Transformational Leaders: Jon Hughes, Managing Director UK & Ireland at Haribo

Transformational Leaders: Jon Hughes, Managing Director UK & Ireland at Haribo
Published: 8 October 2020

In the latest edition of our Transformational Leaders series, we talk to Jon Hughes, Managing Director UK & Ireland at Haribo. Jon very kindly shares his thoughts and opinions regarding the importance of leadership, people, and the opportunities and threats in the current climate and market.

Jon was appointed Managing Director UK & Ireland at Haribo back in October 2018.  Previously Jon successfully held the post of Sales Director for Haribo UK & Ireland for 18 months where he worked on the introduction of the confectioner’s reduced sugar line Fruitilicious, and supported the relaunch of Supermix, before being promoted to Managing Director.

During Jon’s tenure at Haribo, Starmix has now been voted the nations favourite sweet for the last 2 years in a row. Plus the re-launched Supermix has growth 14%. Meanwhile the Haribo business has also successfully launched of its retail strategy, opening 5 of its own Haribo stores across the UK.

Jon began his FMCG career back in 1995 as a graduate sales trainee at Heineken, before moving on to Henkel and then Kimberly-Clark. He returned to Heineken in 2004 for four years.

Then after stints with healthcare provider CLVC Group and running his own consultancy business, Jon returned to Food & Drink in 2013, taking on the role of Sales Director for Red Bull and then ultimately joining Haribo in May 2017.

A family-owned business, with more than 700 team members across two manufacturing facilities in West Yorkshire, including a state-of-the-art, purpose-built factory in Castleford, Haribo has been making much-loved sweets and confectionery for almost 100 years

Recognising the importance that its people have had in shaping the brand’s success, previously Jon has stated that ‘At the heart of Haribo is its team. Each and every member of our team contributes to our story in their own way. To have people who have been with us for so many years really is an achievement. We’re extremely thankful to all those who have helped Haribo on its journey to becoming the much-loved brand that it is today.’

As a leader, what have been the most valuable learnings in the last 6-12 months?

In reality there has been pre-COVID and post-COVID. We all construct a plan and then external events can, and inevitably do, impact that plan.  It’s then down to how we react and more than ever the importance of people and having the right team in place comes into focus.

COVID has reinforced many principles.  Now more than ever we must trust our teams, the right people know what they are doing, and we must support them.  More ‘management’ is definitely not the answer, instead it’s all about trust and support.

On a positive note, what potential opportunities do you see in the current market?

First and foremost, with backdrop of COVID and Brexit, we must all work together to get through the next few months as positively as we can. Once we learn how to live effectively with COVID, I believe the economy will bounce back, there will be underlying consumer demand to embrace.

Then the opportunity, as now in fact, is for the FMCG sector to once again delight customers and genuinely enhance people lives.

How do you think the Food & Drink industry will change in the next few years? What is the future?

It will be a lot harder for new businesses in certain categories to get established, especially via the grocery retail channel. For instance, the UK Government’s proposed ban on promotions will make it very difficult for new companies to get a foothold and gain trial with both customers and consumers.

We will undoubtedly see a significant shift in grocery retail and perhaps a further increase in direct to consumer marketing and sales.  Plus, the health agenda of course still has a huge part to play with customers and consumers working out what they really want from their food, snacks and treats.

During your career to-date what have been your biggest learnings?

You must be true and honest in all your dealings.  Don’t pretend to be something that you are not.  Whether that’s internally or externally with colleagues, customers or consumers.  As the great Rob Goffee said ‘Be yourself, more, with skill’. To do this, first you must understand yourself, find your passion and crucially find the right company and culture for you. 

Don’t do what is expected of you by others, do what is right for you. There is no right and wrong in terms of company structures and cultures…it is simply what is right for you, whether that be corporate, family/privately owned, SME etc.

What advice would you give to a young, aspiring and ambitious leader within the Food & Drink industry?

I would strongly encourage them to look and listen - listen more than speak.  It’s the old adage of ‘you have two ears, two eyes and one mouth for a reason’...use them in that proportion. 

Also think about the products and brands you want to be involved with, both short-term and long-term. As well as focusing relentlessly on what your consumer really wants – it is easy to become distracted by fads, pressure groups and the media, but if you can understand what consumers really value and then deliver it to them, you will be rewarded.

Simon Walton is Head of the Consumer Practice at Berwick Partners, specialising in recruiting senior management and leadership roles across the sector. 

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