Five minutes with…Kate Smith, Executive Director of Business Services, Anchor
In our latest edition of ‘Five minutes with…’ Richard Guest, Associate Partner and Head of the Procurement practice at Berwick Partners talks with Kate Smith, Executive Director of Business Services at Anchor about her career journey and also the Director of Procurement opportunity in her team.
Tell me a little bit about your career to date?
Prior to moving into the housing sector, I worked in environmental management across both local and central government specialising in environmental policy advice and guidance. I then moved across to business development gaining experience within policy, change management and project and programme management. In 2007 I got the opportunity to join bpha – a leading housing association based in Bedford as their Head of Corporate Services. I spent just shy of 6 years with bhpa and gained my first executive role. This was followed by four years with Southern Housing as their Group Corporate Services Director before joining Anchor in 2019 as the Executive Director of Business Services.
In parallel to my main career, I’ve also had the pleasure and experience of holding several NED and Trustee positions which have given me a unique and beneficial insight into other organisations outside the housing sector.
Is there a role in your career which has been pivotal to your success?
I think there are three roles in my career that I look back on as being fundamental in helping shape my career. Firstly, my role as a Policy Advisor with central government. My time at Defra really helped me to understand the workings of government and politics in the workplace, and crucially how to help negotiate in a complex environment. Secondly, my role within Southern Housing which gave me a great grounding and platform to succeed in my current role. Southern have an extensive property portfolio and it really helped me understand how to use the assets differently. Finally, I was fortunate to be invited to join JP Morgan’s Income and Capital Trust business as a Board Apprentice. This was a great two years and really helped cement my view and reassure me that what we were doing within the housing association sector was very much on a par with counterparts within the private sector.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received, and how has it shaped you both as a leader and person?
In order to be successful, the higher you reach within any organisation, the more comfortable you need to be with ambiguity, but not to the detriment of the detail. You must find time to pause and stand back from the urgency at which the detail is presented to you, in order to ensure you are making the right decision for the long-term benefit of the organisation.
This mantra has helped our organisation tremendously over the past couple of years, when it would have been all to easy to take rash knee-jerk decisions without thinking about what’s best for our residents and colleagues during the pandemic. This is also hugely relevant for the procurement function, at a time when the sector has frequently been required to act quickly. It’s been important to remain strategic and make the right long term decision for all concerned.
Have you had any mentors, formally or informally during your career?
Yes, and I’m a huge supporter of mentoring and being mentored myself – something that has been an enormous help to me over the past 15 years. I will always encourage my team to seek additional experience outside of Anchor to enhance their knowledge and appreciation of other sectors. I’ve been mentored over the years by people from companies such as British Airways, Standard Life and JP Morgan; this external insight and guidance has been pivotal to my success and helped me deal with a variety of challenges of issues I have faced throughout my career. I feel that it’s always incredibly beneficial to seek the counsel of others, when they can offer a far more balanced view and fresh perspective to help you reach a decision. The same can be said of the reverse and I continue to be a mentor to people both internally and externally of Anchor.
Tell me a little bit about the Procurement Director position in your team.
This is not only a pivotal role in my team but pivotal in its impact right across the business – from the board, through to operations and crucially the impact this has on our customers and residents. It’s also a hugely varied role that focuses on a myriad of different category areas and services ranging from long term central lead contracts, right through to local care home services
The Procurement Director position is a key appointment that sits on the Senior Leadership Team and also the group’s Management Board. Procurement has been fundamental in helping shape the experience for our customers and residents with a significant part to play in the continuity of providing fresh, not frozen, food within our care homes and also ensuring that our residents were protected by the current energy spike with a long-term fixed tariff in operation, not to mention a solid secure pipeline of PPE. I’m not a procurement professional and fully recognise the expertise the team have in this commercial space. The Procurement Director will be the lead for the function and the commercial driver to ensure we deliver value to improve our margin. I view my role as being there to lead and to facilitate the function across the business alongside the other central business services, being their advocate and supporter, whilst also challenging them for the benefit of our customers and residents.
The organisation continues to be acquisitive and very much in growth mode, so the role and challenge is only likely to increase in the coming years. It’s a wonderful opportunity to join a great business with a very collegiate culture and the opportunity to make real lasting difference for our customers and residents.
For more information, please contact Richard Guest is an Associate Partner in our Procurement and Supply Chain practice.