Former Vice President of Operations for Grupo Bimbo Alejandro Cebado spoke with SmartBrief about his previous role and advice for young quality professionals.
“Everyone in the organization had a role in providing our customers superior quality products,” Cebado said.
Grupo Bimbo is the world’s largest baking company. Cebado said working in that kind of environment enabled him to learn and grow from the influence of the melded various corporate cultures.
“I had the privilege to lead the Bimbo Bakeries USA (BBU) Quality and Food Safety team in building, implementing, and operating a comprehensive and effective quality system that will support operations in delighting our consumers every day with safe and superior quality products,” Cebado explained.
SB: What aspects of your position at Grupo Bimbo were you most passionate about?
Cebado: As you probably know, BBU was the result of several successive acquisitions. Due to that, different company sectors had distinct cultural differences and different approaches to solve similar problems or operate similar processes. It was a fascinating challenge to discover this multitude of alternatives, understand and learn from each of them, and, in the end, build a scenario that best covered our company’s requirements. That was only one-quarter of the job. Once you create the new approach’s agreement, implementing it through a significant change management process was another quarter of the challenge. The remaining half was operating the system and driving improvement in both the operation and the quality system.
SB: What advice would you offer young QA professionals?
Cebado: Think of quality as one of the most effective business strategies to drive a sustainable company. Every company exists to provide goods or services that a user or consumer wants, and by doing that, create value. If a company doesn’t have that, that company doesn’t have a business, no matter how efficient, how well distributed the product, what strong brands are behind the product or how competitive the price. If the product doesn’t satisfy consumers, there is no business. The product is first — all other aspects are characteristics and things necessary to add to a good product.
Improving quality is about reducing variation in the process. That alone is a powerful productivity strategy to minimize waste; this also enables implementing solid continuous improvement processes in a more predictable environment.
Promoting quality also helps create a healthy culture in the company, a higher objective, our responsibility to consumers, communities, and families. Active participation of people is focused on the common goal of improving their operation and processes. People can grow as professionals at all levels of the company by applying creativity and hard work.
SB: What are the best qualities for young QA professionals?
Cebado: It is necessary to have an open mind to learn the business. The theory behind quality does not change. The trick is applying that theory, where you start, and how the system needs to evolve. Quality needs to be learned and developed in a company. That learning is never random. Specific actions need to drive it. This is possible with a deep understanding of the business (operation, market, and culture).
A solid education, of course, is also required to manage the process.
Customer skills to facilitate the translation of consumers’ insights into actionable specifications in the product.
Communication skills. Driving the evolution of a quality culture requires communication at all levels to engage, train, follow up, and motivate others to join the journey.
SB: How has human decision-making and technology intersected with your role at Grupo Bimbo?
Cebado: Technology provides better information for decision-makers, giving them the necessary information to make accurate decisions.
Let’s be aware that excess data gives the illusion of information sophistication and creates functional nonsense. Instead, information should be simple and explicitly crafted for the decisions or behaviors it intends to drive.
SB: How is inter-departmental collaboration vital in QA?
Cebado: Quality is a shared responsibility. There are apparent relationships, like the procurement department and its role in sourcing good quality raw materials for production. Other areas are not so clear: HR, for example, needs to attract the talent to manage and operate the processes and make decisions. Finance should have the correct costing process to determine prices in the market correctly. Every single person in the company has a role in delivering quality to consumers.
SB: How have your relationships with suppliers evolved over the years?
Cebado: In a general way, it has always been collaborative. However, from the quality assurance perspective, there have been trends that appear to be present in several countries:
- During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was an emphasis on intensive testing. There was a laboratory in every location.
- During the late ’90s, suppliers were considered reliable enough to stop supervision. As a result, manufacturers relied on certificates of analysis with very limited or no supervision.
- After 15 years of that process, the lack of supervision caused materials to have more significant variations.
- Since 2010, limited or focalized supervision has become common again. Technology enables manufacturers to efficiently use all the information generated in this process, which wasn’t feasible some years ago. Taking advantage of this opens significant improvement possibilities for both our suppliers and our business.
SB: What’s key to maintaining good supplier relationships at Grupo Bimbo?
Cebado: The first is transparency. Leave nothing to the imagination. Translating that into a procurement and quality assurance system for materials requires a supplier approval process, documented quality, food safety, and logistics expectations, agreed-on consequences for both parties in case of deviations, a visible management system, risk assessments, periodic review of results, corrective actions to eliminate variations or improve performance and a technology development.
Second, create a healthy competitive environment. Distribute the risk among several suppliers. Learn about the market conditions, competitors, technical background, the role of those materials in your process, associated trends for that industry, etc.
Third, closely follow-up. Review results and look for opportunities: there’s always room for improvement.
SmartBrief initially published this post.
Some of Bimbo’s iconic brands and fresh products can trace their histories back to the late 1800s or early 1900s when Bimbo’s traditions of freshness and value began. Read Bimbo’s case study to learn how TraceGains helped Bimbo meet FSMA and GFSI requirements with ease. Download it here.