25th Anniversary Q&A with joint managing director, Jill Macdonald

June 15, 2023

As part of our 25th anniversary this year we will be sharing more content about our business, the progress we have made over the past quarter of a century and our plans for the future.

There’s no better place to start than with the thoughts of our joint MD, Jill Macdonald, who has been with the company since day one.

Established in 1998, Craig International has evolved from sourcing and supplying essential consumables for rigs in the North Sea to providing third party procurement solutions to a diverse range of energy companies in 55 countries, across five continents. The company now boasts a turnover of £150million and employs 150 people worldwide.

Whilst many of us can’t remember a world before Smartphones and Google, Jill recalls the days of handwritten POs and calling the technical library to research products.

How has your role changed over the last 25 years?

I originally started with DIC supplies in 1995. They were bought over by Craig Group in 1998, which was when Craig International was first established. I came in to cover maternity leave, so it was only going to be a year’s placement but, here I am 28 years later.

I started as a buyer; procurement was new to me, and it was back in the days when there was no ‘google’.

When we became part of Craig Group, I headed up a team of about four people. I continued my procurement journey until 2005 when I was made director. That was quite a big jump for me.

I still miss parts of the procurement side, but it was good to move on and develop and in 2011 I became joint managing director alongside Steve McHardy. I’m also on the board of all the international divisions as well.

I’m still very much a people person and the team call me their ‘work mum’. I have an open-door policy and I’m here for them to discuss everything that’s going on in their life. Craig Group is a family business. I still remember when David Craig was alive, he made a point of knowing everyone’s name. Steve and I have continued that approach.

How has procurement changed over the years?

Back when I started, those were the best days for me personally. You would get your enquiries in from offshore, you would pick up the phone and you dealt directly with the guys offshore; you really knew them personally and professionally.

I did everything. This included running into town to buy their shopping when they were coming onshore because that was the kind of relationship you developed back then, and it was great!

You didn’t always know the technical and mechanical parts that were being purchased but you phoned the technical library to find out more and off you would go sourcing the item that was needed. You stored the information on a Kardex system, so you knew for next time. It was a very basic manual system, but it worked.

Historically we were seen as a consumable supplier with lower value, higher turnover items. Now we’re seen as a strategic partner to clients and we’re more focussed on category buying and work is generally project based. Clients look to us to build their catalogues and not so much in low value, consumable items. This usually includes MRO products, electrical components, CAPEX requirements and services, which is not something we would have done before. We also do more downstream and shutdown work and more technical buying now than we did 25 years ago.

How have the products you supply changed over the past 25 years?

We used to refer to our business as providing “rope, soap, and dope”. WD40, paint brushes, cleaning rags or basic tools - those were the sorts of things we were asked for. Back then money was no object and clients liked to buy the Rolls Royce of products, they wanted a brand name.

It’s changed over the years, and we have played a big part in standardising products and pushing the prices down because everyone is buying the same product and when a new client comes on board with us, we can offer them a volume discount for certain products.

Last year we bought a crane that was worth over $1million which is as far removed from paint brushes and cleaning rags as you can get. That comes from building trust and long-standing relationships with our customers. They really trust us to go and buy larger items like this and deliver on time.

How has the drive towards sustainability changed what you do?

There is a huge amount of focus on sustainability here in Scotland and rightly so. Although there is still a place for traditional energy, and I think it will be around for a while, the transition is well underway, and oil and gas will eventually be replaced by renewables.

We recently moved into new premises in Aberdeen having invested £1million in acquiring and refurbishing 10,000 square feet of modern, energy efficient offices. We have also taken a new warehouse at Potterton, on the outskirts of Aberdeen, which is powered by solar panels, in keeping with our commitment to reducing the company’s environmental footprint.

We want to ensure we are future proofing our business and this includes our premises, with everything from the choice of lighting to the type of gas that powers our air conditioning units.

How does sustainability play out with your client relationships?

There is a big focus on how we support the environment and sustainability through the business.

We’ve developed ecobuy, our sustainability digital platform, which allows customers to procure more environmentally friendly products with a view to standardising the energy industry’s product lines.

When we get an enquiry, we go back with the item they’ve requested, and we provide a sustainable alternative. However, price is often a stumbling block because the items still cost more than the standard alternative.

There is a desire from our clients to support sustainability, but because there is not yet the volume of products being procured it’s challenging to drive prices down. If everyone made the switch to sustainable alternatives it would force manufacturers to reduce the core cost.

Clients are also more focussed on registration platforms such as SeQual, EcoVadis and meeting their ESG (environmental, social and governance) requirements.

Our Energy Surplus platform allows companies to upload and trade surplus products globally. We categorise the items and offer an inventory clean-up. This helps support and improve sustainability targets.

How has digitisation changed your business?

When we first started, everything was handwritten including our POs, dispatch notes, and there was no real reporting of any kind.

Now it’s all about maximum efficiency and using digital platforms to add value for our clients. Our clients want to know how we are adding value to the process of buying the items they need.

We have removed manual touches in the supply chain that don’t add value and made everything digital because it cuts down on mistakes and makes sure we get it right first time. Our clients can track the end-to-end process through the digital platforms we used. They can see whether an order has been placed, if it will be delivered on time, to budget etc. And we have our own IT team, which means we can tailor the offering that we provide for our customers.

We build bespoke catalogues for each client and upload these onto the system and because its already pre priced and in the catalogue, we just review it and agree the total price. The whole end to end process takes about 90 seconds.

In terms of the digitisation aspect, where do you see this developing?

It’s going to keep developing and AI will undoubtedly come in. We have taken a first step on that journey already because we partner with a company that has a BOT. In fact, we now have two BOTS, and they deal with quite a lot of our catalogue spend. The BOT can log in, review the requisitions, populate our system with the requirements and automate the PO to the supplier.

At first, I didn’t know if I trusted the BOT, but we have trailed it and trialled it and it works all night and all day and it runs in the background and notifies the buyer when they have a new PO and request. This allows us to focus on the larger requirements and non-catalogue spend.

We set high KPIs with our clients and thankfully we always achieve them, but we only do that because of our digital systems, continually making sure our people are trained and introducing new technologies.

Do you think this will replace humans?

I don’t see it as replacing humans because the human side of what we do is huge. I see the BOTs as assisting humans with time consuming tasks. Building relationships is still a massive part of what we do, and we train our people to pick up a phone because you can’t play down the importance of relationships and that remains a huge focus for us as well.

Looking forward, do you see this staying a focus?

Hugely! Yes, we travel, and we go and see our clients regardless of where they are. We continually check how we are performing and that’s a two-way thing. Steve and I are very engaged with our clients, and we want to know everything that’s going on. This gives our clients confidence as well. We need to be flexible in what we do and that requires human interaction.

Where do you see the business in another 25 years?

Procurement is always going to be required, regardless of industry or sector. As the energy transition continues at pace procurement itself won’t change much, it’s the processes around procurement that will change and adapt.

We will need to be more flexible and agile with the supply chain. We’ve seen over the last couple of years how things like Covid-19 and the Ukraine War impacted the supply chain so having flexibility with our own suppliers is necessary. We don’t want to be hit with surprises, that impact our ability to continue supplying our customers with what they need.

I don’t know if I’ll be around to see how things play out in another 25 years, but I’ll be keeping an eye on things.