Jill Robbins, Senior Director, Global Procurement of Indirect Goods & Services at Elanco, explores how a procurement lens enables smarter business growth. By Dale Benton
The typical career journey for any procurement professional is often one of great variety, but it’s this variety that enables a greater understanding of the value that procurement brings to the enterprise. For Jill Robbins, Senior Director, Global Procurement of Indirect Goods & Services at Elanco, this is most certainly true as she lives by a key philosophy that helps her drive the value of procurement. ”
Procurement has a unique lens and insight into all aspects of the business. There are always going to be people that do not understand the value of procurement – and that’s how you learn to up your game and to be better at what you do,” explains Robbins. “While we’re not the experts in marketing or in research and development, or in IT, we do see opportunities and connectivity across the value chain that others may not be able to see that drive enterprise efficiency and productivity.”
Prior to Elanco, Robbins worked for a large healthcare conglomerate of hospitals and rehabilitation centers. It is here that Robbins was first exposed to information technology procurement, leading competitive bids, RFPs, RFQs, and supplier relationship management in the medical information space. She moved on to Ingersoll Rand where she fully immersed herself in strategic sourcing on a global scale. Under the tutelage of ‘great mentors’, Robbins developed an understanding of the importance of strong category strategy, supplier relationship management and supplier consolidation, building programs from the ground up. She was given a lot of autonomy to work for a company with very strong procurement talent at that time. Following this, Robbins transitioned to Eli Lilly and Company, holding a number of roles, including Sourcing, Research & Development, Information Technology and Procure to Pay operations, as well as general and administrative procurement.
“I sourced everything from consulting services to benefits, financial services – everything that is behind the scenes at a company,” she says. From there she moved into a corporate finance and an investment banking role. This is where I saw all sides of the business across the value chain, which gave me a very unique perspective.” It was during this time that Robbins was given advice on how to advance in procurement. “I was told that I needed to have a core finance role, which is why I accepted a role in corporate finance investment banking, even though it has little to do with procurement. In many organizations, procurement reports up through finance,” she says.
Upon completion of the corporate finance investment banking role, she moved into a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt role, “working on supplier master data governance to deliver a single version of the truth through a Lean Six Sigma effort. I have my Lean Six Sigma black belt certification, as well as my Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) and Certified Purchasing Manager (C.P.M.)”. After this, Robbins moved to Elanco Animal Health, at that time a division of Eli Lilly and Company, leading all the indirect procurement globally. Also during this time in Corporate America, Robbins and her husband, who is an attorney by trade, opened a few franchised Sky Zone indoor trampoline parks, As well as authoring a children’s book.
These entrepreneurial experiences have made Jill a better corporate employee and steward of funds, by exposing her to how an operation works at all levels. “When you sign the front of a check vs. the back of the check, it gives you a different level of appreciation on how every decision and employee impacts business profitability,” explains Robbins. In 2018, Elanco separated from Eli Lilly and Company after completing an IPO. One of the first projects from this, from a procurement perspective, was the acquisition of a new ERP system. Robbins and her team have played an instrumental part in negotiating with major suppliers to establish Elanco’s own systems, as well as negotiating with and securing agreements with other major technology and employee benefit companies around the world.
“My team has been instrumental in driving value, driving efficiency and protecting the company from a risk perspective,” she says. “Then we focused on ensuring that long-term value is secured during contract negotiation. It’s easy for procurement to secure short-term value, but you have to look at every deal across the duration of the relationship.”
“With the unique lens procurement has across the value chain, we’ve been instrumental in really changing the culture to be more ownership minded, establishing policy training around financial controls. It’s about shaping how the business spends money versus just saving money, which again is very instrumental in ensuring sustainable value in what we do and how we do it.”
Procurement Value Chain Connectivity The perception of procurement is transforming on a global scale. Businesses are ‘waking up’ to the idea that procurement is more than a cost center or support function – we are now a proven profit center and business enabler. “In my 20 years of procurement experience it can be an uphill battle at times, because people do not always treat company dollars the same way they treat personal dollars. Or sometimes they just don’t have the right discipline or mindset,” she says. “At Elanco we’ve simplified the branding effort on what to do, how to do it, and when to pull procurement in through a Buy SMART approach.”
“We are getting recognition across the business on the enterprise value secured and spend optimization, through improved involvement upfront with business partners to enable a procurement view early in the process of outsourcing.” Robbins highlights, “The first earnings call, we had as an independent company, Procurement was mentioned. That rarely happens. procurement has proven and continues to play an instrumental role in maximizing our margins and achieving the goals as an independent business.”
Leadership, Talent and Retention As part of her role, Robbins is responsible for a truly global procurement team. With direct reports coming in every time zone and proving communication vital to achieving procurement excellence, Robbins is keen to highlight the significance of investing in the people of the business. “We have a globally diverse and extremely talented team, so having regular one-on-one meetings, coaching and mentoring sessions with those individuals is critical. Getting people exposure to what is going on across industries and best practices in the procurement discipline, is critical. In addition, the networking internally and externally is invaluable,” she says.
Over the course of her career, Robbins has established herself as a true champion of Procurement. Speaking regularly at global events and conferences, Robbins promotes the value of procurement across business areas and industries. “One of my philosophies with my team and the business is: ask why, and then ask why again, sometimes up to 5 times. Ask with internal stakeholders, and ask with suppliers. We’ve had various SRM meetings, where I ask my suppliers what margins they are making on this account? How can we both benefit by becoming more efficient and productive?” She adds, “by asking these questions, the revelations and learnings are invaluable in helping to inform a more profitable and productive future.”
“You’ve got to ask the tough questions. Your toughest negotiations are oftentimes internal, not with the supplier. Procurement has a unique and valuable lens that really no one else in the company has. When you work with thousands of suppliers and billions of dollars in spend, you can see things in a way that others do not. Even in finance, you see things from an accounting perspective, procurement has a unique lens seeing how spend is interconnected across the business.” “Procurement talent has evolved over my 20 year tenure in the discipline. I have learned that you can diversify yourself within procurement. I think that’s something that, historically, has been undervalued. You can source direct materials, you can source indirect materials, and you can take an operational business role to get full exposure across the business. Seeing how things are done in business development is a great opportunity as well.”
Personal and career development doesn’t just happen inside a company; it happens outside of the company as well. Robbins encourages her team to get involved in their community and in different organizations that they’re passionate about, as she recognizes the business acumen and relationship skills gained are transferable. Jill’s philosophy and leadership style enables optimal team collaboration. She believes it is imperative to “treat team members as equals. We are all on the same team, I allow autonomy and the ability for each team member to learn and grow, providing coaching along the way. Employees must feel safe to do their best work and know that their boss has their back when things get tough”. Leadership is not showboating, it is about developing strong talent that makes the business more profitable and productive.
Jill’s advice to the young procurement talent:
• Learn everyday
• Read about your categories and trends, there are many blogs and LinkedIn articles available for no cost
• Know your suppliers, do your research… information is power in every negotiation.
• Shadow those more senior than you in negotiations, both internal and external
• Ask why 5 times, when a business stakeholder resists consolidation of the supply base or when you bring back a best practice to test and they respond “we cannot do that, this is how we have always done it”, etc.
• Procurement has the “best seat in the house” when it comes to learning how a business works and what can be improved; on the tough days, remember this!
Procurement Growth Journey Elanco is at the start of its growth journey, but it can already look to the future with solid foundations in place within its procurement function. The future is one of opportunities and for Robbins, it will be one that contains systems and streamlined processes in order to create a single source of truth with strong metrics. As technology continues to redefine the world over, procurement is no stranger to disruption and innovation.
Robbins views technology as driving a more proactive approach to the supply chain needs, versus a reactive approach. “I can remember when I started my career, it was very much the business would enter a requisition and then procurement or a buyer would react to create an order, then everyone would go on their merry way,” she says. “Today, I see guided buying and sourcing from a select group of suppliers for goods and services, allows the business to maximize the leverage and value with those suppliers. Guiding the business to sourced suppliers is key to category strategy compliance, maximized SRM and spend optimization; all of which maximize operating margins.”
With regards to back office functionality and supplier on-boarding, Robbins sees the automation of processes through artificial intelligence and RPA. “So many companies have gone offshore for the back office P2P and I would like to see, in combination of going offshore, we automate those processes as much as possible to maximize value and productivity,” she says. “Then you have more reliable data as a result. With this approach using artificial intelligence and RPA, renders a much more reliable and repeatable result; and it’s more efficient than waiting for a person who is two time zones away to get something done.”
“As an independent company we have an opportunity to pull all of our contract information together into a single version of the truth for all contracts across the enterprise, historically many functions stored contracts in disparate systems. There are so many synergies when it comes to contract management,” she says. “Make it easy for people to Buy SMART,” she says. “Give the business everything they need in an easy to use way because we’re all consumers, we all use Amazon and the Internet to buy things. It should be no different in the workplace.”