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Cleaning and leadership mantras of a food processing veteran

Rajesh Ramakrishnan, Managing Director, Perfetti van Melle India Pvt. Ltd, manufacturer of confectionery products and headquartered in Gurgaon, would love to see a pollution-free blue sky as is visible in the Himalayas. With over 26 years of professional experience in Sales, Marketing and General Management, Rajesh is happy to share his leadership mantras. To him preservation of environment is as critical as maintaining a clean, hygienic and secure workplace. Ramakrishnan in conversation with Mangala Chandran, Editor-in-Chief, Clean India Journal

Q. As you drive from home to your office, among the many things that catch your attention, does cleanliness or lack of it get noticed by you?

A. Yes, definitely. Cleanliness and aesthetics are always appealing and refreshing, irrespective of where you are. I truly believe ‘Health is Wealth’, and one of the ways to ensure good health is by maintaining cleanliness at all times. From a business perspective, it is extremely important for us to create and maintain a hygienic and healthy environment, given that we manufacture confectionery products which are consumed by people across demographics.

Q. How has Perfetti van Melle put in place cleaning systems for both its corporate offices and manufacturing facilities?

A. We have well-defined SOPs for hygiene & housekeeping practices at our manufacturing plants that are in alignment with Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP). The GMPs are followed strictly and are audited at regular intervals. We recognize that GMP is dynamic in nature and it requires to be kept updated on an ongoing basis.

We consistently upgrade our SOPs by incorporating additions gleaned from our global learnings as well those recommended by our statutory authorities.

In the wake of the recent pandemic, we have further strengthened the hygiene & housekeeping norms to ensure utmost cleanliness and sanitation. Some of the key interventions include: shift-wise sanitization of all transport vehicles (buses, cabs etc.), deployment of adequate dispensing units of hand sanitizers across all the plants, compulsory use of face masks with issuance of two face masks to every employee in eight hours, regular sanitization of machines during each shift, and sanitization of office area infrastructure at defined frequency.

In order to prevent any potential food-borne transmission, we ensured all employees follow strict good hygiene practices like mandatory handwashing, frequent hand sanitizing, usage of gloves and face shields. Health of all employees and visitors entering the premises is monitored and any deviation is promptly acted upon as per protocol. About 550 touch points have been eliminated in our factories.

We stayed connected with our global counterparts in Europe and China on the preventive measures adopted by them during Covid and this shortened our learning curve.

Q. Personally, how do you evaluate your concern for a clean environment? What are the initiatives you would like to see implemented?

A. I am personally committed to this cause and pursue all objectives of the company towards this goal with passion and commitment. Personal hygiene and cleanliness of the environment are missions that all of us need to drive in a personal capacity. Awareness, education and communication around this topic thus assume greater significance. An open dialogue and partnership between public and private agencies could help further this cause.

Q. Heading a food processing company, how do you ensure that you retain the trust of consumers by ensuring GMP in all that you do?

A. As a global confectionery organization, focus on consumer quality continues to remain our topmost priority. We have global protocols in place which are rigorously implemented and audited. GMP is an integral aspect of our protocols. We constantly explore opportunities to update our protocols based on our global insight and experiences. These in turn drive the next practices to ensure we maintain trust of the consumers.

Q. Since photography is your passion, how would you represent a perfectly clean world in a photograph?

A. Since the problem is more in cities, I’d show an urban area where the roads are clean, lined with green trees, with pollution-free air and a clear blue sky with lots of birds. I have many such images from the Himalayas, but would like to see this in Gurgaon as well.

We aim to raise our bar in all food safety standards, including Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) by benchmarking ourselves to the latest audit requirements of FSSC 5.1, released in November 2020.”

Ramakrishnan’s Leadership Mantras

Leadership is also about effectively managing things. This can be represented by an equation:

L = m (t + e^3)

L stands for Leadership,

m is about managing,

t is time,

3 e’s are energy, expectations and environment.

Let us look at each element in a bit more detail.

Managing: If you have reached a certain position in your career, it is assumed that you have IQ (Intelligence Quotient), which is why you are there. What makes a leader stand apart is EQ (Emotional Quotient). You cannot take others with you if you cannot connect with people. To do that, you need empathy.

My practice: We have around 800 employees. During the early days of the pandemic, I made sure that I connected with eight randomly chosen employees every day. In the first 100 days, I managed to speak with almost all employees in the organisation. It was usually a half-hour call with no agenda other than to check how they are feeling, how they’re family is doing, etc. This further built trust and comfort and as a consequence, it built motivation and engagement within the team.

Time: All of us know that the time we have is limited, and more so for a leader, who has to handle multiple things. Hence, it is important to spend time wisely – to prioritize, to make choices and to be disciplined. There will always be multiple asks for one’s time – for work, for others, for self. There are many ways to manage time effectively and one needs to choose what works best for them.

My practice: I wrote my personal mission statement a few years ago, in terms of what are some of the key things which are important to me – and the way I spend my time is governed by this to a large extent. For example, fitness is important to me, hence I make sure that I commit at least 30 minutes every day for this, no matter where I am.

Energy: Today, energy is a more precious commodity than time. We all have limited amounts of energy. Managing our energies has also to do with managing our emotions. There are things that happen through the day – meetings, conversations, experiences – which sometimes energize us and sometimes suck out our energy. Hence it is very important to keep replenishing positive energy to maintain the energy equilibrium. And this is where having a passion can come in handy.

My practice: Photography is one of my passions and I have found that it helps me in destressing and restoring my energy balance. I also regularly practice Yoga, which helps me maintain my mind-body-soul equilibrium and deal better with negative energies.

Expectations: One of the key things for leaders is to manage expectations. A lot of disappointment is born because expectations are not aligned. There are expectations of internal as well as external stakeholders, and the expectations need to be managed upwards as well as downwards. This can be done through formal meetings or over informal conversations.

My practice: I have very often found that stating and seeking expectations with my team and aligning them to the best possible extent, upstream rather than downstream, helps in successfully managing expectations.

Environment: The environment that we operate in is changing at a rapid pace, and in multiple dimensions, including consumers, competition, talent, technology, regulatory and so on. One of the key tasks for a leader is to manage the environment in the best possible manner. This means keeping one’s eyes and ears open, picking up signals on what could be potential opportunities or threats, and figuring out ways to proactively manage them.

It is important to have a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. The question is always about “How can I make it happen?”, never “Can I make it happen?”. This is the philosophy I abide by.

One of the strengths in a volatile environment is situational agility. Things change rapidly. The best laid plans may not come to fruition. Earlier, it was situational adaptability that was needed but increasingly, speed has become important. Situational agility allows you to quickly scan and understand the situation, and respond to it in a flexible manner.

My practice: I try to have more of an outside-in perspective by proactively seeking new learnings to help me better adapt to the changing environment. I do this by reading, by attending relevant forums on a regular basis and through informal networking.

“One of the strengths in a volatile environment is situational agility. It allows you to quickly scan and understand the situation, and respond to it in a flexible manner.”

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