Inteview with Michael Sloan – Finance director, Tennent Caledonian Breweries


Q: Tell us about yourself and your career.

A: I studied civil engineering at university and undertook a number of summer placements with an international consultancy from which I decided that this profession did not have enough vibrancy or entrepreneurialism, it took too long to get through things. I looked into good graduate programmes and opted for the Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) programme as it allowed me to go through the TOPPS CA scheme (Training Outwith Professional Services) as I was always good with numbers. This allowed me to complete a number of projects/secondments within S&N, from Kronenburg to S&N retail and logistics together with a secondment within Ernst & Young.
The S&N scheme gave me a great taste of the full spectrum of brewing from marketing to commercial to corporate HQ. After the scheme I moved to investor relations as an analyst where I pulled together figures and analysis and provided these to the group executive team to allow them to be as prepared as possible for investor meetings and presentations. This gave me a great insight to senior directors within the business and to seeing how strategy worked and how a business goes about communicating effectively.
After a period of time I moved to become sales and marketing controller within S&N Belgium, which provided me with line finance experience and the cultural experience of working internationally. This allowed me to get down to a front facing finance role as I had previously been more exposed to the corporate side.
I then became the commercial finance manager for Eastern Europe and worked alongside Carlsberg in our JV, BBH. I was responsible for visiting different business areas and discussing brand plans, customer negotiations and ultimately to develop a Western European commercial structure. At this point S&N were taken over and I was approached by Carlsberg to join them full-time, however there was a process for everything and a unilateral approach to all areas, which was starkly different to S&N. This, combined with the fact that I had been working within brewing for eight years, prompted me to move back to Scotland and do something different.
I joined Damovo as their head of treasury and financial planning which was a great move, as in a larger business entity these two elements of finance would never have gone together. I was familiar with the FP&A side from my time in Belgium, and the reporting and KPI side was well within in my skill set. The treasury aspect however was new to me and allowed me to gain exposure to FX, hedging, etc. S&N had always been a cash rich company but Damovo was effectively owned by the bondholders and so cash was under constant focus. It also gave me exposure to a re-financing exercise which was a great learning experience. The move to a smaller company allowed me to get a range of exposure that larger companies would have been too big to provide.
This was again a group role and so I wanted to get back to being the person doing the business, not just advising and communicating it, which is why I have moved to Tennent’s. It was a very easy decision to move back to brewing. I enjoy having to understand the brand, the product, the consumers and customers. I came in as the head of finance: rest of world, and two months within the business I took over the finance director position for the Tennent’s business in Scotland. Tennent’s has always been perceived as a local brand and the take over by C&C provided the cultural change that was required. They started to invest in advertising and sponsorship with a strong link to the history of the brand. There are also a lot of good pubs coming on to the market and we are able to provide liquidity to good operators that the banks will not provide. We are continuing to build networks and take advantage of the market by building relationships with operators who have the resource and skill to expand. This gives us immediate volume and prominence in more establishments.

Q: How are you facing the challenges of today, such as economic turmoil, smoking ban etc?

A: Declining markets bring with them opportunities also. By investing and marketing within the on trade we get close to the operators that are growing. A number of pubs are in decline, and to have a successful business you have to give people a reason to come out of the house, be it good food, T in the Park competitions or a good beer/cask range. You need to work out the consumer’s motivations and work from there. Understanding consumers and their locale is the priority and giving them the reason to come out.  We support good operators through our training academy to develop great business models appropriate to their location and audience.
The smoking ban has helped within a suburban setting; some pubs now have mother and toddler coffee mornings, lunches with healthy options for children or even afternoon tea. These demographics of people wouldn’t necessarily have gone to a pub to do these things prior to the smoking ban.

Q: To what do you attribute your success?

A: I have always done what I say I will do, and always try to be realistic and dogmatic. As a finance function, if something is not possible in a given time frame, don’t over-promise and under deliver. This has been recognised throughout my career.

Q: What do you think is the perception of Tennent’s in the market place and against others on the market place?

A: The perception has changed dramatically over the last six months due to the investment from C&C. We have got the message out that we want to be local and be part of the trade. We are investing in the brand, it is important for our customers to know the strength of the brands and that we are investing in Tennent’s and Magners. It is good for operators to be associated with brands that are actively investing in the market.

Q: If you had a crystal ball where do you think the economy is going currently?

A: The big problem is liquidity, the banks are only willing to lend to those who don’t need to borrow, this is why the market is so constrained. We have the luxury of being able to lend to good operators looking to grow their business.
If you are an operator and you are trying to do it personally it would be hard to do this if you don’t have banks to help you. The media is very negative and so it then follows that there is a perception of a negative market. This inhibits growth and people allow it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Promoting the negative rather than the opportunity is a very British thing.
Businesses are also holding on to cash for the sake of the balance sheet and not investing adequately in the business to capitalise on opportunities which are there at the moment and will allow them to be on the font foot when the economy improves.

Q: If you were giving yourself advice when you were a newly qualified what would it be?

A: Get involved in every possible aspect of the business to make yourself as useful as possible – it will let you gain the commercial edge. Get to know the product, the market and the customer, this will help you make commercial points and recommendations to help to influence decision making. The more you add value to a business the more secure your role and the quicker you will progress.

Q: What are your views on the Y Generations?

A: I recruited a graduate three months ago and I find that they have an openness to try new things that is encouraging. I am not sure if it is because technology has moved so fast, for example Skype, IPads and texting customers is now all status quo. They have an ability to embrace technology and a willingness to take things on board and try new things. It is just a different way of thinking.

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

A: The main things that I look for are good communication skills and a link to getting involved in the greater business. The ability to speak across all disciplines, interact and understand other departments’ points of view is crucial. Finance need to amalgamate into the greater business. The best finance departments are involved in the business and shape commercial business decisions and strategies. The ability to communicate with all levels effectively within Tennent’s from publicans to investors is extremely important.
It is essential to recruit good people otherwise it is like trying to build a castle on sand. People need to be unique and add points of value to the business and to their customers.

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

A: “How have you made a difference?”
I like people who don’t accept the status quo. I recently employed someone who was one year post-qualified and they had done things that had made a difference. Examples of where they have seen something that could be done better and implemented change shows a thorough understanding of business.

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

A: Having no enthusiasm, no wider perspective of the business that they have worked in is particularly disappointing. People need to know and understand the issues that have affected the business in which they have worked, otherwise they have no commercial understanding.

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

A: I recently interviewed a graduate and we were discussing how to target the 18-24 year old market with Tennent’s. He came up with an idea of a holistic scheme of helping people to get into work given the current unemployment rates within the youth society of today thus securing that market as customers through positive brand image. It was an excellent idea and comes back to the whole Generation Y thought process of embracing change. We hired him.

Q: What do you think of Scotland’s chances given their draw with the Czech Republic?

A: Well it’s the great Scotland story! They will win their next two matches and then get beaten in the final minutes by Spain.

Q: Will Tennent’s bring back girls on a can?

A: We couldn’t possibly do it, it would cause uproar. That said, most lads mags are a million times worse!