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Q&A with Claire Stuart - Supply Chain and Purchasing | Manager

22 February 2017


Oliver James Associates launched its Supply Chain and Purchasing desk in July 2016, partnering with clients across the Retail and FMCG sectors to identify, attract and place outstanding talent from Analyst through to Director level. Our unique consultative service covers contingency, retained and executive search solutions for both permanent and interim positions.

Claire Stuart joined Oliver James Associates in January 2016 to lead the Supply Chain and Purchasing desk. With over 10 years’ experience, her exceptional knowledge of the retail sector puts her in a stellar position to advise our partners and candidates, and find the best technical and cultural fit for both.

Read our Q&A with Claire to learn about the opportunities and challenges facing the supply chain professional, alongside the specific skill sets companies are looking for today…

Claire, tell me a little about yourself and your professional background

Five years ago, I moved into the recruitment industry to set up a desk for the FMCG and Retail Supply Chain markets. Prior to this, I had 10 years’ experience within both retail operations and merchandising, so my understanding of how retail stores and head offices function means I can deliver innovative solutions to a wide range of recruitment needs within these highly specialised environments.

What’s your role here at OJ and what do you hope to achieve?

I manage the Retail and FMCG, Supply Chain and Purchasing team across both contract and permanent recruitment. We place at all levels, from Planners and Analysts through to Managers and Directors, with salaries ranging from £30k to £150k+. I’m hoping to expand my team throughout the Midlands and the North, as we’re predominantly focused on the South at present. From a personal perspective, I would like to reach Associate Director level in the future.

What are the main recruitment challenges facing the Supply Chain sector?

A key challenge facing the Supply Chain sector is the lack of planning professionals with CPFR and collaborative-planning experience. Businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to find planners with the skills needed to work effectively with the customer. Equally, in terms of operating systems, employers are asking for specific knowledge of SAP, APO, SAP R3, S&OP.

With these challenges in mind, I always encourage clients to be more open-minded about these types of roles. For example, if a business is adamant they need a candidate with experience in the food sector and in sourcing from India and China, I’d suggest they look for candidates who have experience sourcing from these countries, but not necessarily exclusively within the food industry. Ultimately, excellence in delivery is about being innovative, thinking outside of the box and looking for new ways to approach complex requirements.

Are there any other markets outside of the UK that are thriving in this sector?

Yes – the USA, Netherlands and Belgium. In terms of the USA, many quirky and innovative brands such as Hello Fresh are looking to take their products out into the American market. Also, many businesses are moving their warehousing to the Netherlands and Belgium, since these nations offer fantastic cost-efficiency.

Is the demand for a particular skill set changing and/or evolving for Supply Chain professionals?

Yes. Most businesses are putting greater emphasis on S&OP and CPFR skill sets. In terms of how that effects the supply chain landscape for professionals, many companies are now placing ‘supplier implants’ (current employees) within key retailers, which gives them greater control, easier access to the inner workings of the retail operation and a broader influence over stakeholder management. The presence of these individuals is usually kept under the two-year mark to ensure they don’t get embedded into an alternative business culture. Some companies leading the way with this initiative are Lego and Heinz. I’m familiar with the benefits of collaborative planning and its influence within retail, having previously placed the first ever ‘implant’ into Waitrose on behalf of Dale Head Foods.

Is technology presenting further opportunities for professionals within the Supply Chain sector?

There are multiple consultancies doing much more with data analytics now. Retailers are also investing in advanced outsourcing systems to gain an in-depth view of shelf life and wastage, as well as how these factors can be improved at store and even skew level. As such, it’s key for supply chain professionals to enrol on software courses and be proactive about getting involved in system implementations such as ‘Super Users’ for SAP. We've seen this really add value to people's careers.

Are companies looking for specific competencies in the talent pool to meet future strategic objectives?

Obviously technical skill is key, but today, more and more hires are coming down to cultural fit. Equally, though supply chain was historically seen as a back office concern, businesses are now identifying it as a major source of cost savings, so economic supply chain and purchasing functions are becoming a bigger priority than ever before.

What talent attraction challenges will the Supply Chain sector face in the next five years?

The main challenges within supply chain recruitment will be identifying available talent. With businesses looking to invest more in their supply chain, sourcing and attracting key talent will be trickier. It’s actually more commercially beneficial to hire graduates and train them up to the industry standard. Understanding how to communicate with and manage key stakeholders is an essential factor to continued success, so hiring the right talent at this stage is paramount.

Why should candidates and clients partner with OJ? What do you do differently?

Oliver James Associates’ headhunting approach is niche in comparison to other recruitment firms. We network, map markets, and use extensive data analytics to reach candidates and understand our sectors in more depth. Personally, I have established and maintained some great partnerships throughout my career, watching my clients become my candidates and vice versa. I have a 70% repeat business rate, so I’m able to offer exclusive access to the best market opportunities. Quite honestly, a CV is not just a CV to me – it’s somebody’s livelihood. It’s my responsibility to guide and shape that person’s career, which my partnerships and knowledge of the industry have enabled me to do. It’s a real sense of achievement, for example, to learn that a mid-level candidate you placed three years ago is now in management.

If you need to hire within your Supply Chain and Purchasing department, or you’re a supply chain professional looking for the next step, contact Claire for an open and honest conversation on, or 00 44 (0) 203 861 9167.


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