After graduating with a BSocSci (Hons) in Money, Banking & Finance, Andrew joined a graduate development programme with Midland Bank (HSBC). After two years he moved into his first commercial role with Mars Confectionery (four years). Following this blue chip training – which is where he firmly believes 85% of the skill set he still uses today was instilled – his career followed fast track progression within businesses such as PepsiCo (four years), Nestle (four years) and Hallmark Cards (two years). Eighteen of his 20 years of experience was within food, but he counts the two years in greeting cards as crucial in enabling him to broaden his understanding and capability.
Andrew has been at Gü for nine months and while it isn’t the global brand of previous employers, it is an innovative, fast-paced organisation, and for this reason it’s an exciting place to work.
Recently acquired by Noble Foods, Gü have made considerable investments in their marketing and operational capability and they now plan to treble their business in the next three years - not bad considering they’ve enjoyed a 25% compound annual growth rate since their inception in 2003.
Andrew has been working with Michael Page Sales recently to attract and secure key talent for his business and on the back of this he was happy to answer a few key questions for this quarter’s sales director interview.
1. What have you focused on since joining the business?
The business is extremely entrepreneurial and it’s successes are built upon fantastic product quality. The focus of the leadership team has been to help the business ‘grow up’ and become more sophisticated without losing this entrepreneurial flair. We’ve focused on strengthening trade relationships, delivering great joint business plans and improving general business processes.
We’ve taken steps to maximise the breath and depth of our UK grocery distribution, explored new channels such as foodservice and international business – we’ve launched in five countries in the last six months.
2. What is the FMCG market like at the moment? Where are your main areas of opportunity to grow the business? How do you differentiate yourselves from the competition?
Against a backdrop of the food industry achieving flat / +1% growth at best, our category is enjoying double digit growth, largely driven by premium deserts/Gü. M&S have typically dominated the chilled premium deserts category and Gü, a branded supplier, offer a solution to the other Grocers to help them retain consumers instead of losing them to M&S for this category. The recession has actually been very kind to our category as there is a growing trend towards eating restaurant quality food at affordable prices at home rather than going out. In line with this demand we’ve developed our category management capability and run a new initiative on the consumer need state which has meant we’ve offered better advice to our retailers which in turn has driven sales.
3. What has been the biggest challenge in your career to date?
During my time at Nestle Confectionery we identified a tendency to push stock regardless of the need which actually resulted in a negative impact. We reinvigorated the route to market strategy which was a complicated change process to implement a more consumer focused push and pull strategy.
4. What are three qualities you look for when hiring sales professionals for your team?
I drive my own performance by striving to be the best that I can be and I look for this quality in my employees. I believe that if you do everything you can and you do this consistently then you can’t go far wrong. Other important qualities are can-do attitude, results focused and pushing for more all of the time, demonstrating a passion for what they’re doing and recognising that winning as a team is more important than winning as an individual.
5. What is your top tip for building and managing a high-performing sales team?
Taking the time out to ensure great communication of the leadership strategy. Involve the team with decisions in order to broaden their exposure outside of their key remit.
6. Is retention still an issue in the current challenging economic climate? How do you retain your top performers?
Retention isn’t an issue within Gü however it’s always something I’m conscious of. It’s important to combine the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, not just the ‘what’. Help your people understand how to improve, develop and progress.
You earn the right to have a chance and in a business like ours which is demonstrating such growth those opportunities will present themselves.
Don’t be afraid to have the tough conversations if they’re required.
7. What’s your advice to sales professionals looking to move up the career ladder, both into management roles and stand-alone high performing sales roles?
Be bold – don’t be happy with hitting targets, stretch beyond.
Network well internally and externally – for example share good initiatives which may help with the wider business regardless of whether it benefits you directly.
Trust your instinct.
Multinational exposure is a real benefit but there are great opportunities within smaller businesses as well, consider each on it’s own merits.
8. Progression into a business leadership position and sometimes even the top job is an ambition for some sales execs. How would you suggest a sales executive plan their career to become a sales director?
I’ve always seen sales as my home function but I’ve always tried to make 1:3 of my moves into a slightly different function in order to broaden my skill-set – i.e. working in a category role, managing a field sales team, owning key client relationships. My time at Hallmark taught me a great deal about a different side to retail and whilst I learned that I wanted to work in the food industry again these learnings have certainly benefited me in my current role.
9. How have advances in technology (mobile etc) and the advent of social media changed the way you and your teams perform?
We certainly have to be mindful of the fact that awareness is heightened; it allows for smarter working and has specific benefits throughout our field sales team.
10. What’s your favourite Gü product?
Gü Keyline Pie but I’m very excited about the upcoming launch of Pimms Summer Pudding.