Empowering Procurement to Drive Business Success

Empowering Procurement to Drive Business Success

How AllPoints Fibre is Utilising its Procurement Team’s Strategy and its Transformation to Support the Growth and Success of its Business

Stuart Farrell is someone who believes completely in the value of strong relationships to foster engagement, unity, strength, and delivery. He is the Chief Procurement Officer at AllPoints Fibre Networks (APFN), a company transforming full-fibre internet connectivity across the UK. As he reflects on his career journey so far, he keeps returning to the foundational belief of having solid relationships with his team, his leadership group and his supplier/partners.  

“If you were to speak to any of our suppliers and partners, past or present, they'd probably say to you, ‘Stuart's not a normal CPO.’ He will enter any engagement asking, 'What do we need to do to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome for both parties??’” says Farrell.  

Throughout his career, Stuart Farrell has held diverse leadership roles across prominent organisations. He began his journey in Retail Leadership within the Boots Group, then transitioned to Commercial & Field Management at Vodafone. Later, he served as a Global Account Director at Fujitsu, gaining valuable international experience in consumer channels with Hewlett Packard. This trajectory led him to roles in Wholesale Carrier Operations and Group Procurement at Vodafone/Telefonica before ultimately joining the group of companies that would evolve into AllPoints Fibre Networks.

Farrell believes that constructing a world-class procurement function relies heavily on cultivating enduring relationships that stand the test of time and challenge. With his background in commercial operations, Farrell possesses a profound understanding and appreciation of the needs of procurement partners, including Sales Directors and Account Managers. “When you negotiate with a supplier, I’m very mindful that you can spend and waste a lot of time if you don't understand what the supplier is also trying to achieve.”

It isn’t just the value of external long-term relationships on which Farrell reflects warmly.  On first being approached for the role at APFN, he was presented with both a challenge and a long-term vision for success by Group CEO Jarlath Finnegan. Upon joining, Farrell embarked on the formidable task of establishing and nurturing a world-class procurement function, drawing from his extensive global industry experience. He also grappled with the task of setting a realistic timeline for this endeavour, estimating that it would take approximately “three years to lay the groundwork, assemble the right team, and make it successful.”    

Creating the UK’s most recommended way to connect 

Over the past year, Farrell and his procurement team have played a crucial role in facilitating a period of dynamic change and evolution within the business. This transformation has been underpinned by robust governance, rigorous process re-engineering, and a steadfast commitment to data-driven decision-making. Today, APFN’s simple, yet clear mission is to become the UK’s most recommended way to connect. 

“We've successfully amalgamated the finest components from across the group over the past year. We're repurposing, embracing, and expanding upon these elements within our new procurement landscape, driven by the overarching goal of ensuring the success of our combined business,” Farrell explains.

Since joining, Farrell has witnessed a remarkable surge in growth and an unwavering commitment to evolution across the company. One notable aspect of this transformation is the refinement of the property strategy, which has now been integrated into his procurement function, with Fleet & Property operations overseen by Justin Doulin. “We've transitioned from a modest employee base to now employing several hundred individuals. We've navigated through extensive discovery, redesign, and implementation processes, all while fostering a collective sense of purpose aimed at leaving a lasting legacy. This concerted effort has also significantly enhanced the workplace environment,” he explains.

This progression and change has had to be reflected in the procurement function, as it provides the operational fuel to the business to drive success.  “We are one of the strategic pillars that sit within APFN. We are engaged in every penny of capital and operational expenditure, transforming how we oversee our supply chain, interact with our key suppliers, and ensure we get optimal value for money, by carefully selecting our partners.”

Creating a world-class procurement function 

In transforming the procurement operations within APFN, Farrell has been given tremendous scope to power up the business’s transformation and achieve ambitious levels of success. The opportunity enables him to scale effectively, build long-lasting relationships, and uphold sustainability and safety as top priorities. 

Farrell has developed a Target Operating Model (TOM) that extends beyond the scope of a conventional procurement function. With the full support of Group CFO Graham McGregor, they have established a blueprint that they anticipate will cement Procurement as a central pillar of the operation for years to come.

In addition to overseeing traditional procurement enablement and category-led activities, spearheaded by Debbie Lowe & Aaron Blyth, Farrell also assumes responsibility for supplier/partner engagement through a robust Commercial Contract Management team, led by Phil Gardin. Furthermore, the team is entrusted with the management of all UK logistics, civil construction & installation materials, supply chain, and warehousing, under the leadership of David Knowles.

A fundamental aspect of Farrell’s TOM revolves around establishing robust, repeatable processes, fostering good governance, and ensuring that the business operates with a data-driven approach across all functions. This critical element, overseen by Rob Home, ensures that APFN makes sound investments while remaining vigilant of global supply chain challenges, conflicts, shipping logistics, global market pressures, and the company's environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impact.

Farrell perceives that a fundamental driver of the business transformation's success is the importance that has been given to the procurement function at APFN, coupled with the buy-in to that mentality from the very top of the organisation. "I often come across discussions on how the CPO or the procurement director can gain importance in the eyes of the CEO and earn a seat at the table. I consider myself fortunate that within our organisation, the procurement function was already recognised as crucial by our Group CEO even before my tenure began. Now, we play integral roles in driving our success," adds Farrell.

Farrell considers this further, saying that his Group CEO knew he had a strong grounding and education in procurement from his global exploits and so has been given the autonomy to go and build the best possible operation for the company, investing in talent, sourcing respectfully and always remembering that without suppliers and partners, APFN cannot deliver.  

Once again, he returns to the lifeblood of procurement: the relationships between the company and supplier, and how that ultimately benefits customers.  “APFN’s procurement team is all about embracing partnerships.” 

Captured in Farrell’s three-year procurement strategy at APFN, which delineates crucial areas for growth, change, investment, and process re-engineering, lies a particularly intriguing component. That being, how he plans to “tap into” the research and development capabilities of supply chain partners to bolster APFN's competitive edge. By harnessing both cutting-edge technologies and innovative ideas from around the world, Farrell aims to catalyse transformation, mitigate environmental impacts, enhance sustainability, and foster innovation within the organisation.

“With our commitment to our strategic goals, we're trying to create value, provide service excellence and build a sustainable and positive workplace for all. This sets us apart in our aim to deliver the best experience for our customers and our end users, by simplifying processes and adopting automation to remain competitive. We ultimately want to become the most recommended way to connect.”

Partnerships to fuel AllPoints Fibre progression 

Currently, APFN has key external third parties working on a daily basis for the business across the network design, build and operations.  This involves all of them having the right contracts, working agreements and payment terms to keep the wheels of progress turning.  

One such relationship Farrell highlights is with US partner Wesco-Anixter. Over the past 10 months, APFN has dedicated efforts to re-designing and enhancing levels of automation, innovation and transformation. This effort culminated in the recent outsourcing of all warehousing operations and build logistics, indicating a level of maturity within APFN’s leadership group. Through strategic investment in the right solutions, APFN is now better positioned to concentrate on its core deliverables.

“We can't achieve our goals without our partners. They continue to be a real rock for us, instrumental in propelling us from inception to our current position,” says Farrell.  He emphasises that the strength of these relationships has grown exponentially, he says, to them feeling very much like an extension of the business and team.  

It is just this kind of relationship that Farrell celebrates, illustrating how it represents a strategic approach to empowering procurement teams to become more than an administrative sourcing function. “Anyone can do purchasing,” he asserts. “Procurement is a very different art form and it’s mainly based around relationships with internal stakeholders and partners.”

Farrell speaks passionately about the inspiration he gets from his team, many of whom have followed him around the world. He speaks of making a measurable difference and succeeding with the business, but also being conscious of creating a legacy within the organisation.  “What inspires and drives me is the opportunity to nurture the next generation of procurement professionals, empowering them to surpass our current capabilities,” he says, “It's about finding, investing in, and building the talents of our successors, strengthening our already thriving procurement function with fresh energy and purpose, propelling us to be truly world-class."

Delivering for customers 

“Looking forward, the next 18 months for procurement are ones of both continued consolidation and well-structured rationalisation. Working closely with our partners we will close out 2024/25 prepared to establish future-ready sourcing with the right mix of small, medium and large suppliers. As the business continues to merge legacy systems and processes, we’re committed to investing in future technology and our people to propel the company forward, with procurement playing a pivotal role driving organisational success.

Through internal collaboration with stakeholders across all categories, procurement can deliver products and/or services that will enhance our customer experience, drive change, and automation. By pooling our requirements and acquiring at scale we can deliver value back to the business.” 

Despite the success of the strategies and transformations implemented by Farrell and his procurement team so far, he recognises the need for ongoing focus and action in the near future. “In the next 18 months, if we can ensure our supplier base is more manageable, successfully deploy procurement-specific technology to empower the team to make smarter data-led decisions and maintain relationships at an integral and close level, I think that would constitute success."

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