Created on 9/14/2018 10:30:10 AM
Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC) is pleased to announce Tom Gunter, Managing Director, T.A.G. Marketplace Consulting Inc. and a veteran CPG executive, will receive this year’s Award of Distinction at the 2018 CEO & Executive Leadership Conference.
FCPC is presenting this prestigious award to Tom in recognition of his many contributions to the Canadian food and consumer products manufacturing industry over the past 35+ years. Tom supported FCPC as a Board and Committee member throughout his time with Frito Lay, ConAgra and Fiera Foods and assumed the role of Board Chair in 2013 and again in 2017, providing leadership and critical perspective on many different industry issues. He is well known within the food industry for his strong commitment to people development, providing mentorship and guidance to a wide variety of key industry leaders.
Tom recently talked with FCPC, to reflect on his career and offer perspective on the future of industry. Read the full interview below:
How did you start your career and what attracted you to the CPG industry?
“Several CPG companies were interviewing on the Ryerson campus when I was graduating. I grew up with many of these companies and brands in our home. The fact that friends and family were familiar with these national brands, made the consumer products industry of special personal interest.
From the interviews, Scott Paper (now Kruger) came across as a patient and nurturing company. My interest peaked following the time spent in the market with one of their sales reps; this helped crystallize the role for me. I remember that the employment market for our industry was outstanding back then; many of us received three to four job offers. To think I could have sold insurance, been a banker, or hocked lighting equipment…I have had zero regrets with my choice.”
Who were the mentors in your life or your career and how did they influence you?
“I worked in a machine shop in my father’s business during my school years. He was rather ‘distant’, but a fairly successful entrepreneur. I learned a great deal from watching him operate and communicate with customers, although as anyone working for family can attest, it could be emotionally taxing. During my career in the food industry, I was fortunate to have many great bosses, as well as a couple that taught me how not to treat people; experiencing both helps you develop your own leadership style. The late Joe Smith at Scott Paper taught me a lot about customer engagement and high people standards. Craig Jung of Frito Lay helped me build presentation writing skills including fact-based selling, while Marc Guay was one of the best at developing market strategies. Later in my career, Rolf Richter, my first boss at ConAgra, was perhaps one of the best at empowering people to grow in their position while not getting in the way once he trusted you. He also brought a lot of levity to our leadership team.”
What are the greatest challenges facing our industry? Where do you see it headed in the future?
“There are a number of challenges in every industry, but the digital age has reshaped consumer expectations on all fronts. How people shop and what they purchase has changed considerably. The real challenge for the industry is how to build scale efficiencies in this type of environment; the mass market no longer exists as it once did. It’s an exciting time to be in the retail marketplace. There are new players alongside familiar retailers, who will adapt or ultimately exit if they can’t remain relevant. This hasn’t changed really, there are at least 20 or more significant retailers and CPG companies that have disappeared during my career, while new, game-changing operators have appeared in their place.
Secondly, our industry has aged considerably, creating a need to attract and retain new talent. Many long-term industry insiders bemoan that ‘it isn’t as much fun anymore’, however this is really just a dislike for change…people always take comfort in ‘the old days’. Fortunately, innovation in fresh categories, opportunities with ethnic foods, healthier eating options and now cannabis are creating new growth streams with opportunities to introduce new talent to our industry.”
You have been an active contributor to FCPC throughout the years – what did you gain from your involvement?
“Being involved with FCPC has provided access to an outstanding network of people, creating an ability to acquire knowledge in areas of the business that are not core to my own experience (e.g. regulatory, food science). The many industry studies and forums that FCPC and its membership provide are ideal at allowing companies to benchmark their own performance on key metrics, while identifying solutions that are already in practice elsewhere…even globally.
Through FCPC’s affiliated memberships, there are a number of third-party providers that actively work with FCPC and are available should you have deeper business needs.
From a personal development standpoint, being in front of the industry at the many events and meetings, helped build my inner confidence and helped me better understand the broader issues that are affecting peer companies and customers. Member companies should take the opportunity to ensure their leadership teams are actively engaged. It’s a perfect developmental experience for all involved.”
If there was one piece of advice you could give your younger self, what would it be?
It’s important to get involved, to build and nurture your network throughout your career…not just when you are looking for your next opportunity! It’s a huge industry, but small enough that the connections and in turn, your reputation, will ultimately stand out in determining your future. A solid network will broaden your knowledge and supporting others will make your career much more rewarding. A simple saying that definitely holds true is, ‘you get what you give’.”
Looking back, what are you most proud of - what has been your greatest accomplishment?
“Aside from a successful 35 year marriage and three fantastic adult children, getting to a senior role and becoming an industry leader is something I’m proud of. Although, I must say, it was never on my radar, so it makes you take stock and ask yourself, ‘how the heck did I get here?’ As I see it, investing time in something you love to do, will typically deliver gratifying results and success.
I look for people who instinctively do what is right, keep their egos in their back pocket, treat people respectfully and come with solutions that are built on facts. I’ve never been much of a follower and have always believed in being fully transparent and doing what seemed to be the right thing regardless of the background noise.”