Five minutes with...Maria Benbow, Group Director of Commercial Services at The Government of Jersey

Five minutes with...Maria Benbow, Group Director of Commercial Services at The Government of Jersey
Published: 21 July 2021

In the latest instalment of our ‘Five minutes with’ series, Richard Guest, Associate Partner and Head of the Procurement & Supply Chain Practice at Berwick Partners, talks to Maria Benbow, Group Director of Commercial Services at The Government of Jersey.

Maria, you have had an interesting and varied career to date, can you tell us about your journey to your current role?

My initial intention was to pursue a Law degree and I had accepted a place, but soon realised that I was more passionate about the public sector and opted to study a BA (Hons) in Public Policy as an alternative; it incorporated law but the diversity including economics and politics appealed to me. I spent the first 17 years of my career working within the defence and aerospace sectors in a variety of commercial, procurement and supply chain roles, including driving end to end procurement transformation programmes. In 2013 my public sector desire came calling and I left BAE Systems to join Westminster City Council as Head of Commercial Contracts. This was a perfect opportunity for me to not only leverage off my strategic procurement and transformation experience, but to also be able to put into place the theory I had gleaned from university and witnessed how public policy has changed over the years. I was given a remit and ability to influence change across the council, culminating in being appointed into the role of CPO.

I opted to leave Westminster City Council in October 2018 to join the Government of Jersey, their ambition was infectious, within which was creation of the new Commercial Service Directorate.

Since joining the Government of Jersey, you have led substantial change within the organisation. What were the key priorities and where has this led?

I deliberately came with an open mind, banishing any pre-conceived ideas including the politics and dynamics of the island – I really wanted to concentrate on absorbing as much as I could on understanding the government and island’s eco-system. Since assuming my role, I have pursued a collaborative approach, ensuring everything we undertook was based on positive outcomes, focusing on our progression as a service. My ambition was  to build a culture and approach around enabling , communicating, educating and protection, not blocking or preventing progress. We have already achieved so much, with a lot more still to be done.  We have outlined the importance of data led decisions with the implementation of a demand management tool for the first time, developed some cross-government category strategies, whilst at the same time delivering in excess of £20M of savings whilst playing an important part in protecting the island from COVID.  

What are the top three qualities that you look for in your leadership team?

  • Authenticity

  • Collaborative in style

  • Passionate about what they do individually, for the team and what the service can deliver for our islanders.

These are the three most important attributes I look for in any hire within my team. These are essential behaviours to possess to truly engage, influence and drive lasting effective change.

What have been the biggest influences on your leadership style throughout your career?

I’ve been extremely fortunate throughout my career to have had the benefit and wisdom of some exceptional sponsors and mentors, who have continually pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Providing a platform of support enabling me to create opportunities whilst, allowing me to make mistakes along the way, this has proved instrumental in my development. I’ve taken these valuable leadership lessons as core to how I lead  my directorateby allowing them the freedom and autonomy to make their own decisions. Whilst also ensuring that I have their back at all times supporting positive disruption to confront and challenge the status quo but, being realistic and empathic to our customer’s requirements.

You joined the Government of Jersey in 2018 – what have you enjoyed about living on the Island?

Gosh, where do I start. Moving from the daily 1h 45min commute into London was a big attraction for me as it offered a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a far better work life balance. I certainly do not miss the daily grind of the cancelled/delayed trains, minimal time at home and even less for social activities. Instead the train, tube or car is substituted with a walk or cycle to work, working flexibly from home where I can and ensuring a balanced social and home life, truly getting to embrace my love for the outdoors.  It’s a fantastic place to live with many families heading to the beach after work and enjoys a wonderful community spirit with endless opportunities to get involved in any number of projects, clubs or initiatives across education, sport and the environment. The island can be incredibly warm and welcoming to those who are prepared to invest their time and energy into not just working here but truly living here.

Congratulations for being shortlisted for the 2021 CIPS awards, what’s next for your commercial services directorate within the Government of Jersey?

Yes, thank you.  CIPS is a prestigious global organisation, to say we were super-excited would be an understatement, particularly to be shortlisted for the Procurement Team of the Year – Large Organisation and also in connection with our engagement with Proxima in the Procurement Consultancy Project of the Year category.  We are so appreciative that our efforts amongst what I’m sure have been some phenomenal entries during these times have been recognised at this level. 

We are now entering the next phase of our transformation, I have led an inclusive and collaborative approach and as a result we are about to commence our trials across a number of areas, spanning our commercial, procurement and supply chain landscape (which as a country in our own right is incredibly vast), and includes our innovative Social Value Approach.  In parallel we are conducting a number of feasibility studies, I am passionate about developing and creating professional career pathways not just for my team but, wider across the Government and the island and therefore one of studies is focused on the potential for a Commercial and Procurement academy, raising the profile of our profession across the sectors, providing diverse training methodologies whilst ensuring it is accessible for islanders.

What would you say to people considering a move to Jersey to join your team?

Jersey is vibrant, forward thinking and moving at pace; it provides all the breadth and depth you would get working in a large jurisdiction but, it’s diversity enables you to truly make a difference supporting our Island’s goals and ambitions, set by our Ministers. Uniquely, given the size of the island you will empathise as an Islander yourself as you can see and feel the differences you are contributing towards.  Due to the scale, no two days are the same, be prepared to have to juggle between the strategic and the operational, keeping you on your toes and never forget to spend some well deserved time out, visiting some of our amazing beaches, landmarks, visitor attractions and of course enjoying our spectacular hospitality industry.

For more information, please contact Richard Guest is an Associate Partner in our Procurement and Supply Chain practice.

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