In the hot seat

Karl McCrum, Sales and Marketing Manager at Neill’s Flour

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF

I’ve been working in the grocery trade for almost 20 years from van sales to national accounts manager to, now, sales and marketing manager. I’ve worked for some of the largest food manufactures/suppliers in the world such as Unilever, General Mills and now Neills Flour which is part of the ABF Associated British Foods group. I’m also a proud father to two beautiful daughters which keeps me busy.

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY INVOLVE?

I always read In the Hot Seat in UG each month and 9/10 everyone answers this question with ‘…there isn’t such thing as a typical day’ and I’m afraid the same applies to me working in a flour mill.  Each day brings challenges, opportunities along with the highs and lows of this industry (not always in equal measure) but a normal day would see me at my desk for 7.30am with reading/replying to emails the first task. After that, there would be internal meetings scheduled and, because of work cross-functionality, there will always be plenty to discuss whether it’s commercial, production, milling or maintenance issues. Customer meetings are key also and, because we operate across whole of Ireland, there’s always plenty of time spent in a car.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?

As part of the Neills Flour 150th anniversary last year, I wanted to do something very special to mark such an achievement so we came up with the idea of trying to break a Guinness World Record. Funny enough, when we started investigating about the attempt, we quickly discovered that world records aren’t that easy to break! Anyway, we teamed up with Jenny Bristow, Pattons Bakery (Newtownards) and some students from the Belfast Metropolitan College to break the Guinness World Record for the largest scone. The existing WR had been in place for 10 years set by a New Zealand bakery which produced a scone of 123kg, and I’m really proud to say that we smashed that record by producing a scone which weighed 141.8kg. This has now been verified by Guinness.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

It’s the people. The Neills Flour Mill, which is tucked away in a corner in the heart of Belfast, has some of the most dedicated people I have ever met. Even though we are part of this huge company, we have still managed to retain a family feel with the core values of quality and service in everyone in the mill.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST DIFFICULT TASK?

I think dealing with a commodity such as wheat is extremely challenging and, on top of that, you have currency fluctuations not to mention the uncertainly with Brexit!

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?

My line manager in Unilever often used to tell me, ‘If your plan doesn’t work the way you want, change the plan, not the goal’. Always stuck with me…

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST GRIPE?

The West Link would certainly be up there in terms of a daily gripe!

WHAT TALENT WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE?

I’ve always been intrigued about magic, so I think I’d like to be good at it just to see people’s faces.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS/AMBITIONS?

Professionally, I am very settled now but still continue to learn and grow in this role. Personally, I’d like to travel more and try to keep making memories for my children.

WHOM DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?

I’ve had the privilege of working along with David Spence, the sales manager at Neills Flour, who has only recently retired. Every morning he left his house in Newcastle and travelled to Belfast, was at the gym for 6.30am and then into work for 8am. Also happened to be a true gentleman.

WHERE IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE?

Without doubt, Alberta Canada. I’ve been there about six times now and, If I won the Lottery, I’d be there tomorrow. I remember the first time I was there, and it taking my breath away with the scenery, wildlife and the people. Closer to home, North Coast or Fermanagh are my favourite places in NI.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD PRODUCT?

Probably a really nice steak. We have Saturday night steak night most weeks.

HOW DO YOU RELAX?

I am a keen motorcyclist and nothing clears the mind or relaxes you than getting out on the bike. I also adore spending time with my family (which now includes Ollie the dog). We are very much an outdoor family with lots of camping, and I’ve also seen us setting the alarm for 3am to watch a meteor shower.

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