Interview with John Munro – group supply chain manager, Baxter’s

Baxter’s is a UK-based food manufacturer with operations in Canada, Australia and Poland. John Munro talks to Jamie Brown, of Michael Page Procurement & Supply Chain, about his career to date, what he looks for in a candidate and the challenges affecting Baxter’s.

Q: Tell us about yourself and your career.

Having graduated from Durham University and not being 100% sure what career path I wanted to go down, I continued my education doing an MSc in Chartered Surveying at Liverpool John Moores. Realising my heart wasn’t in it, and looking for a career where I could visibly see what I was achieving, I moved into my first supply chain distribution role with RH Group (freight management) in Nottingham. Being ambitious I quickly asked if I could run one of their depots and my then boss happily agreed. My next two career moves I found through the Telegraph, firstly moving into a logistics manager role with Cereal Partners in Welwyn Garden City, then moving into my first end-to-end supply chain manager role with Pedigree Pet Food (now Mars Petcare). Building up my theoretical understanding of the job, and delivering some key programmes I was promoted to a role aimed at rolling out SAP to Mars Europe which was a success. Spending another few years as UK procurement manager for Mars Petcare, I then moved to Vion as UK group procurement manager before recently moving into my new role as group purchasing and supply chain manager with Baxter’s.

Q: To what do you attribute your success?

Although I didn’t set out on any specific career path, I have always been ambitious. This is essential to do well. I have always brought enthusiasm and energy to the roles I have carried out and nowadays the ability to build relationships is pivotal to personal and professional success.

Q: Most people will be aware of how well the brand is performing, but how does the business plan to grow over the coming years?

Whilst the business will look at new products within the ambient market, we will grow through geographical expansion and acquisition. With our recent acquisition of Fray Bentos, this is something we will look to do further throughout the UK and EMEA.

Q: How difficult is it to differentiate yourself from the competition in a complex market sector?

This is always difficult but we pride ourselves on differentiating through the quality of our products. This is something that is ingrained in the culture and brand of Baxter’s.

Q. How much of a focus is being put on finding exceptional procurement talent given the tough economic climate?

There is a big focus on this, but at the same time we need to look to make the most of our existing resources and get the best out of what we have, so up-skilling, training and continual development of staff is important as well. Fortunately, I have not had to recruit many into the business in my new role.

Q: What do you think is the perception of Baxter’s in the market place and against your main competitors on the market place?

Hopefully the brand is strong. We feel the brand is associated with quality and this is illustrated in our tagline “Be Different”. This means not accepting the status quo and striving for the best possible quality, even if this is out of the current supplier limits.

Q: If you were giving yourself advice when you were at the beginning of your procurement/supply chain career, what would you say?

Be confident, but not cocky. It is important to be self aware as strong relationships are vital to successful business development and growth. Confidence is needed in order to protect the business’s commercial position whilst gaining buy-in from your suppliers.

Q: What do you look for in a new recruit?

Personality and energy.

Q: What is the one question that you always ask at interview?

I always focus on their problems, challenges and mistakes. I feel that if they have never truly made mistakes or messed up, they haven’t pushed themselves or challenged themselves in their roles.

Q: What is the most disappointing thing a candidate can do at interview?

For me, this comes down to body language. The worst thing a candidate can do is look disinterested or too reserved. If the candidate “is not in the room” with me, they will not be successful.

Q: What is the funniest thing you have come across at interview?

I was once at an interview and presented with a concrete brick and asked “What would you do with this?” to which I replied “Probably jam the door open because it is extremely hot in here”!

Q. In a world where the quality of a product is vital to success, how difficult is it for procurement to balance cost vs. quality?

This is extremely difficult and again illustrates how important strong supplier relationships are. The best way to negotiate is through strong, long-term relationships. This is how our business and my function operate and will continue to.