Procurement with Purpose: Simon Potter’s Strategic Vision at Inchcape Shipping Services

In a recent Nautical Digital Online Magazine interview, Simon Potter, Chief Procurement Officer at Inchcape Shipping Services, discusses how Inchcape’s procurement strategy has evolved to adapt to the dynamic maritime industry, emphasizing the introduction of its global ship-chandling solution. He highlights the company’s commitment to sustainability and the integration of responsible sourcing practices.

Potter also sheds light on Inchcape’s innovative ‘procurement-as-a-service’ model, which offers comprehensive value beyond cost savings, and how the company manages its extensive global supply chain. Through team collaboration and navigating market trends, Inchcape remains at the forefront of sustainable and innovative decking solutions in the maritime sector.

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Simon Potter, Chief Procurement Officer

Inchcape’s procurement strategy has significantly transformed from its traditional roots of merely onboarding vendors. Particularly from a port agency standpoint, our role has expanded to being the vital eyes and ears on the ground for our clients. This evolution is crucial because our customers, often absent from the ports, rely on us to manage the myriad of operations occurring there. Ensuring these operations are executed promptly, safely, and cost-effectively falls under our purview. Our group’s procurement function has increasingly become adept at meeting our customers’ needs, thanks to the seasoned professionals we have in place and the expansion of our teams to ensure coverage not only at our headquarters but also in the regions we serve.

Our approach to procurement is centre-led, with specialists integrated within the business units yet maintaining a central reporting line to ensure a balance between autonomy and alignment with both customer and internal needs. This strategic blend of local autonomy within our operations is pivotal.

The introduction of our global ship chandling solution, dubbed “procurement as a service,” marks a significant advancement in our procurement strategy. This evolution stems from recognising the additional needs our customers have when their vessels are docked. By adopting a procurement-centric viewpoint, we’ve moved beyond traditional services to address common challenges like table spending and the lack of transparency in the ‘Last Mile’ of supply chains. Our global presence, coupled with a professional procurement and supply chain team, allows us to add substantial value to our clients’ operations, offering transparency, efficacy, and cost advantages over our competitors.

Sustainability also plays a critical role in our procurement strategy. We work closely with our clients to identify local sourcing solutions, moving away from the conventional practice of consolidating consumables and spares in major hubs. Our commitment to authenticity means we only deal in OEM spares, ensuring quality and reliability. Furthermore, our “warehousing on demand” service exemplifies our forward-thinking approach, accommodating the unpredictable trading patterns of vessels by leveraging our global network for strategic spare part storage. This adaptability extends across various sectors, with many of our offshore customers particularly benefiting from our ability to strategically source and supply locally.

In my dual capacity as CPO at Inchcape and my role within the International Marine Purchasing Association (IMPA), the drive towards sustainability is a significant part of our ethos. Inchcape’s commitment to sustainability is evident as we were pioneers in signing up for the IMPA ACT and subsequently for its updated version, ACT 2.0. Our dedication to sustainable practices is not just about adherence to standards; it’s about leading by example within the maritime industry.

Utilising the IMPA ACT toolbox has been instrumental in refining our procurement processes, allowing us to thoroughly scrutinise every aspect of our supply chain from a sustainability standpoint. This scrutiny is not only limited to compliance with human rights and UN conventions but extends to environmental considerations, such as emissions tracking.

For our clients, this means that when they dock at a port serviced by an Inchcape agent, we offer comprehensive support in monitoring emissions related to the core services we provide. This initiative is crucial for our clients, providing them with a detailed understanding of their emissions footprint within the port, encompassing Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Our aim is to ensure that they have a holistic view of their environmental impact, including emissions from auxiliary services like tugs, launches, taxis, and hotels.

However, our commitment goes beyond tracking; it extends to educating our suppliers. Our observations suggest that approximately 30% of port suppliers are genuinely aware of what sustainability entails, and a similar percentage have set targets towards achieving net zero. As a global port agent with sustainability at our core, we believe it’s our responsibility to enlighten our supply base on the importance of supporting our clients’ sustainability goals.

This educational role synergises with our activities at IMPA, where we work closely with colleagues to promote sustainability within the industry. Our efforts are not just about compliance or meeting standards; they’re about fostering a culture of sustainability and responsibility across the maritime sector.

The essence of ‘procurement-as-a-service’ at Inchcape modernises the traditional ‘one-stop shop’ concept, providing a more comprehensive solution. Our clients, especially those operating container vessels with regular routes and suppliers, have a core list of needs when it comes to supplies and services at the ports they frequent. However, challenges arise when they need items or services beyond this core list, whether it’s spare parts, consumables, provisions, or other services. Finding vendors that meet the desired quality and price point outside their usual list can be difficult.

This is where our ‘procurement-as-a-service’ shines. With a global supply list exceeding 10,000 vetted suppliers across 60 countries, we offer our customers a reliable and extensive network. This service allows clients to approach us with specific needs in any port, confident in our ability to provide a solution that adheres to stringent quality and governance standards. While we may not always promise the lowest price, we ensure value through our rigorous vendor selection process, managed by our local teams on the ground. This approach guarantees that our customers benefit from the same level of governance and ethical standards they would expect from any port agency service, even if they don’t use Inchcape as their port agent.

Interestingly, over half of our ‘procurement-as-a-service’ clients do not utilise our port agency services, underscoring the standalone value of this offering. Even those with preferred agents opt for Inchcape’s procurement and logistics services to leverage our comprehensive governance framework and ethical policies, highlighting the distinct advantages and added value we bring to the table beyond mere cost savings.

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Ensuring reliability and efficiency across Inchcape’s extensive network hinges on our adherence to strict governance, standardised processes, and unified policies. We operate under a centralised framework accessible to all employees, promoting consistent practices throughout the organisation. Leadership commitment plays a crucial role, with alignment from the CEO down, ensuring that everyone, from the board to the front lines, understands and follows our operational directives. This clarity and lean organisational structure facilitate a unified approach to service delivery.

Despite the inherent challenges of operating in diverse cultural and linguistic landscapes, particularly in regions like Asia Pacific, our long-standing focus on maintaining high standards has honed our ability to provide consistent service quality worldwide. We recognise that local conditions may necessitate tailored service delivery, but the core standard remains unwavering.

A vital component of our strategy is the meticulous onboarding and continuous assessment of our vendors. We conduct annual audits to ensure they meet our stringent requirements, maintaining high service standards irrespective of location. This rigorous vetting process is especially crucial for services involving the movement of people, where risk management is paramount for the safety of both our personnel and clients.

Fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing within Inchcape’s diverse and global Procurement and Supply Chain team hinges on our foundational philosophy of open knowledge exchange. Recognising that no single individual holds all the answers, we place great emphasis on drawing insights and ideas from the entire team. A recent example of our collaborative approach was a gathering in Mumbai, where a significant portion of our team is based. This meeting facilitated a vibrant exchange of ideas and best practices, especially from our procurement support team, who possess a unique global perspective due to their centralised role.

Training sessions are a regular feature, aimed not only at skill enhancement but also at brainstorming improvements in our processes and methodologies. This continuous learning environment is underscored by our commitment to professional development, with many team members pursuing or encouraged to pursue CIPS qualifications, Six Sigma certifications, or advanced degrees.

Diversity in expertise is another pillar of our strategy. Our team in Mumbai, for example, benefits from the inclusion of individuals with backgrounds in mathematics and data analytics, enhancing our capability to deliver insightful data analysis and feedback to other departments. This analytical approach not only advances our procurement and risk management strategies but also propels sustainability initiatives, providing substantial non-price value to our clients.

Transparency with our customers is paramount, reflected in our practice of sharing original vendor invoices, ensuring they have clear visibility into the costs incurred. Our pursuit of competitive rates, balanced with a commitment to quality, underpins our promise of value. Moreover, our involvement in innovative projects, like the launch of the first purely electric launch in Singapore, exemplifies our dedication to sustainability and innovation. These initiatives not only reduce carbon footprints but also align with our customers’ sustainability goals, illustrating our role in driving the industry forward through innovative and sustainable solutions.

The selection of strategic ports for the expansion of Inchcape’s chandling operations often begins with customer inquiries. Having an approved vendor list in various locations allows us to swiftly provide solutions, but the challenge lies in effectively communicating our capabilities to customers, ensuring they understand the breadth of services we offer.

Traditionally, port agents have provided chandling services on an ad-hoc basis, responding to last-minute requests from ships as they arrive. Our approach with the chandling solution, or ‘procurement as a service’, is to make this process more systematic, involving ourselves in the planned ordering of spares and stores rather than solely catering to emergency needs. This not only assists ships in port but also aids in preemptive planning, especially when vessels change course unexpectedly and require support in unfamiliar locations.

The selection of ports and tailoring of services hinge on understanding the diverse challenges our customers face. These challenges can vary widely, influenced by factors such as the size of the customer’s purchasing team, the number of contracts they manage, and the regularity with which they visit certain ports. We have identified around 60 ports that see regular activity from our clients, which have become focal points for our services. While sourcing a chandler in major ports like Singapore, Houston, or Rotterdam might be straightforward, our strength lies in providing reliable services outside these hubs, where finding quality support can be more challenging. Despite this, we’re also seeing increased demand in these major ports, highlighting our comprehensive capabilities and the trust clients place in our services.

At Inchcape, the foundation of our sustainability strategy is encapsulated in our code of conduct and, more specifically, our Supplier Code of Conduct. This sets the minimum standards we expect not only from our vendors but also from our partner agents globally. Given that we don’t operate in every location directly, it’s imperative that our representatives uphold the same sustainability standards as we do.

Measuring the effectiveness of these initiatives often presents challenges, as mere compliance on paper doesn’t necessarily equate to real-world application. To address this, we invest considerable effort in auditing and assessing our key vendors worldwide, ensuring they not only commit to our standards but actively embody them in their operations.

One of our primary Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is the adherence to our business and supply codes of conduct, which reflect our sustainability and procurement expectations. Regular visits to our key vendors form another crucial part of our strategy, enabling us to conduct toolbox talks and demonstrate visible, felt leadership. These interactions are instrumental in conveying our values and ensuring that our sustainability standards are more than just a checklist, but a lived experience across our supply chain.

IMPA Act 2.0 primarily fosters collaboration between customers and their supplier networks within the maritime industry. While its direct influence on customer-to-customer collaboration may be less apparent, the initiative serves as a crucial bridge in aligning ship owners, managers, and their vendors on sustainability practices. Many industry stakeholders, often uncertain about how to approach sustainability, have found IMPA Act 2.0 to be an invaluable resource. The Act provides a comprehensive toolbox designed to navigate the complexities of sustainability in an industry traditionally characterised by analog processes.

This toolbox has become a pivotal platform for dialogue, enabling suppliers and customers to ensure mutual understanding and alignment, especially as regulatory pressures on sustainability intensify. For example, the focus on maintaining an inventory of hazardous materials is one of the many areas where IMPA Act 2.0 has raised awareness and facilitated industry-wide compliance and best practices.

Inchcape, aligning with the principles of IMPA Act 2.0, plays a significant role in promoting sustainability within the maritime sector. Our involvement goes beyond compliance; we actively engage with both our suppliers and customers to ensure a cohesive approach to sustainability. By advocating for and adhering to the guidelines and frameworks provided by initiatives like IMPA Act 2.0, Inchcape aims to lead by example, encouraging a more sustainable and environmentally responsible maritime industry.

While I must be cautious about divulging too much, I can share that Inchcape is actively engaging with technology disruptors to explore innovative procurement solutions. Our focus isn’t just on adopting new technologies for the sake of innovation; it’s about critically evaluating these advancements to enhance our procurement and purchasing strategies fundamentally.

A key area of innovation for us lies in managing costs and logistics beyond the major ports. It’s relatively straightforward to find chandling services in hubs like Rotterdam, Houston, or Singapore. However, the real challenge—and our differentiator—comes in providing cost-effective, efficient services in smaller or less frequented ports. Here, Inchcape stands out by not only offering procurement services but also overseeing the crucial ‘last mile’ delivery directly to the vessel, eliminating the need for intermediaries.

My background in chandling and subsequent experience with shipping owners like Maersk has highlighted the importance of transparency and efficiency in the procurement process. Traditionally, the visibility of an order diminishes once it reaches a local agent or airport, leaving purchasers in the dark until the goods are received on board. Inchcape aims to revolutionise this aspect by ensuring continuous transparency about the costs and status of orders, from procurement to delivery. Our approach provides a clear picture of the total cost of acquisition, including all logistics expenses, to the purchasing team ashore. This level of transparency and efficiency in managing the procurement and delivery process is central to our innovative strategy in transforming maritime procurement.

The greatest source of inspiration for me is the opportunity to work for a global entity like Inchcape, which allows me to engage with diverse cultures and people from different parts of the world. The chance to visit and interact with colleagues and customers globally is genuinely one of the job’s highlights. This exposure to varied cultures and business practices enriches my understanding and appreciation of the maritime sector.

Another aspect that fuels my passion is the emphasis Inchcape places on ethical governance and standards. It’s one thing to profess a commitment to strict ethics and codes, but at Inchcape, we truly embody these principles. The role of a Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) is rare in the supplier side of our industry, highlighting the value Inchcape places on procurement as a critical function. This contrasts with many sectors where procurement is undervalued.

My role at Inchcape transcends traditional procurement functions like contract management and cost-saving. It encompasses driving value through maximising supplier relationships, maintaining service standards, fostering innovation, and spearheading sustainability and ESG initiatives. Our procurement department operates with a commercial mindset, actively engaging with customers to manage risks and enhance the supply chain they depend on through us.

I find that customers appreciate engaging with procurement professionals who understand their challenges. Being able to sit down with a counterpart and discuss solutions beyond the usual sales pitch not only breaks down barriers but also adds substantial value. This direct approach allows us to address their needs more effectively, showcasing Inchcape’s commitment to driving change and delivering results in the maritime industry.

By Nautical Digital