Starting a new Career during the COVID-19 Pandemic – Matt Davis, Group Procurement Director, Brush Group
Matt joined Brush in September this year, following a recruitment process that had to adapt to the changing COVID-19 restrictions. We talk about Brush, the new role and the challenges of changing careers in the middle of a global pandemic. Here are excerpts of the conversation with Tony Goldsby for the ProSearch monthly Social.
Q) Matt, when we started our discussions earlier this year, the sole focus was to find the right person at the right time for Brush and for you personally to ensure it was the right career move, which was made all the more challenging due to the lockdown. Taking this in to account, what was the challenge that finally attracted you to join Brush?
A) Following the research on the group as an organisation, ultimately the attraction was the opportunity to join the world’s largest independent manufacturer of generators and shape the strategic direction of their global procurement function.
Previously, I had worked in a number of senior procurement roles driving change in large corporate environments, however the opportunity to join, in a new role for the group, to support collaboration and define the strategy of the function was something that drew on my previous experience and ultimately was something that really attracted me to join Brush.
That definitely came across in our discussions. It was very evident you had interesting transferable skills in related sectors, however you had also gone out of your own comfort zone and worked in other environments that stretched your experiences.
Yes, the opportunity to move in to a predominantly direct procurement environment and broaden my expertise was also a big attraction. I had worked in direct materials previously, however recently the roles were more services focused. Whilst this also represents a big opportunity for the group, direct materials management is important to our operations as a manufacturing business.
At the point we started talking, we had just entered the worst part of COVID-19 and the first lockdown which was the most concerning, as we had never experienced anything like this before. Also, this was both a personal and a family decision, in considering a career change from a secure role in the middle of a global pandemic. What were your thoughts at that time?
Anyone would have a degree of uncertainty due to the nature of COVID-19 and the speed of change we were all experiencing across the world. My main concern was the potential of joining a company and just being a virtual colleague. I am fully aware how important it is to build personal relationships in business and ultimately that’s best done in person.
Fortunately, I joined prior to the additional COVID-19 measures coming in to place in October in Wales and I was able to travel in the UK to meet key colleagues and stakeholders and although International travel is limited, that was important.
I think ultimately that was my biggest initial concern, having recruited colleagues in my previous role in a COVID-19 restricted environment, the ability to meet people in the first few weeks and months in a new role, is a finite window of opportunity to build lasting relationships and as good as can be to operate virtually, there’s nothing like meeting face to face.
Fortunately, I was able to do that, I wasn’t in a position to shake hands as everything rightly was managed safely at distance, however it still enables you to build trust and an understanding of the key drivers for the business.
Now you’ve had time to think about how to support the procurement team in the UK and Internationally with restricted travel and COVID-19 challenges, will that make supporting the team easier, or more challenging?
Fortunately, I have quite a lot of experience of managing virtual teams in the UK and Europe, and I have learned to adapt and embrace online communication via a range of different platforms. Also, as everyone has had to adapt to daily communication challenges over the last 9 months, the pandemic has accelerated the speed of change in how teams work together and communicate.
What were the positive surprises about working in lockdown? And what were the biggest challenges?
The speed of change is remarkable and as no-one has had any choice, everyone views video communication tools as a key part of the business estate and a necessary part of daily working practices. This has allowed people to become accustomed and comfortable with remote working, which I believe has been a positive change particularly for procurement.
Brush have recently rolled out a group wide platform and everyone is familiar with video communication and it does open doors, we are just a click away from talking with colleagues across the globe. After COVID-19 I believe this will still be the norm, reducing overheads and pressures on the need to travel, saving time and helping to break down barriers when communicating with colleagues internationally.
In terms of meeting with people, the previous challenges of diary alignment and even the incidental issues of meeting room availability and catering, are now a thing of the past and everyone is used to meeting quickly and are now more likely to be available to talk within a matter of hours.
Regardless of all the negatives, the pandemic has united people and given everyone a common challenge, breaking down barriers and bringing people together. You can never replace meeting people and shaking their hand, however with the current restrictions we are making the best of the situation that we are faced with.
How has the pandemic/lockdown affected the daily operations at Brush?
I’m delighted to say that Brush has come through 2020 largely unaffected. I know a lot of businesses can’t say that at the moment, so a real positive. The production at our sites in Plzeň, Loughborough and Blackwood have all continued throughout the lockdown without too much disruption.
We have also learned from our colleagues in the Czech Republic who encountered the challenges of COVID-19 earlier than the UK. They had put in place good health and safety measures that helped them manage the challenges of the pandemic and we took those learnings and applied them across the business operations and we saw the benefits of that in terms of safeguarding our employees.
Our aftersales business has obviously been impacted slightly due to travel restrictions, however again we have been able to adapt, introducing new ways of working, even down to virtual factory acceptance testing which has been really welcomed and well received and will be seen as an option to continue post-pandemic as it reduces travel and costs for customers.
What is the vision for the procurement & supply chain team in 2020/21?
I am now 80 days in to the 100-day plan and I have already seen the great work across the sites by the procurement team. My main focus is to embrace the ‘One Brush’ vision, and support greater international collaboration, ensuring that Brush procurement continues to set the industry standard in terms of working practices and innovation to give even greater value to our customers.
I am still learning about the business however these will be the key drivers in terms of enhancing and developing the procurement strategy and vision.
Having gone through a virtual recruitment process yourself, what lessons have you learned about the interview process during a lockdown? Also, you were fortunate enough due to this, to meet a wider range of stakeholders than would have been possible in a normal physical meeting. Would you continue with this in the future?
Absolutely, I would. The opportunity of meeting a broader set of stakeholders was a real selling point and gave me a great deal of reassurance in terms of the business I was joining, the people I would be working with and the relationships I would build.
Personally, I really enjoyed the video interviews and would definitely use the same process when recruiting myself in the future. If you had asked me that 9 months ago, I might have given you a different answer, however the speed of change in the use of video due to COVID-19 and getting used to seeing yourself on screen, has meant we have all become accustomed to using these platforms.
Also, as a candidate, I found the meetings a lot more relaxed than the formality of a traditional interview. Of course, you miss the human interaction and body language that you can pick up on in physical meetings, however the benefits of being interviewed from the safe environment of your own home can help make the discussions far more natural.
This was also down to the team at Brush who made the process very open and a 2-way discussion, to make sure the fit was right for everyone.
How do you think the Coronavirus pandemic will change employers’ perception of remote working going forward?
I can certainly give my own personal view. The business is obviously having to react to the various changing restrictions and will respond to the challenges they face, whilst seeking to be agile and managing the safety of our staff.
Maintaining the safety of our employees has been key and very noticeable in the short amount of time I have worked at Brush, with regular health and safety communications which recognise the mixed communications and different quarantine restrictions across our various sites in England and Wales.
I am based in my local business in Blackwood and I have seen the efforts being taken to communicate the standards, putting in place clear safety measures, also investing in technology to test staff temperatures daily to isolate any potential problems at an early stage.
Personally, I think it will change the way we work for ever. I have been fortunate enough to be able to work flexibly for a number of years at different companies, without the level of technology that we have today and although previously a lot of companies had concerns about remote working, the last 6 months has blown away any misconceptions and archaic thought processes in terms of trust and supporting their team to deliver. Having proven that it can work with the right team and technology support, I am absolutely convinced we will never return to the way we worked before the pandemic.
If you can empower your employees and give them the right tools then you will see the benefits, the challenge comes from finding the right work-life balance, which is the biggest potential risk in the current environment. Certain people may be confined to their own 4 walls for large parts of the day, and they will need to find the right balance between work, family and personal health.
Every manager needs to be aware of their teams’ personal challenges and empathise with them, supporting them differently based on their individual situation and needs. Also, recognising that for some people having access to an office work space is really important, as home working may not be right for them and to understand that one size doesn’t fit all.
What advice would you give to others starting a new role during the pandemic, especially those who are unsure about starting a new career during a future lockdown?
I would encourage anyone to go out and look for their next career move, with the caveat that they will need to do their own personal due diligence and ensure they reduce any potential risks. This is always important, however in these current circumstances it’s more important than ever.
It’s really important to engage with the people you are going to work with, both through the recruitment process and gaining access to a broader cross section of people and stakeholders including team members, prior to accepting any offer. This will help break down any barriers and gives you an opportunity to find out more about the company, the culture and the people and getting a better feel for the fit.
Also, from my own experience of Brush, the people and their commitment to supporting me and ensuring I have the right work life balance was critical in helping me make the decision to join and I would manage the process the same in the future when I am involved in any recruitment.
I think it’s important to take the right opportunities when they present themselves. In procurement, our role is to help manage risk and it’s the same with your own personal career. As long as you do your own due diligence and it’s the right role, then ‘go for it’, life is too short.
BRUSH. TRUST. WELL EARNED.
The BRUSH Group is the world’s largest independent manufacturer of generators above 20MVA. With a comprehensive range of products and services including transformers, switchgear, portable generating sets and control & monitoring systems, BRUSH is your ideal partner for electric power generation, distribution monitoring and control.
BRUSH has been a key figure within Electrical Engineering for over 130 years, offering a wide range of ‘electrical machines’, and providing their customers with the highest calibre equipment and after sales service. This unrivalled offering includes Turbo Generators, Motors, Power Transformers, MV Switchgear, Diesel Generators and Power Management Systems. T
To find out more visit www.brush.eu