Interviewed by Abby Ghercea
Meet our WTP7 Talent, Helen Hart, Head of Bid Management at Rexel UK. In this interview, Helen discusses carving her own career path, how she innovates solutions and leads her team, and the importance of networking with and empowering other women.
You are currently the Head of Bid Management at Rexel UK, having over 15 years of experience in Business Development and Bid Management. Could you explain what first interested you in this career and elaborate on how you got to your position today?
I was working as an Executive Assistant for a charity that impacted the lives of individuals around the world. During my time there, I was asked to research applicable funding and complete the application process to support our work. Venturing into this new world made me realise that this was something that I was good at and had a passion for. I decided to pursue it as a career and joined a consultancy that specialised in EU funding research projects. This work elevated my knowledge from charity funding applications to the commercial and technical side of things. From here, I moved into the construction industry, working for material suppliers and contractors, where I honed my craft in the full bid and business development lifecycle. I achieved specific qualifications within bid management and was relentless in my pursuit of striving to achieve more and be as successful as I could be to win contracts. Then, nearly four years ago I joined Rexel as their Head of Bid Management!
Could you tell us more about the projects you are involved in at Rexel and describe a typical work day for you? What types of projects are you most passionate about?
Rexel is a leading wholesale electrical distributor, connecting electricians, contractors, and industrial organisations with electrical products, site supplies, and solutions. For Rexel to win work, we help select the right opportunities and develop a winning commercial offer. In the procurement sector, the most common projects in which we are involved are invitations to tender, which involve pricing the job at hand and answering technical questions about our ability to do the work in accordance with the detailed specification or the project scope. A typical day for me will involve curating a response to high-value tenders, strategic planning and performance management of my team, mentoring and coaching, and solution and value proposition development.
I enjoy working on complex bids. In my personal life, people always joke about how organised I am. One of the things that I love about my job, and one of the reasons why I am so good at it, is that I am able to manage several projects at the same time.
Something that has really spoken to me in recent years is the importance of social values, and sustainability. Our pursuit of net zero plays such an important part in the world. In our work we think about not just what happens today, but what will happen in the years to come. We think about the materials that we supply : what are they made of? Could you actually recycle that product again? Addressing the environment and providing social value to the local communities has been a great avenue for me to explore.
At Rexel, you have redesigned their bid lifecycle and developed an integrated way of working. How do you approach developing solutions for the business?
When you are joining a new business, you need to talk to people; you need to know what challenges they face, what gaps there are, and identify what is required to provide the optimum bid lifecycle. Stakeholder management is key to achieving the desired buy-in, so that they understand not just what we are doing, but why. As part of the redesign process, I took the bid lifecycle at Rexel online, using a combination of Office 365 applications such as SharePoint lists and Teams. I am a huge advocate for working smarter and not harder and these tools provide the platforms to be able to do that. It was actually this method of working that allowed for a seamless transition to homeworking at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When I joined the business and spoke with the team, I found that there were projects on whiteboards in the local office and documents were being saved on local machines, then on servers where people would have to connect. I knew that as a business they had invested in Office 365. I was aware of the capabilities of all the different solutions working together. So, first, I created a private SharePoint. Next, I educated the team on how to use it. As part of that SharePoint site, we created trackers, where we use Microsoft lists to automate event reminders, such as clarification and submission dates. When each person is managing seven or eight bids at the same time, it is useful to have that backup and the knowledge that you are automatically going to be reminded of those events. In parallel to the tracker, we also have a documentation library. Everything is set up in exactly the same way, which means in the future when we are tendering for a bid, we can reference very quickly to what we did before. When the time came to homework, it was easy because people were familiar and comfortable with using Teams.
I am a huge advocate of working smarter and not harder.
You have recently been awarded the Chief Executive Award at Rexel in recognition of your leadership. What do you think are the most important qualities of a leader and how do you implement these qualities, both professionally and personally?
I believe that the most important qualities of a leader are integrity, communication, and empathy. Something that I learned very early on was not to be a “yes” person or a people pleaser. As well as providing direction, inspiration, and guidance, I also believe good leaders need to exhibit courage, passion, confidence, conviction, commitment, and ambition. They nurture the strengths and talents of their people and build teams committed to achieving common goals. They share their vision and they lead by example. They demonstrate integrity, communicate effectively, make hard decisions, and recognise success. They empower, motivate and inspire others.
I recognise that to be a good leader, I must keep learning. I have equipped myself with a group of trusted colleagues and friends with whom I have check-ins at least once a month to talk about the challenges we are facing at work and in our personal lives. Rexel also does in-house courses on leadership. You get out of it what you put in. If you invest in yourself and take full advantage of all the opportunities that are available, then you get the most out of it.
I recognise that to be a good leader, I must keep learning.
You are participating in the seventh edition of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) Leadership Programme. What motivated you to join the programme and what impact has being a participant had on you?
In recent years, Rexel launched an initiative: Women in Rexel. I was honoured to be part of the steering group in the UK. My HR director had heard great things about the WTP Programme from colleagues and nominated me to participate in the seventh edition. I was grateful and thankful for the investment from both of our Rexel UK and Rexel groups.
Engaging with the other women on the programme has really shone a light on the similar challenges that women face, regardless of the industry in which they work. It has been a great experience to be amongst people who have experienced and gone through what I have, and who can laugh about it. When you are going through something difficult, it can be quite upsetting. Sometimes you do not know how to handle it. So to be able to have a laugh with those other women and look back on it has been quite liberating. The programme has provided an opportunity to find tangible and practical solutions to those challenges, but also allowed me to acknowledge these challenges so I can highlight them when engaging with other women, professionally or personally. I can say, “You are absolutely not alone.”
The Talent Pool has also been a great opportunity to connect with people who are not ashamed to be ambitious, to encourage each other and celebrate success. The mentoring sessions especially have served as a great tool to challenge my way of thinking, receive feedback from my peers, and provide a space to dream bigger. It is important to network with people not just within your sphere of influence, but more widely. You easily find common ground. Through those connections, you are better able to think of what you want to do in the future and bridge any opportunity gaps.
Engaging with the other women on the programme has really shone a light on the similar challenges that women face, regardless of the industry in which they work.
We end the interview with a question from the Proust Questionnaire; who are your heroes in real life and why?
I prefer to think of this in terms of the qualities that I admire in people. I admire women who are unapologetic in wanting to be successful; women who have achieved and are relentless in the pursuit of their dreams ; and also women who want to empower others.
Being part of a network of women who have these qualities is important to me now more than ever, because the opportunity to think about what I want to do in my life was not there years ago when I was growing up.
In my career, too, I have had to carve my own way and my own path. In this I have very much been surrounded by men who have been the breadwinners, and men who have achieved.
So, when I see women around me who are successful, I think that it is fantastic. Thankfully it is being recognised more and more that we are all equal, that we need to bring different perspectives into the workplace and that we are all able to achieve.
Video edited by Juliette Gill