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Working for Artsana- client interview with Mitch Levene

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Posted on 31/05/2016 by Gary Robinson

We have worked with Artsana for 4 years on a number of assignments and as one of our long-term key clients we like to keep in touch with how they are progressing, predominantly through the supply chain element of their business.

Mitch Levene, Managing Director, tells us about his career with Artsana, what it’s like to work there and what the future for the company is:

Can you give us a brief overview of the Artsana Group?

We are one of the 3 biggest baby care businesses and retailers of nursery and toy products globally, worth over a £1 billion. We were formed in 1946 as very much a family business and we still have a lot of family ties today but are a mixture of family and what we call ‘blue-chip’ as well. For example I’m ex Coca-Cola, my line manager is ex Proctor and Gamble and our heads of categories have come from Unilever. So there’s a nice mould of the family ethics but also the professional FMCG expertise.

Do you see much family influence in the business day-to-day?

I would say that our values are very much from the ‘family’ side of things and the day-to-day running, strategic side of the business is much more from the blue-chip influence that’s come into the company.

Can you give us a brief insight to yourself, your early career and how you became Managing Director of Artsana?

Wow, big question! The bulk of my history is with blue-chip organisations up until now. I was very fortunate to grow up in the Coca Cola enterprises, in a great company with great people surrounding me. What was superb about that company was that as they developed you, they also promoted you, and never left you in the same function or department. They would move you to a new department from time to time so I got loads of experience, from marketing to sales to operations, so I saw the whole supply chain. It is a great place for training and developing people and moving them into career positions where they can get good experience which helped me immensely.

Why did I change to this kind of world that we are looking at with Artsana? It spurred from my children really; I’ve got 2 boys, they’re grown up now, but when they first came along I wanted to do something where the end user really got something of value. When you look at our products, in the nursery and toy industry, every one of them offers that. We like to ‘put a smile on a baby's face’ and make life easier for parents, so this is why I swapped industries. You could call it moral or ethical reasons.

Artsana never stand still, you’re always looking to improve your products and be the leader in what you do, is that fair to say?

That is so correct. We have a breadth of range that nobody else has in the industry and the functionality of our products means that we always strive to make life simple and convenient for the end users.

What supply chain or company challenges have you faced over the last 5 years and do you foresee any particular challenges over the next five years?

Specific to the supply chain I would say trying to keep up with consumer demand, even today we are still trying to keep up with consumer demand because it just keeps moving! We’ve virtually doubled sales within a 5-year period so we keep planning for growth but growth is outstripping where we thought we were going to be. For example, last year we thought we would grow about 8% and we actually grew by 25% and the year before by 17%. When we're growing so rapidly, we're trying to get products through the system as quickly as possible.

Also we moved our head office from the Midlands down into the London region, to be where our retail base is which is the South East of England. We moved down here and we lost some people that didn’t want to transition down to London, therefore we had to recruit. That’s where Cast UK came in so vigorously; if I look around our head office I would say probably a third of employees have been selected through the partnership of Cast UK.

Why did you chose Cast UK as your recruitment partner?

We had a list of about 3 or 4 recruitment consultants; we looked at recommendations and at the website and we talked to the consultants there. We made our selection based upon the professionalism that we got back and the understanding of our business, business needs and the kind of criteria that we have in place for people to join.

I always say during the selection process that our culture is not for everybody, its fast paced, it’s a lot of teamwork and a lot of results orientation. People here like to win, and we can see that from the results that come through. We have to work with the right recruitment consultant, like Cast UK, to make sure that we get the right cultural fit from the individuals coming through to join us. It’s quite a tough place to get into because we have a thorough process.

We do spend quite a lot of time with the candidate in the selection process because its two-way thing. We’ve got to get the right person, so we usually hire someone with the capability to move up at least 2 positions in the organisation as we grow, but at the same time, they’ve got to choose the right company. They need to understand the atmosphere within the organisation so we try to get them to meet as many of their colleagues as possible before they make a decision and give them a real in depth assessment of them company.

From a candidate’s perspective, what is the attraction of pursuing a career with Artsana and what can they expect from you as an employer?

I think the number factor that really attracts people is that we have a strategy to build the team and there’s 3 aspects to this. One aspect is that we have a proactive culture, so it’s a vibrant place that allows people to flourish and come up with ideas and put them into practise; it’s a very open culture where you can really have freedom to add value. The second thing is recruiting the best people and the top talent so when people come into this business they are surrounded by great people. The final thing that we do is develop people; internally and externally. We have a system where everyone has a personal development plan which actually manifests 360 degree feedback from colleagues, so everyone is trained to provide positive and diplomatic feedback. People start to really understand themselves, where they are and what they need to do to develop.

I’ve seen many times where people take feedback on board and work it into a personal development plan; it might be strategic thinking or judgement or communication for example. We then work on focal points to develop that, sometimes we have to admit we don’t have the capabilities to develop that internally so we go outside of the business. We’ve linked up with a trainer now, running 3 or 4 training programmes with this consultant. One programme was for high potential within leadership. Another has been two days on account management; this is really important when we’ve got such great strategic partnerships with the likes of Mothercare and Boots. Our key customers want to be strategic with us to an advanced level and to do that we need to the training to help each other to get there.

You mention a few of your key customers there; where do Artsana sit within that market in terms of the competition and market share?

Our market share is huge, we’re clearly number in many areas where we have created the category base. We’ve got a lot of new innovation coming at the end of this year which steps another 4 or 5 levels of added benefits of our products. Within the market place we are perceived as one of the biggest and over the last few years we are one of the fastest growing too.

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