Jonny Williamson sits down with beverage operations director, Jane Buckley, to learn how being broken down allowed her to rise to the top.
From the moment Jane Buckley arrived at Coca-Cola European Partners Morpeth operation in January 2015, the site has been in an almost constant state of flux.
Remarkably, thanks to Buckley’s steady hand on the tiller, production has not only continued uninterrupted, but actually increased.
The facility, located north of Newcastle, is the sole source of water for Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) and now produces 4.8 million cases of Schweppes Abbey Well Natural Mineral Water and Glacéau SmartWater each year.
One of the largest causes of upheaval has been the installation of a new high-speed, fully-automated Glacéau SmartWater processing and bottling line, capable of producing more than 56,000 bottles an hour – more than treble the previous line’s output.
Other work has included two new high-pressure and two new low-pressure compressors, two modern boilers and an advanced processing plant. At its peak, Buckley and the site’s 40 staff had to accommodate more than 100 external contractors a day, a feat not without its challenges.
Even though CCEP as a business regularly installs new lines, the work at Morpeth has effectively seen the site rebuilt from scratch.
“Concrete was laid in the dark under spotlights, foundations were dug while snow was falling, tile adhesive wouldn’t set due to low temperatures; there were so many different aspects,” Buckley recalled.
Over a period of just four months, Buckley and her team took Morpeth’s efficiency from 60% to 82%, a figure that has been maintained and continues to improve. In the operations director’s own words, it was an achievement made possible by everyone involved, though I got the impression she was downplaying her own part in proceedings.
Bread and butter
Buckley has always been involved in food and beverage, ever since “falling into the sector” during the 1990s as a means of supporting her terminally ill father.
From humble beginnings, placing toppings on top of pizzas, she steadily worked her way up to become a night shift site manager, transitioning from chilled goods (pasties, pies and pizzas) to biscuits.
A move to Heinz’s Telford and Worcester site saw her become site manufacturing manager, eventually heading up soup manufacturing at Heinz’s Kitt Green facility in Wigan.
It was during her time at Heinz that Buckley undertook an unusual development programme, one based more on psychology than your typical team-building exercises. It was an “overwhelming” undertaking, one that would prove to have a long-lasting, profound effect on Buckley’s leadership style.
“At the end of the first day I felt a little bit destroyed to be honest, they had highlighted every one of my faults,” she reflected. “However, over the subsequent three days I was gradually put back together in such a way that allowed me to realise my personal attributes, traits and attitude, and how they all affected those around me.”
“In doing so, it meant that I was able to see those traits or differences in others; it taught me the importance of having a diverse team and not just surrounding yourself with people similar to yourself.”
The course also taught Buckley an invaluable method of delivering feedback in a positive, behaviour-changing way, without it being taken as detrimental or negative in any way.
According to Buckley, the importance of having a diverse workforce can’t be overstated. The business opportunities, decisions and outcomes are significantly more broad when supported by a blend of people – and not just diversity in terms of gender.
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Addressing the lack of women in industry, Buckley reasoned that businesses had to not only sell careers better, but offer more flexibility.
“Commitments are so often dished out in myopic terms of 38-40 hours taken between 7:00am and 6:00pm,” she urged. “We need more elasticity to allow people to be able to take time out; for example, coming to work, leaving at 3:00pm to pick children up, feed and put them to bed, and then going back online for another couple of hours in the evening.”
Such an approach would allow the total number of hours to be fulfilled, but be broken up to create “a family slot”, for want of a better phrase, Buckley said.
“Should it matter? No, but businesses struggle because they’re stuck in a Monday to Friday, nine to five, while everything else has evolved and moved on around them. Businesses are sometimes guilty of narrowing opportunities by their own historic expectations. That has to change.”
Back to the floor
Arriving at CCEP – via five years spent at Hartley’s (marmalades, jams and jellies) – offered Buckley the opportunity to go back to the factory floor, imparting her knowledge and experience upon a relatively green team.
It’s the part of the job Buckley loves the most, and forms what she sees as a critical part of her role.
“I like the fact that when I leave no one will notice, or at least should not. That’s a perspective some people find difficult to accept,” she said. “My role and responsibility is to make myself ultimately redundant, though not necessarily from CCEP. If I haven’t worked it so that my team can continue without me, then I’ve failed.”