James Blunt, senior vice president, product management at Tate & Lyle Speciality Food Ingredients (SFI), which develops healthy and technical solutions for food and drink, talks to FoodNavigator about what his job entails.
Name: James Blunt
What does your job involve?
My team and I ensure mid-term (12-36 month out) growth of the product lines for which we are responsible globally. This entails working with sales, technical services and marketing functions to generate sufficient growth projects for single customers or innovative responses to consumer and customer needs through different applications of existing and new products.
We forecast and monitor mid-term demand for each product to identify where we require new capacities or where products are not performing profitably. Based on these forecasts we build business cases for investment in new capacity where needed. When a project is approved we then manage the market facing aspects through to completion.
We also play “champion” of the product line. This brings us into contact with nearly all departments, ensuring support, resource and focus is given to each line. As a result we can provide customers with a constant flow of product, market information and creative ideas.
What skills do you need?
Strong interpersonal and product management skills. In addition, we need excellent understanding of the functional attributes of our ingredients and how they can combine to deliver, for example, a fibre claim or cost reduction to customers.
How did you get into the job?
I did a degree in Chemistry and Food Science at Reading University. Having qualified I started work in the food ingredients industry as a technical sales engineer in UK.
Shortly after that I worked for a major ingredients company in France as technical sales manager for south east Asia, UK & Ireland and Scandinavia. I then became sales director, Asia for a different ingredients company, creating manufacturing and sales joint ventures.
After that I joined the Amylum Group in Belgium, where I started my product management career. Then Tate & Lyle bought the remaining Amylum shares. I grew with the role, initially in Europe, as we invested in new product lines and growth in ingredients. Two years ago the SFI global division was created at Tate & Lyle and I took the opportunity of leading the global product management function for our division.
How do you describe your job/ Can you describe a typical day?
When I am in the office in Lille, I often start the day communicating with the team in Asia, and finish it working with the US team. This involves phone, webex and conference calls to help my team move projects forward and discuss how to deal with challenges and opportunities.
I spend a lot of time travelling in Europe and internationally to work with my teams in their regions and also to meet customers across the globe to understand their needs and consumer requirements.
Other things include reviewing and driving forward projects and following supply and demand of the major commodities to ensure we are delivering the optimal cost in use for our ingredients.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Working with people from across the world and find a multicultural team enriching both personally and from a business point of view. I get to work with my team and many other Tate & Lyle experts and come up with new ideas and concepts. The sheer diversity and speed of the global food industry provides opportunities and challenges for the ingredients suppliers which I enjoy dealing with.
Are there any downsides?
I have yet to find the perfect job, however I am really enjoying this one. The biggest challenges are the large amount of travel and reconciling that with family life. It is not always easy for my wife and kids when I am away regularly.
What’s the biggest issue you had to deal with in the past 12 months?
The biggest challenge I have dealt with in the past year was the re-commissioning and start-up of our Splenda Sucralose plant in Alabama. My team and I were heavily involved in building the business case and then executing the commercial and customer facing aspects of the project. The technical teams at Tate & Lyle did an excellent job in getting the plant started ahead of plan and in budget.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in product management
First get grounding in different aspects of the business they are in. For example, a good technical, commercial or finance background is valuable. A combination is even better.