Lessons I Have Learnt: Chris Cliffe

Director, CJC Procurement Ltd

Chris is a Chartered Procurement & Supply Professional and sole Chartered Fellow of CIPS in Norfolk.

Published in Norfolk Director Magazine Winter 2023|24
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About Chris

I’m independent with expertise in public procurement, having been instrumental in interpreting procurement legislation as a civil servant before developing category management methodology across public sector organisations. I provide bid, tender and pitch support to sales teams.

We asked Chris to look back and reflect on his younger self.

How would you describe yourself at 18?

At 18, I hadn’t heard of ‘procurement’ and was focused on a Psychology and Management degree at Aston University. ‘Plan A’ was to become an airline pilot and I enjoyed an industrial placement year with British Airways… Then Concorde crashed. Then 9/11 occurred. Then my sister died of cancer. Time to rethink and start over.

If you could go back knowing what you know now, what three things would you tell yourself to do when you first became a director and business owner?

  1. It’s really tough and lonely – be prepared and develop coping mechanisms.
  2. Keep going – Professor Sir Chris Whitty is going to thank you for your role in something important during a global pandemic.
  3. Don’t worry – you will fly eventually.

If you could relive one day, what would it be and why?

My wedding day and the birth of my son, obviously. Professionally – the day I was invited with a client to 10 Downing Street by a supplier to be ‘influenced’ into a purchase. Instead, the director hosting us listened to my advice and checked his own assumptions about the financial position of that supplier, which we then both avoided doing business with as they went into administration.

Personally – the day I flew my wife and son for the first time from Norwich into Duxford, landing alongside a Spitfire; the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

What are the biggest lessons you have learnt professionally?

Procurement can be highly technical and procedural. Much of this is necessary to protect stakeholder interests. Yet the day I felt I became ‘professional’ was the day I realised that the ‘how’ was not the ‘why’. I changed focus on outcomes, which drove engagement results. Taking a relationship-based approach to procurement makes the whole game more enjoyable.

How did you deal with a big mistake, and what did you learn from the experience?

During my first procurement consultancy contract, we underestimated the competitiveness of the market and undervalued price in the evaluation. For a host of right reasons, we were ultimately awarded to second place. Having an honest conversation with the supplier ranked first was one of the most testing of my career… I learnt a lot about myself.

What does the future have in store for your company?

CJC Procurement Ltd has been trading for seven years. I’m aware that I am the product and scaling will be a challenge. I will continue to support the Government Commercial Function programme and be proactive in raising the profile of professional procurement.

What does the future have in store for you personally?

I will always have an eye to the skies. I qualified as a pilot in 2019 (PPL) and have over 150 flying hours. I plan to build towards a commercial pilot licence and, ultimately, to flying instructor. I’m too old to fly for airlines, but I could help the next generation.


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