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Want to be a supply chain manager?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Steve Johnson , head of Global Procurement & Supply Chain Management at Prosafe Offshore Ltd, gave some advice to current students of supply chain management, about what to expect when they join the industry

'What the industry is looking or, for practitioners of the future, is 'pracademics' practitioners who can think academically, academic people who can think practically,' said Steve Johnson, head of global procurement and supply chain management at Prosafe Offshore Ltd, an Aberdeen company which owns and operates 11 semi-submersible accommodation vessels (flotels) and has four new builds under construction.

He ways speaking at the Digital Energy Journal Aberdeen conference on November 28 'reducing complexity in supply chain management'.

In the supply chain sector, 'we've got some brilliant minds who can't tie their shoelaces together, and people who understand the nuts and bolts of the industry but can't articulate themselves at a senior level to get their ideas across,' he said.

The right person has a combination of being someone you can work with, and someone who can bring in new knowledge to the organisation. 'If you have this balance of finding an individual you can work with, you can get the two together. No-one knows everything,' he said.

'Don't wait for your career to come to you, it won't happen,' he said. 'Become involved. If you are in the procurement side, get involved in the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS). if you are on the logistics side, get involved in the Institute of Logistics and Transport. You are in control of your own career here.'

When it comes to careers, 'you've got to kiss a lot of frogs,' he said. 'You start a job you think it is the greatest job in the world, and it doesn't do what it says on the tin. Even a bad experience is still an experience. Don't try to be managing director too soon.'

For job interviews, Mr Johnson said it is essential to research the company first. 'Understand the company, their clients, their suppliers, so you've got their supply chain. Understand the products and services they buy, store and move. The first question i ask in an interview is 'what do you know about Prosafe and why do you want to work here and nowhere else' if you can't answer that you're on a very difficult start.'

You also need to listen. 'You're so intent, and so willing, there's an urgency to share what you know, but sometimes you're talking to people who've been doing it for 20 30 years who don't welcome that attention. You've got two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion,' he said.

'Make sure you're talking in way that's assisting rather than alienating people,' he said. 'Experienced practitioners may not be used to academic things you are bringing them. You're bringing text book to real world.'

'The football analogy works in any business,' he said. 'We have a lot of experienced players in the twilight years of their career. We've got this young blood - you can be diva-ish - they want to be captain in the first year. The key thing is, recognise your position but don't let anyone undermine you, because you are going to be the managers of the future, don't forget that.

'The real world won't always welcome you, that's a fact of life. Like you won't welcome the guy or lady who seems to you to be about 300 years old. Do your homework, be prepared to learn, never be prepared to be walked on, be prepared that some people won't embrace you with open arms,' he said.

'Experience takes time. If you are going to try to share ideas with people get your facts straight, get it structured, make sure it is relevant,' he said. 'Don't think, 'I've seen an academic model' [that might be relevant] without thinking, does it fit here.'

'Try and find people in the organisation that you can relate to that might be in a different discipline - they might help you with some of the learning about different parts of the business.'

Negotiating is an important skill to develop. 'You are going to be negotiating,' he said. 'I just came back from Norway where we are negotiating with a systems manager who hasn't delivered what we expected but still wants to be paid for it. I don't like paying money I haven't got anything for, but I recognise some of it is our fault as well,' he said.

Often if a project ends up differently to expectations, the client deserves some blame. 'The fact is sometimes clients can create problems for suppliers, and start to add to the cost, and suppliers feel fearful of charging it back,' he said. 'That's where 'scope creep' comes from. The chances are it starts in your own organisation, and that's why systems to capture it are important.'

Mr Johnson's background is as a mechanic. He left school with 'a couple of O levels', joined UK telecom company BT as an engineer, and then got into supply chain management with BT working in stores and materials management. He moved to Aberdeen in 1995 after getting married, and did a masters in supply chain management at Robert Gordon University.

He expected that his telecoms supply chain experience would prove valuable, but the oil and gas companies effectively told him 'you're just a buyer from the telecoms industry, don't come here with your fancy ideas,' he said. 'I've had to adjust my own expectations pretty sharpish.'

Although now there is such a high demand for people that the oil and gas industry is looking harder for people with relevant experience, including from the armed forces.

When changing industry 'there is no book that helps you on it,' he said. 'First of all you say why am I moving into a new industry - is it because I've had enough of this one, or for personal reasons.
'My reason for coming to Aberdeen was my wife, she didn't want to live in Swindon. I said, I'll take voluntary redundancy from BT and I'll give it a go.'

In 2014, as well as running supply chain management for Prosafe, an operator of accommodation vessels, he has a board position on the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), on the FPAL steering committee, and co-chair of the Oil and Gas UK Supply chain forum, and he is a lecturer in a masters course on commercial practise. 'I take annual leave to get a lot of this done,' he said.

'Make sure you don't burn yourselves out,' he said. 'Be very careful to try not make all the changes you want to make with your personal career plus the business too quick.'

Work better with academia

Mr Johnson was asked about how he thought academia and industry should be working together in supply chain management. 'I think there should be more of it,' he said.

Oil and Gas UK's 'LOGIC' (Leading Oil and Gas Industry Competitiveness ) standard contracts is an example of a success story with joint working between industry and academia, he said.

Peter Atorough, a lecturer in operations and supply chain management at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, said that as an academic, 'We know we've knocked on several [industry] doors sometimes we get them shut in our faces,' he said. 'Not deliberately, we know how busy people are, but even [for us to get] people to make presentations about what the company does can be a problem sometimes.'

Mr Atorough said it would also be helpful if people in industry could be more responsive to questionnaires which the students send out, since they should only take a few minutes to fill in.

Without industry input to academia, the students 'will learn from us [academics], what we teach them, but that would be it,' he said.

'When we are talking to them about things in the textbook, [they should know that] they actually happen in the real world.'

'If you're not going to help us, we can't give you the right kind of people later on,' he said.

Mr Johnson said 'since I'm co-chair of oil and gas supply chain forum, speak to me, I'll get you a small slot - in front of the Oil and Gas supply chain forum where you can make your case,' he said.

'Personally sometimes I get a questionaire and I'm travelling and I forget and it gets lost in the e-mail, don't be scared about sending out reminders.'

You can see Steve Johnson's talk on video at

Associated Companies
» Prosafe Offshore
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