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  • Bio: Rob Hunt is Consulting Services Director at Gist. Gist is part of The Linde Group and is a supply chain solutions provider focusing in the food and drink sector. Gist provide supply chain services to a range of blue chip companies including names such and Marks and Spencer, Carlsberg, British Airways, Dairy Crest, VOW, Bakkovar, Northern Foods and Uniq. Rob currently heads up the Consulting Services team at Gist.

Rob Hunt

You do what?

I’ve lead the consulting services team for the last four years, looking after a team of over 20 supply chain professionals from a variety of different backgrounds. The team has three main areas of responsibility and we spend about a third of our time working across each of the areas.

The first area we work in is in supporting our existing operational accounts to drive cost, service or capacity improvements to their customers. This is fundamental to our ongoing success as an operating business as we seek to continually challenge and drive performance. Only by delivering best in class operations will we retain and grow our business with our existing client base.

Our second area of focus is in answering tenders for new business. Here we work with operational teams and some of the other support functions within Gist such as finance, HR and IT. Our aim is to win new operating contacts in order to grow our business.

The final area for the team is the winning and completion of logistics consulting. This provides interesting challenges for the team, working with new businesses as well as existing customers looking for opportunities to either drive operational improvement or develop logistics strategies.

My job means that I’m responsible for the following key things:

  • The recruitment and subsequent personal and career development of the team.
  • The identification of potential prospects for Gist and the articulation of a value proposition to those companies
  • The visioning and development of the solutions we present to our customers across each of the three main areas we work in.
  • The pitching for and winning of new consulting business.

It’s a really challenging and enjoyable role which allows me to make a real difference to our operational and consulting customers. We provide input to business strategy through the work which the team undertakes, helping us to become our customers’ first choice for innovation, excellence and partnership.

How I got started

That’s what I do now but it’s been an interesting journey to get here, starting with an interview with the graduate recruitment manager for Gist some 15 years ago at Manchester University.

My career with Gist started with the graduate training scheme. I spent the first 15 months gaining operational experience across M&S Foods sites, across a variety of logistics functions.

Things like managing a warehouse shift or planning the transport operation or managing an outside warehouse – all things that help you to understand what makes the business tick at a grass roots level. M&S Foods is a great structured environment which helps you to learn and practice many of the skills that you’ll need later in your career.

After that introduction to Gist I moved to work within a DIY contract working on building the business by bringing new customers into the operation. Here I had my first experience of customer contact with both suppliers and the operational client.

The team was much smaller and as a result there were far more opportunities to become involved in different areas. I’d certainly recommend working in a mix of both small and large contracts in order to gain a wider breadth of experience.

From here I moved to managing my own first contract whilst still on the graduate scheme. It felt like a great responsibility as I strove to engineer the weekly delivery of some 1,000 tonnes of bulk mayonnaise every week.

Looking back now the opportunity to test myself at an early stage of my career has proved invaluable in my personal development, allowing me a broad insight into the workings of commercial relationships.

Moving up the career ladder

After three years with Gist I moved into a head office role setting up a central reporting function for the business area I was working in. It still amazes me that a single business can have so many different cultures – from head office to operational to different operating contracts. It’s great to have experienced both the central roles and the operational roles as it helps build your understanding of how contracts are won and managed as well as implemented and operated.

After about a year in the central role I began to work on commercial tenders, ultimately working on a tender which we won for Safeway. Following on from the win I went to work as the contract manager for the business for Safeway. This meant I was responsible for the implementation of the new contract and the subsequent running of the business in line with the customers’ requirements.

For two years I was the main point of contact for the customer and for the first time had my own profit and loss responsibility.

This means you’re accountable to your own business for delivering the profit and to the customer for delivering his cost and service. Here I looked after £5 million turnover, 100 people and 200k sq ft of warehouse space (about the size of two and a half football pitches!).

From here I was offered a CRM role in M&S head office in London, which I took. Again it afforded me the opportunity to see the logistics contract through their eyes, and to understand more about what’s important for each of the different buying categories within M&S. I was responsible for both communications between M&S and Gist on a day to day basis and for commercial proposals to win new business.

Closing in on a career path

After a year working with M&S in the CRM role I took on a lead role on a supply chain re-engineering project within M&S. This was to revolutionise the way we operated. It also gave me my first insight into how you can model a supply chain to understand the impact of changes in advance of making them, thereby helping you to make fewer, better decisions.

We worked very closely with M&S understanding and interpreting their commercial and customer imperatives and turning them into a logistics operating solution. This meant recreating the supply chain in a series of models to test how the supply chain would perform under its new constraints.

After two years of modelling, design and IT build we were ready to implement our first site. The implementation went very smoothly. This quickly led to the roll out of the operating methodology over the next two years across all remaining sites. I really enjoyed both the design work and seeing the end product. It also gave me an inkling about where my career would turn in the long run.

I discovered that I enjoyed the creative thinking and analytical work required to turn a business strategy into a logistics solution. At the end of the implementation I moved into a role, which acted as the interface between the M&S account and our consulting services team.

From here I progressed into the role I currently undertake, which I started with at the beginning of this article. It has taken me about ten years to close in on my current type of work but the beauty of logistics is the breadth of roles on offer and the ability to experience such variety before deciding on a career path.

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