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Fred Gonzalez, Managing Editor
Mar 2021

What are the biggest impacts the pandemic has had on your business?
One of the biggest overall impacts to EY procurement was to move quickly to understand and then flex to the potential impacts the pandemic had on our supply chain. For example, would our technology suppliers be able to accommodate the increased needs of over 300,000 EY people to engage with each other and our clients? And, if not, what alternatives could we put in place?

Perhaps the greatest impact was to our travel, meetings and events procurement team. Hundreds of EY people and their families needed to return home, which took significant time to plan due to the constantly evolving country-by-country travel restrictions and guidelines. The team worked closely with travel suppliers to get their most up-to-date information and then sent all the relevant information to EY travelers. Over 2,000 face-to-face meetings had to be canceled, and here too we had to work closely with suppliers to introduce new, innovative virtual solutions to support those meetings.

How were you able to patiently shift to a new normal with a company as large as EY?
One of the things I love about EY, regardless of its size and global reach, is its ability to remain flexible and nimble. EY Procurement is a team of over 400 people spread across 32 countries, and yet by quickly aligning priorities we were able to arrive at a “new normal” in only three months.  It was our well-organized and focused teaming that allowed for this quick turnaround time.

Many companies during this pandemic created new programs and initiatives that produced an immediate benefit, and then became permanent. Are there any new programs implemented as a result of the pandemic that will remain in place?
There are several programs we introduced that definitely will survive post-pandemic. For example, in order to keep our people in the procurement team connected and exercising, we introduced Workout Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, we conducted one-hour virtual sessions, one convenient for our Americas and EMEIA people and one convenient for our Asia-Pacific people, where team members could connect to workout. There are some people on the team who are very athletic and some who are not, which made for some comical moments; however, regardless of people’s abilities, everyone gets their heart rates up as they connect with their peers. It’s all under the umbrella of keeping the procurement people healthy and mentally fit.

Informal Fridays are catch-up sessions at noon on Fridays in the United States, 5 p.m. in the UK, and 6 p.m. in Europe. We do another one for Asia. There is no meeting structure, just hundreds of people getting together virtually for coffee, chats and some laughs.

We will also continue our increased focus on relationship building. It sounds basic but now we put more emphasis on checking in on each other and making sure we’re all OK.  We also scheduled frequent traveler/supply-chain partner catch-up sessions, where frequent travelers sit down and chat with our business supply-chain partners and talk through their thoughts and reservations about travel.

 
How important is it to get back to those face-to-face meetings?
There’s no doubt that face-to-face meetings and the face-to-face connection is a big part of our culture and is important in support of our purpose of “Building a Better Working World.” So, when those meetings were initially eliminated, it created a lot more strain on the system.

As for me, 75 percent of my time is usually spent traveling internationally, and when those trips take place it’s really about the impromptu conversation as much as it is about the scheduled discussion. There are breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings, and other impromptu meetings where there are no agendas. Those mealtime conversations and impromptu meetings are critical to me as a leader in order to drive transformation and change. Not having those conversations take place really made me and the team feel a bit disconnected.

Typically, on these trips, I schedule what we call “Lunch With Larry.” About 25 to 50 people come together for a box lunch and an open discussion, again with no set agenda. These informal get-togethers always prompt healthy discussion and a great deal of energy. And they are fun. Of course, with the pandemic there are currently no in-person “Lunches With Larry,” so we introduced “On the Runway With Larry,” a similar concept, just virtually, to try to keep that connection and energy going with the team.

 

Considering how large EY is, did you get an opportunity to slow down and focus on things when it was time to shift?
From an overall procurement perspective, I don’t believe anything really slowed down. In fact, it all seemed to speed up as issues became more critical. Questions such as, “What are the PPE regulations around the globe?” and “How do we ensure EY people can work effectively from home?” and “How do we safely open up our offices?” needed immediate answers.

From a leadership perspective, when procurement was required to go into “hyperdrive,” my focus was on helping people stay positive and to stay focused on the shifting priorities. During times of crisis, your ability to lead is also tested, and so it was important for me to focus on being agile and flexible in my leadership style and in the ways I was connecting with the team.

Larry Phelan

How important has it been to your leadership teams to remain positive?
In our regular meetings, we avoid talking solely about the negative effects of COVID, and instead focus on the positive ways procurement can support the business to grow and how we significantly contribute to that growth. Celebrating accomplishments rather than dwelling on those things we can’t influence or change on a consistent basis is what is needed to reinforce our goals and remain positive.

What do you envision for business travel as you look toward the future?
I believe you will see more focus on the necessity and the quality of each trip. One-day trips will be replaced by virtual meetings and multiday trips will be reviewed to ensure they are really required, and that people are getting the most they can out of their trips. Are they meeting with all the clients in that location, or could additional meetings be arranged?

Another future travel option: Instead of flying back to your home base on a Friday only to turn around and fly out again on Sunday night or Monday morning,  have a “bleisure” weekend by mixing in some leisure activities at one of the business venues. These are the kinds of conversations I believe companies are going to have to see how “bleisure” might fit in to support their employees’ health and well-being and how these kinds of changes can impact their travel budgets going forward.

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