An informal chat with Deborah Quinn, Head of Supply Chain at Bellrock Property & Facilities Management:
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Bellrock wants to shine a light on some of our amazing female employees at Bellrock and the challenges they have overcome in their careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
At Bellrock, we believe in equal opportunities for everyone and gender inequality is an issue that is close to our hearts. The fight against gender inequality is one that is a long way from being won but we know that by leading the way and challenging how people think, we can make significant progress.
As Head of Supply Chain for Bellrock, what does your job entail exactly?
My days are very varied and no two are the same, but the main activities I’m responsible for the maintenance of the supplier lifecycle as well as risk mitigation within the supply chain. I guide a team of 10 people and we have about 3.000 suppliers at the moment. Together, we make sure that we are mitigating any risks by ensuring that our suppliers have the right level of accreditations to undertake the activities on sites.
We deal with the full supplier lifecycle, so that involves maintaining relationships, developing them, working with them to understand how Bellrock can improve and also making sure that they feel empowered enough to come to us to make recommendations.
Another large part of my work is conflict resolution. When things do go wrong, we have to step in. Contractual breaches or ongoing performance issues happen often which we need to address and get right with the supplier. We’re also in charge of contract management; once our procurement department has done the deals, we have to make sure that the suppliers are sticking to what they signed for by providing them with the terms and conditions and sort all that out.
Sourcing and tendering of new suppliers happen mostly in procurement, but there is a lot of crossover in what we do. It’s also my background because I’m fully MCIPS certified and many of my team are doing their MCIPS qualifications as well.
What is an MCIPS qualification?
It’s short for Member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, which is a highly regarded qualification for an experienced purchasing professional.
What is your professional background?
I’ve got 12 years of procurement and supply chain experience and have a full MCIPS qualification. I’m also in the final stage of achieving my General NEBOSH certificate for health and safety. In September, I will also start my Masters in Procurement and Supply. I guess I just like letters after my name, so officially I’m Deborah Quinn MCIP soon to be Deborah Quin MCIP Tech (Iosh).
How did you get into this career path?
Back in the day, it wasn’t something you could go and study and everyone that I know kind of fell into it. Originally, I went to university to study ‘Language and Literature’ because I wanted to be an English teacher. I started my studies and then took a gap year because I didn’t want to take out any more student loans. That gap year became a 5-year gap as I took a temporary role as a buyer. Now 12 years later, I’m still in this career. Eventually, I want to finish off my English degree remotely, but I just genuinely randomly fell into this career.
Have you encountered any challenges in your career along the way to becoming Head of Supply Chain?
My challenges have been very industry-specific. I started originally in the fishing industry, buying fish. Then I moved into local governments and had to deal with a lot of the challenges there and a lot of it was around OJEU legislation and regulatory changes. Moving into a bigger company, I was then working for the central government and that came with a whole pile of budgetary restrictions and finding the balance between getting a cost-effective supplier but keeping performance high.
Balancing cost and performance has always been the biggest challenge and what I enjoy about Bellrock, is that they recognize you can’t beat a supplier over the head with a stick if you’re paying them peanuts. Procurement and supply chain are separate here because first, we need to get the deal done and then manage the relationship. There’s such a heavy focus on making sure that the relationship with the suppliers is strong.
How, in your experience, does Bellrock encourage gender equality in the company?
I’ve been with Bellrock for 3 years now and I haven’t found or experienced any kind of gender bias within the company. My team is 80% female and honestly, that’s just because they were the right people for the roles. We’ve got some strong women of senior management on all levels, and I genuinely feel that that is celebrated at Bellrock.
What is your opinion on women joining the facilities management industry?
I think it’s something that they should do. It is still a heavily male-dominated industry, probably because a lot of engineers are still men. There is a negative bias towards women in FM to a certain extent, but that tends to come from what I call ‘The Old Boys Club’. Men who were there from the beginning, who like to be in charge of the ropes and still not quite understand the fact that the world has changed, and women can pretty much do anything that they want to do today.
I’ve experienced this when I’ve been in meetings earlier in my career as the senior procurement representative and male suppliers would address themselves to my male colleague instead of me even though they were my junior. More than once I’ve told them to respond to me directly, otherwise, the conversation would be over. I’ve called out poor behaviour before but there are times where you think, it’s just not worth the fight. Honestly, I haven’t experienced anything like that for the past five years. It should be mutual respect, regardless of what kind of major or career level you’re in – if you’re meeting another human being, there should just be that assumed level of respect.
Have you got a role model?
There are two people in my career that have shaped me the most in terms of how I operate as a procurement professional. Amber Bauer was my former Chief Procurement Officer. She led by example and she wouldn’t ask anybody to do anything that she didn’t fully understand or appreciate. “She offered me opportunities to help me to grow and develop. She put me in front of senior management to make sure that I could build my confidence levels and develop myself rationally. She was amazing and went on to give up her position as Chief Procurement Officer to start her own charity.
The other lady is Allie Waspe, she kind of forced me to jump out of my comfort zone. She pushed me to always challenge myself because she saw potential in me that I didn’t see. So, I literally wouldn’t be head of Supply Chain and in the position, I’m in now, if it hadn’t been for her belief and insistence to push myself constantly.
On a personal note, I am going to call out my Nana. She was born in 1921 and she worked in STEM fields and the railway industry pre-WWII. Back then, it was still a male-dominated industry and workforce in general where women were seen and not heard. My nana was not only heard, but she was also respected. She ran the household, raised six kids, was a union rep, and had a full and successful career. After the war, she moved to a company called Industrial & Maritime Riggers Ltd (Cosalt) where she hand made the giant ropes used for the throttle on fishermen’s boats. She was the family matriarch and she led by example. She got her hands dirty and she expected everybody to do the same. Nobody could check off with my Nana and we didn’t want to try either. It shaped how I lead my team today, giving me the strong work ethic to not expect others to do what you wouldn’t do.
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
I would say you are the biggest roadblock that you will ever come across. Nothing external, literally just you. I have gotten in my own way so many times and if it hadn’t been for people like Allie and Amber telling me “you’re better than this”, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Listen to yourself and be proud of what you can do even if you are in doubt. Focus on the good and get out of your own way.