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Sinead Sheridan - Procurement Director at Cloetta

  • May 22, 2023

Sinéad Sheridan is the Procurement Director at Cloetta in the Netherlands. She started her career in various Procurement & Supply Chain roles at H.J. Heinz Company, working for the business as it became Kraft Heinz in 2015. Sinéad also managed her own Procurement company before joining Cloetta.

What strategies do you use for developing innovative, diverse teams?

This is a really important point for me, especially diversity in a team. I don’t think I’ve managed a team successfully that didn’t have a range of diverse individuals with different viewpoints and different ideas to pursue.

As a starting point, it’s the right mix of people with passion and energy. So, there are a few things that can somewhat compensate for experience - among them are passion and energy. If you’re passionate about Procurement, if you’re passionate about the food industry and you put that energy into everything you do, that’s a starting point.

Having that mix and energy in the team, and the drive to do better, is key. We have that shared energy and passion for what we’re trying to achieve as a team, and then it’s about learning from each other in an open culture.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create an open culture within your team, where team members feel that they can put forward their ideas and they can freely question others’ ideas. That way, you can bring all the different knowledge and experience together. A key point for a leader is creating the opportunity for the team to be innovative.

What do you see is the biggest challenges for a) your business, and b) your role over the next 12 months?

Over the next 12 months, the number one challenge for me is to prioritise people.

Our team - just like a lot of teams in Supply Chain and Procurement throughout the world - have done an amazing job with keeping our factories running in the past couple of years during the supply chain disruptions. It’s been a high pressure two-plus years fighting these supply issues and, of course, the inflation that we’ve seen. I think it’s really important to recognise that achievement.

We’re all very quick to move on from these things and think it’s in the past, but to recognise the achievement and the work the team has put in to helping the business mitigate all these issues. It's key now to also try and guide the team back to a strategic sourcing approach and away from the constant fire fighting that has dominated all of our lives in Supply Chain over the past couple of years.

Things like restoring routines and processes that may have been put on the back burner because we prioritised solving supply issues and then also trying to reconnect in person. I’m cognisant that there are still people that haven’t met each other in person in the organisation over the past few years - even though some people are still a little bit reluctant to meet in a large group, and to be conscious of that, so prioritising people and keeping people on track is a big challenge.

Then, of course, inflation – unfortunately - is currently a word that is used across a lot of industries, and for all households, as well, and it’s sticking around for some portfolios. We see the CPI [consumer price index] numbers, particularly for food, remain pretty high, and a big challenge is to navigate these volatile market situations.

We also need to ensure that the strategies that we employ manage the risk, but also capture the falling prices where relevant. That is because, at a certain point, the prices have to come down again and we need to make sure that we put our business in a good position to take advantage of that.

In addition, and to complement inflation, we need to work with our internal teams here in Cloetta, our key supply partners, our suppliers that we consider our strategic partners, so that we strengthen and resource our pipeline of cost savings and initiatives to also attack inflation, because there are parts of inflation that will stick around, like labour - once labour inflation goes up, it sticks.

The fourth one is to ensure that the learnings from all the recent supply chain issues we’ve had are embedded in our future strategies; whether it’s the alternate geographies, less customisation, or optimising our strategic partnerships to get priority from a supply perspective, we need to make sure we learn from all of these issues and be ready for if it happens in the future.

Finally, a big challenge for me and for a lot of Procurement professionals is to accelerate the sustainability agenda. We are committed to science-based targets and 2030 will come around very quickly. Of course, this can only be achieved by working closely with all of our key supply partners, as well. It’s a big challenge for us to accelerate that agenda and ensure we’re ready for 2030.

What would you say are the most rewarding parts of your role?

This is an easy one for me. I’m extremely passionate about both Procurement and the food industry, so I love my role. Since moving to Cloetta last May to lead their Procurement organisation, I now have responsibility for indirect procurement, which I didn’t have a lot of experience in prior to this; most of my experience has been on the direct side.

I’m still learning, and it was really important to me before I stepped into the role that I knew I would be on a journey of continuous learning.

Something else I find rewarding is when our strategies play out successfully; it’s very satisfying to see the impact that your strategy has on the overall business objectives.

Finally, and most importantly, it’s working with people - that’s most rewarding.

Being part of a team, developing people, achieving our objectives together. People is what I missed most when I stepped out of the industry for a year and started my own consulting business, and it was the biggest driver of me returning to the industry. That’s definitely the most rewarding part.

If you could go back and give your younger self some career advice, what would it be?

I like this question. My advice would be that the toughest moments provide the biggest opportunities. You don’t realise that at the time when you’re going through the toughest moments - and it seems like you are never going to get a solution to this.

When I look back to some of the big challenging issues or projects that I had earlier in my career, I remember at times having some doubts - the self-doubt creeping in when you run into resistance, particularly. With experience, you get to manage that, but - earlier in your career - resistance can put you off a bit.

My message to my younger self would be to be confident in your ability, make sure you have a plan, and don’t let that self-doubt hold you back. Don’t be afraid to fall forward or to fail; sometimes it happens, but you learn from it.

You spent a long time at Kraft Heinz. What advice would you give to somebody who is looking at transitioning out of a long-term employer?

I had 22 years with one employer, so it’s a huge decision to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

I would say, if you had the luxury to do so, take your time to think about in detail what you want to do next and what is the right fit. There can be - and maybe it’s dictated by economic circumstances - the tendency to maybe rush into the next available opportunity. But, if you’ve been in another organisation long term, you have reasons for leaving that long-term employer and, a lot of the time, they will form what you’re looking for in your next employer.

I took some time to examine that and establish what would be the right fit as a next step. I think, when you do meet that prospective employer, you must be clear and upfront on your must-haves, your career aspirations, and your expectations on culture, because a lot of these areas will form the success of your next move.

I would also say - and I experienced this at Cloetta - the interview process gives you your first insight into that company culture, so use it to get that insight and introduction. With Cloetta, it instantly felt like a two-way approach, which was very different to what I had experienced previously. They wanted to find the right person, but they wanted me to be really sure that Cloetta was right for me.

Meet as many people in that recruitment process as you can to get a better feel for what a potential employer is truly like. That was a very positive experience in my onboarding with Cloetta.

Who is the most inspiring person in business to you and why? It can be someone you know personally or it could be someone famous in business.

I’m very lucky - I had a few strong female mentors from very early in my career who inspired me and guided me. It’s very difficult to think of one person, but these people do know who they are, because I’ve told them subsequently and I am still in touch with them.

When I first started in Supply Chain 24 years ago, there were very few women in senior roles in Supply Chain. Supply Chain was a very male-dominated environment, but I was lucky to have exposure to a few excellent female leaders that I really looked up to who supported my development and who I could learn from, so that was truly inspirational for me.

Actually, here in the Operations leadership team in Cloetta, it is a 50/50 split between women and men. In Supply Chain, having such a great balance from a gender perspective stands out, which is important.

For you, what is the future of Procurement?

Great question. The first one that comes to mind - and obviously something I’m looking at for Cloetta - is we need to pursue digital transformation. I know that’s not just Procurement; it’s across lots of functions and lots of industries. But automated processes, improved analytics and AI [artificial intelligence] will allow our buyers to focus on the strategic value-added activities and the relationship building with our suppliers. I think it’s essential that we look at a digital solution for our function and it’s one of the projects we are working on at the moment.

The next one, in terms of the future of Procurement, is that we need to adapt our strategies to ensure that our supply chain is actually capable of delivering on ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] commitments. If you think about, again, science-based targets to 2030, is our supply chain ready to support us to deliver that 46% reduction in CO2 emissions, for example? We will have to make some key decisions around our sourcing strategies to achieve that, so we need to have adaptable strategies going forward.

My last one is, during COVID and the various supply chain crises we’ve had over the past few years, Procurement came a bit closer to being a more strategic partner for a business. Not only focused on cost and cash - the typical Procurement objectives - but also we need to be proactively supporting and delivering other key business needs, like innovation and sustainability.

That would be the three areas. Digital transformation, adaptive strategies, and to be a key strategic partner to the business.

What does the future of sustainability look like in the sector?

Cloetta is committed to science-based targets and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that we’ve jumped in there and made that commitment. Procurement has a massive responsibility to deliver many of those targets, for example, areas like CO2 reduction, regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, packaging from renewable sources or recycled material, human rights improvement in our supply chain, etc.  Procurement touches all of those areas and we have that responsibility to deliver on all of those points.

Again, it links back to the adapted strategies of the traditional Procurement approach. We need to adapt our strategies to meet these changing needs that we have driven by our science-based targets.

In the confectionary sector, we also have the challenge of the sugar debate. This is why we have added more healthy alternatives to our product range.

What do you think about the future of sustainability in the wider sector, maybe not just in Cloetta? How do you see that transformation happening?

As a total food business, we need to combine our efforts, because there’s no point company A running a programme, company B running a programme, company C running a programme, all impacting, for example, regenerative agriculture and wheat.

I think, for efficiency’s sake and for shared learning, we need to pool our resources, and try to set up more industry-wide groups to attack some of these areas in a cohesive way, rather than different companies imposing different standards and targets on suppliers, and suppliers having to sign up to different programmes. As an industry, we need to be a bit more aligned in our approach when it comes to sustainability.

Joint investment in sustainability programmes makes sense; the power of a number of companies joining together to invest is much more powerful than what any one company can run individually.  

Thank you to Sinéad for speaking to Aaron Bargrove,Consultant in our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment team in the Netherlands. 

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment