometimes due to overconfidence in what they are doing but more often than not, because the business simply does not believe in what they say they have delivered.

How many times have I seen buyers quantify their success on the outcome of a tender or renegotiation, only for the business to reject such claims. It is critical that the buyer measures success not on the outcome of the Procurement process, but on the output of what was implemented and what actually changed in the eyes of the business

Inquisitive, persistent and navigate barriers, why are these three traits vital for any procurement leader? 

“These are not the droids you are looking for,” a famous Star Wars quote which resonated during my travels to meet stakeholders across the globe. I was often dumbfounded at how loss-making Business units wanted to portray how efficiently and trouble free their supply chains were operating and that Procurement’s help to improve things was simply not needed and there was nothing for us ‘Storm troopers’ to see. Tactful digging beneath the surface often revealed a very different story. In a complex corporation there are vested interests, you must be inquisitive, persistent and able to navigate your way around these barriers. The lesson is that even if nothing seems wrong, don't assume everything is right.

What makes people critical to success?

People are the critical factor in the success of a function. I have always found that with the right blend of attitudes, technical competence and enthusiasm, a Procurement team can be a real business enabler and a growth asset to the organisation. I formed effective teams by recruiting people with the right attitude, humility and certainly with the backbone of technical knowledge and skill. You can build knowledge, but mindsets are harder to change without emotional intelligence. Having the courage to shape a team early in a transformation is a key foundation to establishing a strong people pillar. A leader should never suffer fools on this one.

How can an organisation turn words into actions?

In any Industry, it’s critical you have a procurement function able to present clear solutions but also to have the willingness and credibility to lead and take ownership of implementing improvements and embedding sustainable change. 

By building a wide band value proposition, able to conceptualise, develop and implement true supply chain performance betterment I have found businesses far more willing to adopt change and align with the Procurement vision. 

But to do this, you need to understand the landscape and commercial imperative, be clear with your priorities, be a value facilitator and avoid becoming the ‘lazy buyer’.

What do you mean by the phrase: live for today, plan for tomorrow?

I have found that today’s problems will very quickly be overtaken by tomorrow’s challenges. It is important to have the discipline and take time to invest and develop your function/team, otherwise you collectively will be ill equipped to face future challenges and opportunities.

Leadership focus:

  • 70% in the here and now, 
  • 20% on developing the function 
  • 10% professional development of team members 

It is key that you develop your team to anticipate and be abreast of the current business agenda and how procurement aligns with the business’s objectives.

It would be foolish to think that a business will continue to lavish investment on a Procurement function without delivery, no matter how good their visions, and ideas are. A successful leader must deliver for today and navigate their resources to focus towards solving future problems and enabling future opportunities through the supply chain.


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