D-Day 2007

Bundaberg Brewed Drinks has enjoyed a great reputation and strong growth of our naturally brewed beverages for many years. In 2005, in our wisdom, we recruited some top executives from a large global soft drink company and started on our journey to become even bigger and better. To our surprise the bigger and better came in the form of bigger expense budgets and better losses. (Our journey through this period did have some positive learning’s and experiences which have continued in our business) In 2007 the family stepped up to lead the business and appointed John McLean as CEO.

In John’s wisdom he knew he wasn’t as experienced or as knowledgeable as many others, and he had never performed this role before, so he approached Russell Cummings of Strategic Business Development to mentor him.

We had seen many experts in our business over the years, and without doubt most of them were experts in their field. Most of these experts freely offered advice, and insisted on us implementing solutions far outside there knowledgebase. This could only end in disaster, and in most cases we parted company with these so-called experts. So invariably, the step John took to place his trust in a consultant, yet again, was quite a big one. What we quickly learnt from Russell was that he is an expert on Business Strategies, and he stayed within his expertise when offering advice.

In 2008, I accepted the position of Operations General Manager, and John offered for me to use Russell as a mentor. I gladly accepted his assistance, and met with Russell fortnightly. During this period John and myself knew that Russell’s advice was sound, he introduced us to simple and easy to use tools, and he was constantly challenging us on the future. Where do you want to be? So lets break that down. How are you going to get there? Have you thought about… ?

The Task

Armed with this knowledge of better ways to approach our business and day to day activity, we believed this value could be multiplied by exposing the leaders of BBD to this information. We had performance programs in place that managed our shop floor employees, however as a leadership team, we were not stepping up and taking accountability. We charged Russell with the task of creating a program of simple tools that would assist our leaders in making better decisions.

At the same time Russell was asked to facilitate a Strategic Planning session that would deliver an easy to read, realistic, future focused strategic plan. This process would answer the BIG questions for the next 5 years and put in place several 5 year plans on the BIG things that needed to be achieved to meet our strategic objectives.

Our Journey with Russell and Home Brew

Russell developed a program, aptly named Home Brew, which delivered several problem solving tools, planning tools and action based leadership skills. We selected two streams of leaders initially, a fast track group to receive the training sessions over one year and a leader group to receive the training over two years. At the start of our second year we introduced our third team, again to receive the training over 2 years (4 x 4 hour sessions per year).

A review session was held one month after all training sessions. This session was to discuss our progress, review our agreed actions from the training (homework) and to work through a real and current BBD issue. The process of a follow-up session after each training session was very effective for our team. It turned the information we had received into knowledge and skills and ensured our leaders were demonstrating their use of the tools, a no where to hide approach.

To embed the process we prescribed tools to be used on certain tasks. For example, after our yearly KPI’s had been agreed we selected three home brew tools to be used on each KPI. When troubleshooting breakdowns on the production line we would facilitate the brainstorming and select different tools for each problem.

How did we end up with a great strategic plan? Russell spent 2 days with our executive team taking us through workshops. Each component of the plan was discussed and where appropriate we broke into groups and used Home Brew tools to get our thoughts on paper. At the end of the two days, we have covered a lot of ground, confirmed our vision was correct and created values, but it wasn’t yet apparent to me how I would get a strategic plan from this. By the end of the next week Russell had sent back a first draft. I could understand it, it flowed well and it painted a clear picture and direction for BBD – the most impressive and significant component of the plan was that it was our work and our terminology and what we had agreed on during our 2 days of workshopping.

What is the return?

Firstly, there are some very important things that Russell and Home Brew hasn’t given us, and some hurdles that we faced or are still facing:

Home Brew has dramatically increased the level of activity in our business, and at times, it is almost crazy. We are constantly reviewing, challenging and planning most facets of our departments and activities.

We have all the tools at our fingertips and often spend far too much time thinking about solving the problem, when we should just solve it. The question still remains for some, how do I know when the problem is complex enough to use a tool, and how do I know when I could just make a quick decision? Experience will help with this.

Home Brew tools don’t add up and give you the right answer, they simply ensure we understand the entire picture, and make an informed decision – not necessarily the right decision. You past experiences, your knowledge and skills, how you use the tools, what tools you use and your personal preferences will still continue to influence the outcome.

Russell’s mentoring has often enlightened me, and then after he has left a huge array of questions fall in to my lap. It seemed so easy but I can’t get it; Now that I have this, and it wasn’t what I expected what do I do next?; How do I fix the day to day things so that I can work on the longer term plans?

When we start a new leader in our business they have no idea of Home Brew. We are currently introducing Home Brew Induction to our HR toolkit.

Some leaders continue to give Home Brew lip service, that is, they use the tools to present the final documents, however they don’t see the value, and continue to avoid the process as “they know better ways”, or “they have done it all in the past”.

Our focus for home brew was for delivery in Bundaberg. Our remote sites (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth) do not have the face to face exposure to Russell over multiple training sessions. We have had some uptake of the program in these sites but it certainly has been more difficult to manage.

Russell’s advice and tools are not a HR solution and will not provide you with performance management programs for your teams. They assisted us in setting expectations and holding our leaders accountable for performance, however the management of the performance process is a separate discipline.

We are unable to apportion an exact contributor of financial success to this program. It is not a processing line, or a product delivery and cannot be measured easily.

There are many things that our Journey through using Russell in mentoring, strategic planning and Home Brew has given us and BBD.

Home Brew has given BBD:

A common language
A toolkit for problem solving and planning
An expectation to think and plan prior to committing
The ability to clearly define the question that needs answering
Access to a business consultant that knows BBD and is committed to helping us
Action plans with detail, responsible parties and due dates
Accountability of our leaders to plans

Process Improvement Examples

Our robotic palletiser had continually dropped cartons for more than 3 years. It was appearing on our top 3 machines for downtime month after month. After using the tools, and finalising all actions in two months our robotic palletiser dropped from the top 3 list, and has not been a major contributor to downtime for the last 2 years.

A proposal to purchase 4 new coding units at $48,000 was submitted for capital approval. After requesting the Home Brew tools were used the capital expenditure request was withdrawn as the expenditure did not solve the underlying problem.

Planning Improvement Examples

Our strategic plan is referred to regularly and our yearly operational plans and KPI’s cascade from our strategic plan. Four months before the start of our financial year we meet as a leadership group, agree on the BIG rocks for the coming 12 months, and then create our annual operational plans using home brew tools. Each department summarises their 12 month plans in one document, call a one page plan.

Over the last 6 months our business has been required to share these plans with our partners. NAB Corporate Director, Peter Stafford, commented that strategic plan we use is so easy to read and that our reporting and planning was exceptional, and better than most companies they worked with. KPMG Private Partner, William Noye, advised John that our strategic plan was the best plan that he had ever seen, and they had seen hundreds and many from companies multiple times larger than us.

We are currently considering a restructure in one area of our business. We started this process by analysing the current structures and using the simple home brew tools to develop and compare possibilities. Through clearly defining the question and understanding the required outcomes we were able to develop a structure, different to any structures we have worked with before, and understand the value of the structure to the business.


Through the three programs that Russell has delivered to BBD (Mentoring, Strategic Planning and Home Brew), I can confidently say I would apportion at least 50% of our current achievements and plans to knowledge and skills gained from using these programs in our business. Please take caution on this statement, as I will also say with certainty that these results have only been achieved through our CEO and key leaders living, breathing and promoting the programs.

In the true spirit of Home Brew, to prepare this story I used three simple tools. Although home brew tools are not report writing tools, the brainstorming and planning tools assisted in collating the information I wanted to share. Home Brew is now a very important part of our culture. Admittedly it is much stronger in facets of our business where the Executives have committed to, and continually enforced the tools, however all teams use the tools and know the language. If it involves thinking, think Home Brew.

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