Last July, Ken left SAB (he’s not keen on the word ‘retired’!) to start a new chapter. Instead of taking a well-earned rest, however, he has launched a business, Ken Gosnell Packaging Solutions (KGPS), to help guide FMCG enterprises to realise their true potential.
Asked about career highlights, Ken relates: ‘Some 46 years ago, I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree, majoring in thermodynamics and fluidics. Hungry to start earning, I landed my first job with Lyons Maid, one of UK’s leading ice cream manufacturers, where I was introduced to operations management.’
In 1976, Ken moved to Cadbury Schweppes as project manager for its overseas operations. ‘At Cadbury Schweppes, I executed many projects in Europe and Africa, and it was from these assignments that I developed the travel bug. After 12 years in the UK, I was assigned a post in Nairobi, responsible for engineering maintenance and project engineering at three factories in Kenya. I already had a love for African wildlife and had dreamt of visiting the Serengeti so, to me, this was the best destination in the world. After five years, however, our tenure ended with the 1981 coup d’état.’
The next ten years were spent back in the UK at Cadbury Schweppes. There, among other things, he managed the world’s first can line designed to produce 2 000 cans/min. ‘At 33 cans/second it was faster than a bullet leaving a Thompson’s machine gun!’ Ken comments with a smile.
In the 1990s, the travel bug hit again and he accepted a two-year post in Saudi Arabia as technical operations manager. Besides the job challenges, his wife, Linda, had to learn to live under strict Islamic law and they struggled to find a suitable school for their children, Mark and Michelle. ‘However,’ Ken recalls, ‘the greatest test was not being able to get a beer! So we started a clandestine beer and wine-making operation at home. On many occasions, the near-ready brew would find itself going down the toilet at rumours of imminent raids by the mutawa (government-authorised religious police)!’
His role in Saudi Arabia was demanding, building production facilities and warehouses and making a transport system come alive in the desert. ‘Although work was hard, the fellowship of expat life was great, certainly offsetting the hardships of daily life. As a result, we ended up staying there for five years,’ Ken explains.
His next role, working for Coca-Cola, took the family to Egypt, where he was responsible for 11 factories spread across the country. ‘Managing 33 packaging lines, manned by 3 500 staff, certainly kept me on my toes. What fun we had, though, in our spare time, visiting the Wonders of the Ancient World, riding horseback around the Pyramids, sailing up the Nile and diving in the Red Sea.’
Landfall in South Africa
In 2011 the family arrived to South Africa where Ken joined SAB as a consultant, eventually leading to a full-time position in new product development.
‘In 11 years at SAB, I’ve witnessed many changes, seeing the business grow in strength, size and diversity,’ Ken comments. ‘My time in new product development has been fulfilling, positioned at the forefront of challenging innovations including brand upgrades and promotions. I’ve also enjoyed coaching the many new faces that have passed through marketing. SAB is a great company to work for and I’m going to miss my friends and colleagues. I started out in the dairy industry and it only took me 40 years to realise that beer is more satiating than milk!’ he quips.
‘I think learning to manage people has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, aspects of my career. Having travelled extensively, I’ve been exposed to various cultures and met people of all ages, but overall treating everybody with respect is the most important factor. Other vital lessons I’ve learned are to share my knowledge with others and never be too proud to keep learning myself.’
Turning to personal memories, Ken believes he’s been fortunate to tick off many adventures on his personal ‘bucket list’ such as visiting the Masai Mara for the great migration, driving a Harley Davidson to Ayres Rock, Australia, and travelling around the world in six weeks. ‘Life still owes me a day for crossing the International Date Line!’ he jokes.
He’s also been snowmobiling in Minnesota, ridden an elephant in Thailand, played golf across the equator at Kenya’s Mount Safari lodge, taken in the sights of the Grand Canyon and experienced the Wild West town of Tombstone.
‘I’ve been enormously lucky to have shared many of these experiences with Linda, Mark and Michelle,’ he says, adding that his children now have their own successful careers, based in the US and Australia respectively.
So why, instead of slowing down after this stellar career, has he launched a consulting business?
‘I’ve gathered a wealth of experience operating FMCG production plants and, recently, packaging development,’ Ken answers. ‘With this knowledge I can help others to improve their business practices, become more efficient and set realistic goals. Also, I believe I can provide a vital link between brand designers and packaging suppliers to enable each to understand the other’s boundaries and disciplines, and so create a smoother brand development process.
‘Although each project will certainly be unique, there are three core focus areas – brand concept to reality, substrate development and productivity health checks. Overall, I can provide specialised knowledge that might not be available in-house and advise on procedures to help achieve success.’
On the topic of challenges facing the local FMCG sector, he has this to say: ‘I think packaging design in South Africa is still very mainstream. We’re behind the rest of the world when it comes to innovation. There are some sectors, particularly wine labelling, where we excel, but I think we can do more to make brands appeal to impulse buyers.’
In his view, environmental packaging also has a long way to go. Mostly, he reckons, it’s over-engineered.
‘I don’t think we capitalise enough on the Proudly South African principle,’ he continues. ‘The local industry needs a shake-up. Additionally, African consumers are “badge conscious” – they see certain brands as status symbols – so there’s a real opportunity to produce desirable and attractive brands that deliver what they claim to deliver.’
Ken maintains that small and medium enterprises especially need to focus on researching their products, doing things better, providing better pricing, and building brands that appeal to consumer needs. ‘Packaging plays a key role in defining a brand’s relevance in the market. It can also be a driver in revitalising tried-and-tested products, allowing their individuality to shine,’ he insists.
‘Innovation is the secret to successful packaging. During my time at SAB we were pushed to innovate through necessity, not desire. Stagnation’s not an option. To keep ahead of the competition, brand packaging needs to keep evolving. The return on investment of a package design can be difficult to measure, but the cost of not refreshing and seeking new ideas can be more expensive.’
And, finally, what’s in store for ‘Ken the adventurer’?
‘Professionally,’ Ken replies, ‘I would like to push ahead with helping companies in any sector of the packaging market and gradually bring in more like-minded specialists to grow the business.
‘On a personal note, I’d like to carry on enjoying life to the full and achieve more things on my “bucket list” such as driving a team of huskies as a “musher” in Alaska or Canada, visiting the Okavango Delta, seeing the Great Wall of China, and walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The latter will be extremely challenging, as I’m afraid of heights!’
Ken has a few more ideas, but that seems quite enough to keep him busy for a while
Ed’s note: With 40 years’ operations and packaging experience, Ken Gosnell looks forward to sharing his expertise with up-and-coming consumer goods companies and packaging suppliers. Contact him on 011 8499026 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Memories captured: Biking to Ayres Rock, riding past the Pyramids, and catching the stagecoach in Tombstone Arizona.
[Ed’s note: With 40 years’ operations and packaging experience, Ken Gosnell looks forward to sharing his expertise with up-and-coming consumer goods companies and packaging suppliers. Contact him on 011 8499026 or e-mail email@example.com.]