Snap, Crackle, Pop: Looking Back Over 15 Years from Start Up to World Class

John Gregory

John Gregory: After serving for more than 15 years in Shared Services leadership roles including European Finance Operations, Center of Excellence and GBS Transition Lead John Gregory is retiring from Kellogg’s and his current role as GBS Global Operations Lead.   He will close the door on a chapter in his life and leave behind a legacy and great learnings for those of us who have had the honor to have known and collaborated with him.

Rochelle Hood, SSON’s Global Head of Customer Analytics and Research sits down with John for bit of a look back and to learn what lies ahead for John. 


Where have you lived in the course of your career and what were some highlights of those locations?

I was lucky enough to spend time in Milan, Dublin and latterly Michigan in addition to my home town of Manchester. My fondest memory of Milan was wine and ‘real’ pizzas, Dublin was the waterfront village of Malahide, its outdoor pursuits and great restaurants; Kalamazoo – the people – they are just so friendly and helpful. Of course Manchester is home to one of the greatest football (soccer!) teams in the world – I was lucky to be located close to Old Trafford during many of the Alex Ferguson years – a great privilege.

What will you miss about Kalamazoo when you move back to the UK? What won’t you?!

Kalamazoo, Michigan is a great little town – we‘ve made some great friends here. The beer is something that I will really miss – Kalamazoo is home to at least 10 Craft Breweries. I used to think that Americans had no taste buds but have definitely been proven wrong – my favourite summer wheat beer is Bell’s Oberon and my all-time favourite is Short’s IPA – Huma lupa licious!

What will I not miss – the winter!

What do you remember about the day you opened the doors to Kellogg’s SS Center?

It was a proud moment for my team and the Company as we were early movers.  Lots of companies were interested but not many had made the leap. We had high hopes of increasing our back office capability whilst at the same time saving costs. Whilst we did not quite get the forecasted level of productivity savings in forecasted timelines we far over-delivered in the longer term. Importantly, though, the level of Effectiveness Savings that Shared Services could deliver were little understood and provided an unexpected bonus to the Company. Payables and Receivables became the engine room for driving significant cash flow savings.

Which industry leader, professional or mentor outside of Kellogg’s has had the biggest impact on your career and your contributions to GBS?

In the early days I met or listened to presentations by some great Shared Service practitioners who helped me get started and find direction. Probably Graham Russell, Lee Coulter and Robert Horvath are stand-outs.

What’s your favourite SSON conference memory?

SSON conferences were always exhilarating experiences, especially in the early days when nobody really knew exactly how to set the model up. Lots of consultants were offering ‘space – age’ ideas whilst most early starters were just struggling to get things off the ground. Networking at SSON really helped me to gauge the pace that we could go at to be successful. The conferences also provided the foundation to the development of our long term strategy. I’ve always trusted a practitioner who has done it vs a consultant who tells you how to do it…

I have been to many SSON events as far afield as Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney plus Orlando. The majority, however, have been in Europe; the European SSO Week was always pencilled in on our annual calendar. I have some very fond memories, especially from my term on the Awards judging panel; but my favourite memory was from Sitges, Barcelona in 2008, when Kellogg won the ‘Best Manager of People ’ and the ‘Best Shared Services Operation’ awards. A truly great night!

What’s been your toughest time as GBS leader – and why?

I always find start-ups the most difficult. We all know that despite the best laid plans this will be a tricky period. It is very important to tell Senior Leaders and Sponsors this and keep telling them. The dollar potential savings become very visible at the business case stage and everyone is usually very supportive. The key is to keep them on board and get their help to keep the middle management tier in check when things start to ‘wobble.’ Having said this, I always knew that we would be successful and found it particularly pleasing when the same middle management tier who had been pretty negative about the concept of Shared Services (“I know that everyone is doing it, but it won’t work for our Company as we are special!”) began to take a keen interest in the quality of talent that we were producing and our ability to deliver savings for their business units.

Which relationship, internally, was most important in enabling your GBS vision?

The most important relationship as we got started was with my counterpart in Latin America. Kellogg have a SSC in Queretaro Mexico. We ‘learned the ropes’ together and shared experiences. Also, we could not have done this without the vision of our CFO who saw the potential, gave us great support, and helped keep our senior leadership team aligned around the vision. 

What wisdom would you share with someone opening an SSO today?

Don’t try to rush things. It’s very important to get the basics in place from a people, process and technology standpoint. It takes time to set the bedrock for great success. Focus on recruiting great talent – do not compromise. Invest in process engineers and Lean Six Sigma – it is false economy not to do this. When choosing technology platforms keep an eye on the future – things are changing rapidly in this space. What may be state-of-the-art today may likely be history within a short time-frame. RPA and AI will likely change the paradigm but be wary of believing all the hype. There have been many potential game changers in my career which have not always lived up to expectations.

What is the biggest difference between pre-GBS Kellogg’s SSO, and post-GBS? How did implementing a GBS model impact the value and contributions of Shared Services to Kellogg’s enterprise organisation? 

Scale – we have moved from 400 FTEs in discrete Shared Services by region, reporting into the region, to over 1500 reporting at a Global Level to just below C-Suite. This means that we are a lot more visible and ‘help’ is always at hand. Our ability to benefit from cross region and cross process learning is vastly improved. We now have a much more structured Global organization – we have added a GPO layer, a reporting factory, built Lean capability on a global scale, and now have the opportunity to leverage our global talent in the places it is most needed. Just now we are moving resource from Europe and Latin America to supplement our North America teams as we implement a critical commercial project, which will drive a step change to how we service our end customers.

People – We have already implemented a Global talent program which will be further enhanced for GBS as we move through this year. We are gaining interesting insights into the availability of quality talent in regions where we operate plus the differing perceptions as to what great talent looks like.

Technology – Bigger scale leads to better business cases for IT and Automation projects. Our ability to grab scarce ‘capital’ resource has been much enhanced.

Finance – we have beefed up our GBS Finance support to help track and drive savings commitments and future initiatives. This team educates our Centre leads, Continuous Improvement Leads and Global Process Owners on how they can impact our bottom line and contribute to savings.

We hear a lot about talent – in short, what does it mean at Kellogg’s GBS team?  

As we set off on our Shared Services journey we adopted a “Balanced Scorecard” methodology to drive our strategy. A key pillar was “people.” Without great talent and even more importantly, great people managers, you will likely fail. It is extremely important to invest in your people; give them time to grow and nurture your talent. Despite automation and standardization, without a talented team you will struggle to reach your strategic goals.

Equally important is to deal with people issues promptly. There is often a temptation to ‘export’ people issues to other areas of the business. We have been very strong in not taking on other area’s people issues and at the same time making sure we deal with our own.

To this end I still feel that we do not put enough emphasis on recruitment and getting the right talent in to drive future strength for our business. We should never compromise on talent, even if this means that we are short on numbers for a period. However I think we did an excellent job in developing people both technically and as leaders. It’s great to see former analysts now operating at Senior Director levels in the organization.

Which innovation/evolution that you’ve witnessed made the biggest difference to your career/success?

Moving to a single ERP was a real breakthrough for Shared Services as we managed to piggy-back process standardization and simplification onto the back of it. This laid the foundation for scaled automation and significant efficiency savings. 

GBS has obviously been a game changer.

The introduction of ‘Lean’ methodologies and Balanced Scorecards ensured that we focused on all aspects of the operation and surfaced critical items on a timely basis. Also this has enhanced our speed to value.

What does retirement hold for you?  Are you going to do A Big Year in birding?  Will we find you atop a mountain looking for a Life Bird?

No Big Year – I need my pension to last!

I have a long list of trips planned and later this year will be heading to West Papua to clean up on the Birds of Paradise before heading to Australia to watch England thrash Australia in the Adelaide Ashes test match. High on the list is a trek in Nepal – one of my favourite countries – not been there for over 15 years…

However – I’m not entirely done with working and have lined up a couple of small pieces of work and will definitely be looking for more robust pieces of activity to fill in the gaps between travel.

John Gregory

What do you most want to be remembered for? What’s the legacy you leave behind?  What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’d like to be remembered for the quality of the team that we recruited and developed. People have always been a strong focus for myself and my team. I get great enjoyment from watching the team drive for results and even more in joining in the celebrations.

We have had many great accomplishments over the years but perhaps the stand out is the European SAP implementation in 2004 – starting in March, we replaced all of our existing ERPs across the whole of Europe in just 9 months. I was the Finance lead for Europe. At year-end we flipped over to a new SAP configuration to support our new tax structure and in turn saved the Company millions of dollars.

We are now in the third year of our GBS Global model. I’d like to think that we are now set up to drive great success for Kellogg; delivering value, driving process innovation and automation and delivering great talent to the organization.

Key piece of advice you have offered your successor?

My successor is a seasoned Shared Services Professional with a BPO background. He has great experience over a number of years. The best advice that I can give is specific to Kellogg. We have spent most of our time together discussing business cases for both Effectiveness and Efficiency savings, how best to meet these on a Global Scale, where the pitfalls might be and who is best placed in the business to help us to continue our successful journey. I’m sure GBS is in great hands and in a place to make a step change in delivery now that implementations are behind us.

If you could invite anyone (living or passed) to your retirement dinner who would it be and why?

David Attenborough – one of the last of the great English Gentlemen. I think that he shares similar values to myself – sustainable growth in an environmentally friendly way. I hope to follow his footsteps in my retirement. Lot’s to do…..!

John Gregory

SSON salutes a great career in Shared Services – and wishes John wonderful adventures ahead. For anyone wanting to stay in touch with him, please connect via LInkedIn.