Global Food Giant stretches senior HR pros with back-to-back Business Simulation Days

Case Study by Ken Thompson

Background to the Customer:

Associated British Foods plc (ABF) is a British multinational food processing and retailing company. Its ingredients division is the world's second-largest producer of both sugar and baker's yeast and a major producer of other ingredients including emulsifiers, enzymes and lactose. Its grocery division is a major manufacturer of both branded and private label grocery products and includes the brands Mazola, Ovaltine, Ryvita, Jordans and Twinings. Its retail division, Primark, has around 200 stores with over 6,500,000 sq ft of selling space across Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK.  

Customer needs

Each year ABF run an intensive HR Business Acumen Conference where they bring together 20 senior HR Managers from the different businesses and geographies of the ABF empire for a 3-day intensive conference to sharpen their commercial skills and awareness. The focus is on strategic thinking and practical experiential learning. The centrepiece of the conference are two days where the participants become the virtual executive teams of two very different ABF businesses !

The Solution

This year the conference was held at the historic Sunningdale conference centre in Berkshire and Day 1 kicked off with sessions and discussions with senior Directors within ABF on the topic of “What is Strategy?”

First thing on Day 2 the group was split into 3 teams to run the Twinings B2C Business Simulation where they were tasked with running a B2C marketing-led consumer enterprise for a 3-year period in rounds lasting 12 months each and engage with the central dilemmas of such a venture including Price Elasticity and Profitability versus Market Share Growth.

When the teams reassembled on Day 3 all thoughts of Premium Teas and Consumer Behaviour were quickly forgotten when they were told they were now the executive team of Allied Mills running a simulation of a major flour mill for one year broken into 3 rounds each lasting 4 months each. They were tasked with hitting financial targets and leaving the mill in a good place for the next year in terms of stock and forward orders and warned if they failed to do this then the simulation would automatically replenish stock shortfalls for them but at punitive costs.  

Overall Conclusions and Value

Des Pullen, Group HR Director, Associated British Foods who sponsored and led the event was very clear on the value brought by the two simulations:

“The biggest compliment I can pay these simulations is that after half an hour the participants are no longer playing a game they are running a business!”

Des elaborated: “When we follow-up with participants 3 months after one of these simulation events we are always amazed to see how much their confidence has grown and the bigger impact they are having in their businesses.”  

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More about Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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