Ellen Leith, Director of Purchase to Pay Network, has published a Q&A with Rachel Griffiths covering Rachel’s career in Accounts Payable - from starting out at 17 to her current role as a Business Process Consultant at Canon.
Well, I’m lucky in that it’s been a journey that’s taken me down several different paths, each one connected to the last, but providing me with a pretty unique insight into lots of related functions such as supply chain, procurement, sales, credit control and fraud. It actually all started aged 17 on a YTS scheme where a position as an Accounts Office Junior exposed me to just about everything, but most of it was AP. Luckily for me, when the FD left – he took me with him. But it wasn’t until my job with Orange that I realised to be effective, you need to think of AP as a customer service and networking role within the business.
I went with Orange to a role in Australia where my natural curiosity and “challenge everything” approach to business lead me to uncover a AUS$16m fraud! Of course a discovery of that magnitude needed a great deal of research and analytical back up as evidence – which I then had to present to the board.
However, it was my jump into Australian construction firm, Australand as Head of Shared Services that really gave me something to sink my teeth into. Everything was paid by cheque. My love of analytics and perseverance in looking for a better way, led to a complete overhaul of processes and systems and I loved it. But, I felt I needed a change and to be honest, I got a little fed up with CFOs who couldn’t accept my unconventional route into the industry, and decided to go into pre sales, joining Converga in 2010. Sometimes in business you have to be lucky – and my break was teaming up with the best sales person I’ve ever worked with and in 3 months I’d sold 7 deals. While I was there I convinced Converga to partner with Palette and because I immediately saw the value of the product I persuaded our CEO to include the Palette solution in the 7 deals I’d already sold. Then in 2015 Canon bought out Converga, which was timely for me as I was moving back to the UK – and secured a position as a Business Process Consultant with Canon in the London offices.
I just found it easy – easy in that it came naturally to me. I’m still astonished by how many companies do it very badly. I like to go in and observe, see what needs changing or what works well. The beauty of AP is that you can have an immediate impact. And one of my personality traits is to be a fixer, to make everything right. So a job working with or alongside AP suits me perfectly.
Sometimes I think one of the more remarkable things about AP is actually how little has changed. The mechanics might have done, but the principles are exactly the same. However one of the things which is different is the rise in visibility and accountability. Historically AP were blamed for everything and were working in a position where that couldn’t be challenged. These days, the increase in automation sheds light onto processes and offers levels of traceability that simply weren’t possible before, resulting in an increase in analytics and reporting. The most interesting point about that is what it’s done for the AP role. Being able to analyse data and use that to present ideas that will be good for business, has lead to a better appreciation of the role of AP as well as give rise to a higher profile within the organisation. AP is sometimes viewed as a breeding ground for accountants, when really it’s more akin to a customer service role. But in customer service you don’t get to make significant improvements that can make a real difference. At the end of the day, there’s got to be something special/different/important about AP – otherwise there probably wouldn’t be so many conferences that can attract thousands of attendees to them.
To a large extent, the success of a collaboration project is down to the individuals concerned. Regardless of a P2P department’s aims, a disinterested manager, or a sceptical C-Suite will scupper any attempts at collaboration. To be truly collaborative you have to work with procurement in a way that all parties can see the purpose and the gains that can be made. Of course the synchronised tech has a huge part to play in this.
Well, it’s not quite the departure that you think it is. In many ways the P2P solution is just an extension of what Canon has been doing forever. And without sounding salesy, of course the brand name is one that’s synonymous with quality. The role offered an opportunity to use all the experience I’ve had to date and help organisations and the people within them to find a better way to do things. In other words, I took it because it was perfect for me! As word’s getting out, the pipeline has grown and the take up of the solutions has been exciting.
More of the same! Really, it’s just to keep doing what I’m doing. The industry is constantly changing and while I’m still learning and helping people and fixing things, then there are many years ahead. What’s really exciting now is where the solutions are going, and increasingly I’m right at the heart of that too. As I’m often at the coal face, I can relay any challenges and ideas back in development. These days I sit down with our Head of R&D once a month and it’s so exciting when problems that were shared at a meeting with a client, or potential client, turn into a solution to fix it. It’s so satisfying to plug that solution in and make any pain go away.