“I’m part of the team responsible for the delivery of in-service support for the UK Chinook fleet. I work closely with suppliers and subcontractors to maintain the availability of the fleet in the UK and when on overseas operations. It’s rare that two days are the same”
As a Commercial Manager, it’s Simon’s job to provide professional judgement on commercial, procurement and contract management matters to meet the Armed Forces’ needs, ensuring compliance with relevant legislation and guidance, while driving value for money. We spoke to Simon to find out more about his role at DE&S.
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How long have you been working at DE&S and how have you found it?
I’ve been with DE&S for over two years, having joined in March 2019.
My first anniversary at DE&S was in March 2020, the first day of the UK-wide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve continued to deliver an uninterrupted, high-quality service; providing the front line with the aircraft that they need. The teamwork on the project has been fantastic and I feel privileged to be part of an organisation helping to equip and support the Armed Forces, for everything from disaster relief to reconstruction and from peacekeeping to humanitarian aid.
What has your career path been?
I was originally a Commercial Director in the private sector, so it’s been quite a learning curve coming into the public sector. Before I joined DE&S, I was the supplier and now I’m the buyer. This means my focus has changed to achieve the level of value we’re expected to deliver for the public purse.
I made the move because I’d been with the same company for about 20 years and I felt it was time to take on a new, exciting challenge, which I definitely found with DE&S.
What does your role entail?
I’m part of the project team responsible for the delivery of in-service support for the UK Chinook fleet – a fleet of 60 extremely capable and highly versatile support helicopters, primarily used for trooping, resupply and casualty evacuation.
I work closely with the suppliers and subcontractors to maintain the availability of the fleet within the UK and when on overseas operations.
I work on a contract to provide spares, repairs, technical support, modification, embodiment and maintenance activity for the Chinooks. The support we provide can include anything from modifications to navigation systems to upgrades on landing equipment. Everything is designed to ensure the Armed Forces have what they need, when they need it, whilst considering value for money.
I’m part of a diverse project team with a broad range of disciplines and skills. On a daily basis, I could be working with mechanics, avionics experts, or finance professionals, so it is rare that two days are the same. This variety keeps my role interesting and enables me to broaden my understanding of different disciplines.
What difference does your role make? Why is your role important?
As a Commercial Manager, it’s my job to ensure value-for-money and quality of service for the Ministry of Defence. Ultimately, I play a part in ensuring public investment into defence is used in the best possible way, and help ensure the Armed Forces receive the equipment and support they require, in the right place, at the right time, according to our contracts with industry.
What does an average day/week look like for you?
As a key member of the Chinook Delivery Team, my role requires me to attend daily commercial discussions with industry, where we consider delivery against the core contract terms. I also oversee a task team, which focuses on areas of work that are required on the aircraft but are out of scope to the core contract. I provide ongoing support to the Service Delivery Manager and Support Programme Manager, which includes contract advice and clarification.
What are your career aspirations?
With support from DE&S, I would like to progress to a senior commercial management level, where I would have a wider responsibility to manage a larger team.
Within commercial management, there is a contract management side and a purchasing side – I currently work on the contract side but would one day like to experience the purchasing side, perhaps broadening my experience outside of helicopters into the air, land or sea domains.
What makes DE&S a great place to work?
DE&S really support the people that work for them, whether through employee benefits or learning and development. There’s an inclusive working environment and DE&S is very committed to supporting diversity within its workforce. I’ve always felt very welcome and supported.
There are many opportunities to collaborate with one another and DE&S ensure there is always time available for you to do this. Although we’re currently working away from the office, I still feel very supported and connected to my colleagues. We’ve been offered the equipment we need to work from home and we’re still given the opportunities and time to liaise with each other, even though we’re working remotely.
The support with learning and development at DE&S is outstanding. There are so many opportunities to develop and learn within the Commercial function, but you are also given exposure to opportunities across the organisation, making you feel like you’re part of a wider, connected network. Job security is strong, too, and the flexibility to adapt your working hours to support your work-life balance is a real benefit: if you do a long week, then you can have a short week the following week, for example.
What pathways are there into a career as a commercial manager?
You could join DE&S on our graduate programme or as a Level 1 Assistant Commercial Officer, straight from university or with some related job experience.
Whatever level you join at, you’ll be given the opportunity to begin your Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply (CIPS) programme, which will support your learning over the longer term, giving you learning and development opportunities with the world’s largest professional body dedicated to procurement and supply.
You’ll be given lots of opportunity to develop and progress in your career at DE&S, with clear routes to become a Commercial Officer and, subsequently, a Commercial Manager.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in your field?
Being such a varied discipline, largely centred on communication, I would advise someone looking to start their career in Commercial to focus on developing key skills such as listening, understanding and working within a team. These are key attributes you’ll need to work in the commercial sector and will help you have a successful and rewarding career.
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