That´s what makes the Group culture grow stronger, states Smollan´s CFO, Jeanette Hern. The very same principles she found in SelPlus and Seldata way of working.


Jeanette Hern – Advantage Smollan Chief Finantial Officer (CFO)

When, how and why did you join ASL/Smollan?

I’ve been with Smollan only for eighteen months now. It’s actually a relatively short time, but I was connected to the Group for twenty years before that because I was the auditor. Now my role at Smollan is CFO in the finance team. What happened was I worked at a company called Grant Thornton and we were the auditor to Smollan.

I worked with them and I then moved out of it into M&A [mergers and acquisitions] and corporate finance but I still had a connection with the Smollan Group. David Smollan (the CEO) and I had a very good working relationship and as he started expanding the business globally, he wanted to increase the global team. About five years ago, he asked me to join them and at that time I wasn’t ready to, but in March last year I joined the Group and I haven’t looked back since. It’s been a very good eighteen months!

Based on your experience, what can you tell us about the Group values, culture, goals?

I think it’s just about the people, the culture and making a difference. Everything we do is about how we can improve things for our clients and through [that] what we can do for our people, the people that work for us. Then, it’s about the community as well. We do a lot of work in the community to make sure we actually touch all three and not just the clients and the staff. So, there is a very strong culture.

Historically, Smollan it´s a eighty-five years old family owned business. It’s very much looking after the people and doing what is right and always trying to do make a difference, a difference for the clients and for the staff. If you can do that, you will have a very engaged workforce.

In South Africa we employ twenty-four thousand people, so it’s also about making a difference. A lot of those people are at a level where they otherwise wouldn’t have employment because they are not educated. Most of those people are merchandisers and it´s very fulfilling to be able to touch the lives of all those families and bring in people straight from school, which is great because a lot of businesses nowadays don’t do that.

In your opinion, what will be Seldata´ and SelPlus´ major contribution to the ASL strategic development and growth?

I think the important thing is the footprint in Europe and to be able to say to our global clients like Unilever and Diageo that we are now a global company.
A very important part of that is the Iberian region which Portugal is a key part of. Then it’s the innovation that comes with it: I think things that are done in SelPlus and Seldata are leading edge and they have got a different way of focusing on problems and I think we have to take some of that and then use it elsewhere. It’s to take little pockets of excellence, you know, we all do different things elsewhere in the world but you bring all together and you make the best of it.

How do you foresee ASL business development across Europe within the next five years?

I think there are a lot of opportunities because the global clients want to work with people that they can work with in all the different countries. They don’t want to have a different provider in one country and another in different country. If we can actually give them a solution that looks and feels the same in the different countries, it’s going to be a huge opportunity. I’m South African so I don’t know Europe very well, but I think Europe is not one country:  there are different languages and cultures and everything is different, so I think it’s not as simple as saying we are going to be one European business, but because we are bringing in entrepreneurial businesses it will be easier. You are working with like-minded people and a team and I think that is why it will work.

May the Portuguese team have your advice about how to succeed in business according to the ASL principles? 

I think the important thing as you grow is repeatability. You need to be able to have processes, proper processes, and they have to work. There must be some sort of repeatability in everything that we do because that way you will get the control that you need. But we also need to be able to be flexible because the world is changing quickly and so, we constantly need to update what we are doing and change the things that we are doing to make sure that we are world leaders.

It’s important to be flexible, but if you want to be successful you must love what you’re doing and if you love what you’re doing, you will be successful. You need to be honest, you need to give honest advice if you have people working for you that aren’t doing their job, you need to tell them. A lot of us would do the job for them, I think you need to give proper feedback. People are the centre and no matter where you are, whether the finance team or the HR team or the IT team, it’s the people that are doing the work.

Can you describe the Portuguese companies’ “way of working” in just a brief sentence?

I’m not sure I’ve had enough time to be able to do that. I like the energy and the creativity. Look at the formulas on the wall and the formula for success and the way that things are changed every year. I think that shows innovation and it’s what we need in the world today: innovation and creativity.

Is it more or less the same way you would describe Smollan?

It is. I think the Smollan business is probably a bigger business and more complicated. I mean, the bigger the team you have, the more difficult it is to bring people together, so we then have to bring smaller teams together. But the culture is the same, which is what attracted Smollan to the business and from the very beginning we said that it would work because the cultures are the same.


He wants to build a highly successful business across Europe over the next year or so. He is very impressed by the Portuguese business and strongly supports Peter Drucker´s principle: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Meet the new COO of Advantage Smollan Limited, Laurence Clube.


Laurence Clube – Advantage Smollan Chief Operations Officer (COO)

When, how and why did you join ASL/Smollan?

I worked for the first twenty years of my career in a variety of sales, marketing and buying roles in a number of companies; ICI [Imperial Chemical Industries] Dulux paints, Guinness, Diageo and lastly at Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s leading grocery retailers.
About ten years ago, I left Sainsbury’s to find a role that really broadened my experience. As a consequence I joined REL Field Marketing in the UK, which is similar to SelPlus.

I was MD of REL for six years through to 2013. In 2013, I became the CEO of The Blueprint Group. REL, as well as three other businesses in the UK and five in Australia, were part of the Group. I was lucky enough to move to Sydney, Australia with the role and whilst there we sold three of the UK businesses; REL, Powerforce and Retail Active to Advantage Smollan and I ended up nine months later, at the start of 2016, coming back to Europe to join Advantage Smollan.

Based on your experience, what can you tell us about the Group values, culture and goals?

We are building a business with scale and presence across Europe offering a wide range of innovative sales and marketing solutions to our customers, both retailers and consumer product groups. Our key goal will be to drive significant and market leading growth and to make that happen we need to focus on a few key things, including building a highly engaged team and highly satisfied customers. Without those two things we won’t win!
In terms of culture and values, I think there are three things:

  • Firstly, I want us to work hard at creating a business that all of us love being part of – to make it a great place to work;
  • Secondly, we have to be absolutely focused on delighting and amazing our customers in everything we do, every day;
  • Thirdly, I want us all to have a relentless drive to do things better than yesterday and innovate and constantly improve as a consequence.

Building a truly great place to work is at the heart of everything in my view. If you imagine a world where each of us feel very proud of the business we work in, feel very connected to it and are getting the personal growth we want, then I suspect our customer service and ambitious growth aspirations would take care of themselves! Whilst we absolutely do need a plan that everyone buys into, as Peter Drucker says; “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”!

Isn’t it difficult for you? I mean, you work in so many different countries, different nationalities and different national cultures…

I have some experience working internationally but I am absolutely learning and will undoubtedly get it wrong often! Ultimately, I want us to come together around the values and culture I just talked about.

In your opinion, what will be the major Seldata and SelPlus contribution to the ASL strategic development and growth?

I expect the businesses to grow and contribute financially. There will also be talented people who will be able to contribute more broadly across Advantage Smollan. Finally, there are things that these businesses do that will provide best practice for other businesses in the Group.

 Really? Like what?

The creation of Seldata as a separate entity to Selplus. The UK businesses are going to copy it and create a Brand to sell all the technology and Business Intelligence capability in that market

How do you foresee ASL business development across Europe within the next five years?

There will be a lot! We will develop in two ways: firstly, to broaden our international footprint and presence across Europe. Secondly, to broaden our capabilities and offer. As a result I would expect us to work increasingly with customers across markets and alongside our owners, Advantage and Smollan, be able to work with customers globally.

From Europe?

Could be. The customer relationship could start anywhere. It might come from the Advantage business in the US or The Smollan business in one of their markets outside of Europe.

May the Portuguese team have your advice about how to succeed in business according to the ASL principles, how can they improve?    

Do you mean as leaders or as everybody?

I think everybody because they are now looking up to you and they want to learn from you.

I’d have to say to take ownership. Taking ownership, to my mind, is to do the best you can, to do everything you can to delight our customers, to support and help each other, to help fix things you see that are wrong, to speak up, to do what you say you will, to and to grab hold of opportunities you see. And finally to take ownership of your own personal development.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the picture of a country road where somebody has drawn a white line to show the edge of the road? The picture shows the white line drawn along the side until it comes to a fallen branch. Instead of moving the branch and doing the job properly, the white line is drawn around the fallen branch. That’s one of the things I’m talking about – take ownership to move the branches or the problems so we can all do a great job for our customers and each other.Our leaders across the business need to really help make this happen.

Can you describe the Portuguese companies’ “way of working” in just a brief sentence?

As you know I’m really only meeting the guys for the first time today. I can already see a professionalism and real passion for the business. I can see people who are open to new ideas, excited about the future in Advantage Smollan and who put customers first. Which is all great! I can also see an openness and integrity in the leaders I’ve spent time with today which is really important.

If you could describe in a brief sentence ASL’s “way of working”, would it be more or less the same?

Absolutely. As I said before it’s about building a great place to work, being very customer focused and working together on getting better at what we do. I can see these things living in the Portuguese businesses already