Brewing best talent at SABMiller

Written by
Changeboard Team

07 May 2015

07 May 2015 • by Changeboard Team

Changing recruitment strategies

Jennifer Candee, head of global talent acquisition at brewing giant SABMiller, has delivered a direct recruitment strategy that brought cost savings of more than $8.9 million alone last year. Mary Appleton meets Jennifer Candee, head of global talent acquisition at brewing giant SABMiller, to find out what it takes to build a business case for change, and how to uncover the talent of tomorrow.

Shifting your organisation’s recruitment strategy from a reactive, transactional approach to a proactive, direct sourcing model while delivering significant cost savings is no mean feat for any recruitment professional. 

But this was exactly the remit that Jennifer Candee, head of global talent acquisition at SABMiller, had when she joined the organisation almost nine years ago. Since then, Candee has proved that direct sourcing can be achieved and with great success. Her grit and determination to roll out a direct sourcing strategy across a decentralised business – and create a mindset shift along with it – has seen her make cost savings of $8.9 million in the past year alone. 

“Creating new ways of working and changing mindsets is fantastic,” she enthuses. “The changes might be small in scale but the knowledge that what is happening in the organisation is going to supersede anything else is phenomenal. You are turning a ship and I love that.” 

Creating talent acquisition from scratch

Originally from Colorado, US, Candee started her career as a drug and alcohol counsellor. “I quickly realised I wanted to be on the business side of things. I was commercially minded, and wanted to utilise those skills within the HR sector,” she says.

After a brief stint in agency recruitment, she joined a telecommunications company – Level 3 Communications – and fell in love with in-house recruitment. “Bringing in talent is my passion – I loved the in-house side and have never looked back,” she smiles.
Candee moved to the UK and joined SABMiller in November 2006 – she was brought on board to build a talent acquisition (TA) strategy from scratch. “When I joined we had no TA function whatsoever,” she reveals.

Her initial challenge was to build the case for direct sourcing, and create the infrastructure to support her plans for a business which at that time was using agencies for almost 100% of hires. “We piloted direct sourcing at our corporate HQ in Woking, which was very effective, so we developed a business case for us to bring it global. We established the frameworks and codified it as pillar one of the talent management way,” she says.

Showing by doing - proving the value

When it came to presenting the business case for direct sourcing, Candee found the most effective way to get results was by doing it. But while the organisation was in part ready for change, there was also confusion and some scepticism over how the model would work. “Given that we didn’t have huge support or resources, we just had to do it and show it could be done,” she says. “That’s why we did a pilot here – it was me and another person, which meant lots of late nights.” 

During the pilot, Candee asked the business for two weeks to effect the strategy and demonstrate results. “It wasn’t about being pushy, saying ‘we don’t use agencies’, it was more like saying ‘give me two weeks, here’s the strategy, this is who I would like you to contact, dig into your database, this is who I can contact… if you’re not seeing what you’d like to see in two weeks, then let’s review it’. And of course, during that two weeks we killed ourselves to show we could do it,” she laughs. 

Fast forward eight years and Candee’s efforts are paying off in big numbers. Last year alone, SABMiller saw “cost avoidance” (she prefers this term to cost saving) in recruitment of $8.9 million – and she admits this is not taking into account all the organisation’s markets. But while cost is a key factor, Candee is keen to point out the ultimate aim, which is getting the best talent for the organisation and understanding the business intimately. 

“If you’re within the business, you typically have a better understanding of the culture than those who are external, so it was about us showing people it worked so they would buy into the model. 

“Then, you’d have people utilising you, because you knew their team, understood their way of working, were commercially astute, and you knew how the organisation was growing and what talent was needed to drive that.” 

A de-centralised model

SABMiller plc is the second largest global beverages organisation, with brands including Pilsner Urquell, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Miller Genuine Draft and Grolsch. In the year to 31 March 2014, it generated net producer revenues of $26.72 billion and EBITA of $6.45 billion. 

With more than 70,000 employees operating in 80 locations, SABMiller is decentralised, although Candee reveals that the business is, over time, becoming more centrally integrated. There are now 40 people in recruitment across the globe, and Candee runs a global TA forum once a year “to bring us together” and discuss global projects, KPIs and future plans. 

After the initial pilot, Candee’s objective was to work out how to scale the direct sourcing solution globally. This involved conducting training roadshows throughout the globe, initially in SABMiller’s largest markets, to influence and educate HR teams on how direct sourcing could work. 

All of this was pre-Linkedin Recruiter tool, she tells me – which meant that the direct sourcing method was heavily reliant on people building their own networks to identify talent. There would typically be around six to 12 months for teams to build the business case for a dedicated talent acquisition person, she recalls. “That’s when they came to me and asked me to help them build a team. Understanding why it was needed is where the mindshift came.” 

A 'local bend on global frameworks'

While in a centralised organisation you can create a central team and then build a business case for resources, SABMiller had to adopt a different approach. For Candee, this involved being flexible and finding appropriate solutions to fit. “My role is to facilitate collaboration and foster best practices. I’m here to advise people, give them examples of what’s worked, and put people in touch to discuss that,” she adds. 

For example, to fund a dedicated talent acquisition function, SABMiller’s South African business created talent acquisition professionals as a profit centre – charging out for recruitment to their own business. “You get a lot of questions from different markets about how it should be structured, how many requisitions a typical recruiter should have – but it depends on what works for that individual business and only they can understand that,” reveals Candee. And the approach is working. 

SABMiller’s procurement team, for example, is now at 100% direct sourcing up to exec level. While the percentage of direct versus agency varies according to how much resource a certain business unit has, Candee estimates that across the markets that have actively implemented and resourced for direct sourcing, the average is approximately 70% to 100%. Those that are leaner resourced may tend to be slightly lower in the first couple of years. Examples of successful markets include Latin America, Australia and South Africa regionally; as well as global procurement and IS. 

“We still have a percentage that’s hired through agency which we would like to lessen and we’re working with global procurement on that,” she admits. However, currently there is not a TA manager in every country, so for Candee and her team, this means working with individual markets to help lay out foundational frameworks and strategy for the function and influencing what needs to happen from there, to ensure there is “a local bend on global frameworks”. 

And while Candee wants direct sourcing to become the “default setting” for the business, she is also clear that finding the best talent is paramount and, as such, there may be instances where it does not make sense. This, she says, will usually be around specialist or niche roles – where it would be inefficient for a recruiter to work alone. Here, Candee acknowledges the need to develop strong PSLs, and seeks to grow partnerships with researchers to help build a robust talent pipeline. 

On the recruitment process itself, Candee is proud of SABMiller’s approach, which typically includes six hours of assessment, including face-to-face psychometric testing, and feedback is given whether they are taken forward in the process or not. For successful candidates, this forms the basis of career chats and results are discussed with potential line managers. “We always look at least two positions ahead and talk about where they can get to strategically – where they fit in the organisation, their potential and culture.” For Candee, this is about finding out how the person thinks, how they work with others, what strategic level they are at, their potential for growth, whether that’s aligned to the role in question and if that is going to set them up for success. “It helps us make strategic decisions on talent and it works extremely well,” she says.

Recruitment challenges

So has Candee observed a shift in expectations among top talent in recent years? “People definitely want more of a work-life balance these days,” she says, adding that some people are also reluctant to move geographically, which for a multinational organisation like SABMiller can prove challenging, exacerbated by the fact that the organisation’s growth tends to be in emerging market (“less sexy”) areas. 

And SABMiller’s decentralised structure can also prove challenging, particularly if someone is used to working in a large central team. “Often you are asking them to move for a different title, a different remit and fewer direct reports. Plus being in a centre of excellence is complex – leading by influence can be difficult.” 

For Candee, success ultimately comes down to the ability of the recruiter to effectively “sell” to talent. “I never reach out and say ‘I have a role, this is the job description, let’s talk’,” she reveals. “I say: ‘I have a position open’, then will have a discussion around what engages that person, what they are motivated by – then have an honest conversation about the role and what that could look like. For me, ultimately it’s about educating people on how we work, our processes and being dedicated about it.” 

Creating a global talent platform

How SABMiller looks at talent globally is high on the agenda this year (“so we can help feed talent from the beginning”), prompted in part by the organisation’s efforts to become more transparent both externally and internally, says Candee. 

As part of this, she was recently given the go-ahead to develop and introduce a global platform to advertise executive-level positions so they are visible to all employees. Having previously been entirely under local talent managers’ remits, this signalled a “massive win” in the move towards a global talent framework. 

“We began with the senior executive population as we wanted to start at levels where we have global moves. We launched the platform in February and we’ve had some fantastic feedback already.” 

Although not everyone is able to apply for the roles because they are too senior, Candee believes that the platform gives more junior people a line of sight that they haven’t previously had into career paths and positions that they could aspire to within the company. “They can see what a role involves and what experiences they need to have to get there, which can in turn feed into people’s career progression discussions.” While still in the early stages, Candee hopes this visibility will help influence engagement across the organisation – and the ambition is to include in due course the junior exec positions. Dependent on the success of this, the organisation will determine whether it brings the platform to additional professional-level roles. 

She is also keen to create more synergistic relationships with HR and talent management (TM), which includes a focus on gender diversity, graduate schemes and the ability to determine which functions are working well through implementing a global system. “We want to know how we can progress internal talent and what other channels we can tap into to find great external hires,” she says. 

Getting talent acquisition to the table

From a long-term perspective, Candee would like to see TA become part of the board, and is hopeful about the function’s ability to achieve this. “I don’t think [talent acquisition] is fully appreciated yet. But if you are working with the business on their future needs and in charge of finding and hiring the best people, you can make or break it for the organisation,” she insists. 

With the advent of social, she says that recruiters are no longer “pure sourcers”. She believes candidates and consumers are not mutually exclusive – so whatever marketing message your organisation uses, your recruitment message should have the same flow, just a different spin. 

Although she is a great advocate of digital tools to assist the recruitment process, she warns against becoming reliant on them and advises you to see them as an enabler, not a crutch. “Tools will not make or break how you find talent. At the end of the day it’s the person behind it. You need to get the basics right first, get on the phone – recruitment’s about relationships.” 

For Candee, your success as a TA leader depends on your ability to make sense of data and assemble it in a coherent fashion, which demonstrates the line of sight if you are going to tap into future talent. 

“Your talent is everything – without it, you can’t do what you do. The value comes when you are truly strategic, truly commercial and developing a line of sight to the talent of tomorrow. If you have your pulse on how to find that talent, and can get to it fast, you’re well on the way,” she concludes.

About Jennifer Candee

Jennifer is head of global talent acquisition at SABMiller. She has 15 years of talent and HR experience in a wide range of industries. She is a regular speaker at forums and is passionate about finding sustainable solutions to solve talent challenges.