New Bühler North America CEO and President Andy Sharpe brings with him a slightly different background from his predecessors, who were trained in the Swiss flour milling tradition.
A native of England who has spent most of his career in food processing, Sharpe sat down with World Grain at Bühler’s North American headquarters in Plymouth, Minnesota, U.S., to discuss his clearly defined vision of how this branch of Bühler, which covers the United States, Canada and Mexico, can reach the highest pinnacle of success.
Emphasizing teamwork, communication and going to any length for the customer, Sharpe took Bühler’s Aeroglide unit, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., to new heights during his four-year tenure there.
Bühler credited Sharpe with “transforming” the Aeroglide business, which specializes in drying applications and a range of other thermal processes, into an organization where “entrepreneurship, accountability and innovation flourish” and said he would apply “that same transformational leadership” to his new assignment.
“When I took over at Bühler Aeroglide we were in a loss-making position, with a turnover level of about $50 million,” Sharpe said. “When I left it was in a positive profitable situation with turnover of about $80 million.”
Bühler is banking on Sharpe getting the same results with Bühler North America both in terms of profit and performance. Bühler North America has three divisions — Grains and Food, Advanced Materials and Consumer Foods.
Sharpe, who has worked for Uzwil, Switzerland-based Bühler for more than 20 years, said he is a big believer in the company’s “Values that Drive Success,” which are respect, trust and honesty.
“When I first met with the team here back in October, we had quite a session on culture,” Sharpe said. “We watched a Harvard Business Review video of a guy telling about his experience at the Beverly Wilshire Beverly Hills hotel and how he was treated. He talked about how his positive experience was not driven by KPIs (key performance indicators) or a process. It was driven by culture.”
To that end, Sharpe emphasized a “whatever-it-takes” attitude toward customer service.
“I don’t care about Bühler being right,” Sharpe said. “What I care about is looking after the customer, whether they are a miller, chocolate manufacturer, die caster or whatever. We may have a picture of a spare part that left our shipping department, we’ve got the airway bill number, and a signature that proves that for all intents and purposes we’re right and it is at the customer’s location. But I don’t care about that. If the customer hasn’t found it, it doesn’t matter. So stop being ‘right’ and do what it takes to make the customer satisfied.”
Sharpe pointed to a recent example of putting this philosophy into action.
“We had a customer in a Canadian mill where one of the control cards went down and needed reprogramming,” he said. “We found out about it on a Tuesday. We reprogrammed it and gave it to a sales guy who was here. He flew to his hometown in Michigan, got up at 3 or 4 the next morning, drove to the Canadian border and met one of the guys from the mill and handed it over to him. The customer sent a note that said: ‘We’ve had this card for an hour, the plant has been up and running for 45 minutes. Thank you all. Absolutely fantastic. Exactly what we expect from Bühler.’”
When it comes to the flour milling segment of Bühler’s business, Sharpe said he initially will lean heavily on his predecessor, René Steiner, who is retiring after 50 years with the company but has agreed to aid in the transition for an indefinite time period.
“There is a lot of emphasis on customer relations where René is very, very strong,” Sharpe said of Steiner, who was head of Bühler North America since 2005. “He built a fantastic foundation here and we are trying to build on that foundation. He is still working with me and we anticipate several years of him working on key accounts. He has a willingness to carry on with that and I am very happy he is able to do that.
“I don’t know the millers yet as well as I want to, but through NAMA and IAOM I am learning very quickly that the millers are very happy to share their wants, needs and desires with me, and I’m very happy to absorb that and relay to the team what we can do better.”
Sharpe noted that millers are going to see increasing benefits from Bühler’s digital services, called Bühler Insights. He said with this technology a milling company employee can remotely monitor the key performance indicators, such as yield efficiency and energy consumption per tonne of product produced, from all its plant locations.
“This is relatively new to the milling side,” Sharpe said. “It has worked quite well in the pet food industry and in nut roasting. If you’re a miller, there are certain things that you want to know within your process that you directly correlate with being very successful or profitable. With Bühler Insight, we now have the capability of understanding (the data) that’s going to be important to those millers.”
The digital revolution, sometimes called the third industrial revolution, is going to continue to grow in terms of its applications, he said.
“A guy that I worked with at Bühler Aeroglide made a great analogy about digital service,” Sharpe said. “He said a normal automation system is like buying a new car. You know it will get you from A to B, know it has heat, windshield wipers, lights, etc. When you buy digital services it’s like you have ability to brake at exactly the right point, hit the apex of the corner, and accelerate at the right point so you are getting from A to B in the most efficient way possible
“Whether you want to get there the fastest, have optimum energy efficiency or the highest yield, that digital service helps you hit the apex and do the best you can do with the machinery you have.”
Sharpe spent the first 18 years of his career at APV Baker Perkins, a Peterborough, U.K.-based food processing equipment manufacturer, where he worked in procurement, control and contracts, and later in business development and sales for the company’s cereal and snack equipment.
Since joining Bühler in 1996, Sharpe has worked across all functions of the organization, including sales, marketing, research and development, engineering, manufacturing and executive leadership. He was hired as market manager to establish the company’s European office in Stamford, U.K., and later was appointed regional director to serve market needs for the company’s European, Middle Eastern and African markets. In 2012, he took over business development with Bühler Aeroglide.
“I built up the research and development process within the business and within 18 months they asked me to take over as CEO of Bühler Aeroglide,” he said.
Making the most of that opportunity led to his current position overseeing one of Bühler’s most important markets.
“It’s an exciting time to take over the helm of Bühler North America as we advance a phase of equipment solutions and digital innovations that allow our customers to satisfy the basic food, mobility and communications needs for billions of people every day,” Sharpe said. “As president and CEO, my goal is to perpetuate Bühler’s world-class expertise, to help our customers grow their businesses across all industries.”