1 November 2022, London Marriott Hotel County Hall
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Roger Burr is head of retail and corporate services procurement at Marks and Spencer and a judge for the Business Travel Awards. He talks to Bob Papworth...
Your job title suggests a wide remit – what are your responsibilities?
I am responsible for all indirect spend, other than logistics, IT and marketing – everything from consumables to consultants, stationery to security, cleaning to credit card fees and then pretty much everything in between. I have recently appointed a full-time travel manager, which means that I now spend around 15 per cent of my time on travel.
How long have you been with Marks & Spencer?
I have been with M&S for six years. Prior to this I had 11 years with British Airways in a variety of roles in both commercial and procurement, culminating in the post of regional general manager for the south-west Pacific, based in Sydney. I have a degree in marketing and management studies, and started my career in a marketing role with American Express in Auckland, New Zealand.
Are M&S’s travel volumes increasing?
Yes. Airline spend has increased by 13 per cent and further growth is anticipated given our continued strategic expansion in China, India, other parts of Asia and Europe. Our travel budget has been adjusted accordingly.
How do you balance cost containment with the duty-of-care imperative?
I’m a procurement person through and through, so containing costs is always important and at the forefront of what we do – across all categories, not just travel. However ‘value’ is as important to us and we will not cut corners purely to achieve a reduction in cost. The safety and security of our employees is the absolute number one priority on any decisions taken.
How green is M&S’s travel?
We have an internal CSR [corporate social responsibility] environment department, The Plan A team, who provide data for C02 emissions and liaise regularly with our travel suppliers to ensure our CSR policy is adhered to – even though, in comparison to similar-sized companies, M&S undertakes less international travel.
What are the greatest opportunities and challenges for your recently-appointed travel manager?
Our travel policy is relatively uncomplicated, but the appointment of a travel manager has allowed us to drive the policy proactively. She is engaging with suppliers more regularly and using the management information they provide to deliver savings and identify opportunities. This has also led us to recently introducing two more preferred carriers to our airline programme. Her greatest challenge is communication – we have a basic travel intranet site, but no tailored communication tools to reach our booking/traveller community.
How receptive are your travellers to advances in travel technologies?
The rapid growth in technology generally over the past few years has benefited our travellers tremendously, but this has happened organically as opposed to a targeted strategy. We do use video-conferencing, but the majority of our international travel is for buying trips and/or meeting suppliers and manufacturers, so the face-to-face element is key.
What one thing would you change about the corporate travel sector?
Name-changes on tickets. Coming from the airline industry, I understand all the reasons behind it, but retail is a very fast-moving environment and it can be ‘all change’ at the last minute.
As a member of the judging panel for the Business Travel Awards 2016, how would you describe the experience?
I thoroughly enjoy it. It can be time-consuming, particularly given the high number of entries this year, but I do like to ensure I spend sufficient time evaluating each entry and scoring them fairly. Generally, I found the entries to be of a high standard across all the categories. My favourite part is meeting my fellow judges on final judging day. We only come together as a group for a brief period but it never fails to amaze me how quickly and effectively we facilitate the final judging, given the number of varied roles and backgrounds.
Was a career in travel your first choice?
I actually fell into travel when I applied to British Airways back in 1998, with no travel background, assuming ‘this will never happen’ – and, somewhat fortuitously, it did. Career change now? More of the same, but three days a week would be just perfect.
Finally, how do you spend your leisure time – what’s your ideal weekend?
Not going anywhere. I live in west London and, after years of roles that involved extensive travel, I really enjoy staying put.
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