After twelve years in the alcoholic beverage industry, financial leader Sunil Gandhi targeted his next move toward growth in a different industry; while maintaining the ability to apply what he had previously learned and contribute to leadership beyond the traditional finance role. That opportunity came when he was offered the role of CFO at Trophy Foods.
“The decision to join Trophy was easy because it provided all the elements I was seeking in my next role. Trophy is a Canadian success story with a strong leadership position in its segments—snack foods, baking, and confectionary—stable ownership, while still maintaining a strong desire for growth.”
As the calendar turned to 2015, Gandhi was ready to dive into his new role, which included management of finance, IT, customer service, and sales forecasting. At the time, Trophy was experiencing a particularly challenging year due to external market factors—including an increasingly consolidated Canadian retail environment, the weakening of the Canadian dollar, and increasing prices of key commodities. In addition, the company’s recent implementation of a new ERP system had also resulted in significant operational challenges during that period.
“I was exposed to the challenges immediately. The first goal was to build relationships with my new colleagues, knowing our ability to drive change would depend on mutual trust. The early days required a lot of listening and a steep learning curve,” Gandhi says. “By the end of the first quarter, I had a decent understanding of the challenges and started making plans for the next 12–18 months. Effectively integrated business processes were a priority for the leadership team and figured strongly in my own plans. Our vision is to create a scalable business [that’s] enabled by shared accountability and fact-based decision making, all of which require strong core processes.”
As spring came, business at Trophy had stabilized from both a market and operational perspective—allowing the view to change to the longer term. With this in mind, Gandhi worked with the leadership team to introduce an organization goal setting process in advance of the new fiscal year. The result was an alignment to one- to three-year strategic goals, shared priorities, and the supporting metrics upon which success could be measured.
“The support and leadership of our president, Brian Paul, was instrumental in this process, as he clearly recognized the need for change. This allowed us to lay the foundation for the upcoming year while learning a lot about how dependent we are on each other to deliver on functional commitments,” he says. “While we are in early days, I believe this process helped bring us together as a leadership team and create a shared understanding of what it would take to meet our goals.”
With the new fiscal year underway, Trophy Foods started executing its priorities. This included Gandhi making changes in finance and IT through the addition of new people and organizational structures aimed at improving accountability. In addition, the company launched wide-ranging initiatives aimed at improving its supply chain management processes—the number one priority area for the company.
Gandhi and the rest of the leadership team also focused on increased communication within the company, including the cascading of corporate goals to employees across all functions.
“The third quarter was aimed at laying the foundation for where we want to be in three to five years,” Gandhi says. “We have ambitions to grow not only domestically but also in the US, which is a bigger and more challenging market. As a result, it is imperative that we go from good to great with our core business processes.”
Toward the end of year, Gandhi and the leadership team continued with the execution of the initiatives started in the previous quarters. Another dimension Gandhi brought to Trophy was experience with demand planning, an area vital to success in the consumer goods industry and one with which Trophy had struggled historically. The company has increased its rigor around forecast reviews, while implementing summary metrics and focused discussion on understanding the root cause of variances.
“This is our first step on the road to improve our supply chain management because the system is dependent on the communication of an accurate demand signal from our customers,” Gandhi says. “Trophy is already seeing the benefits through improved cross-functional integration and communication. In recent months, the company has been delivering the strongest customer service levels it has in some time, which is the true measure of success.”
The Next Year
Looking ahead, Gandhi seeks to further develop his leadership skills as a modern cross-functional CFO by attending FEI Canada’s “Leadership Beyond Finance” program. He intends to apply the skills in his role at Trophy in order to maintain the required momentum associated with leading organizational change.