Ajith John

Pioneering Supply Chain Innovator Driving Customer-Centric Success

Ajith John

Head - Planning, Logistics and Customer Service,

General Mills

Globalisation, increasing competition, and innovation are driving customer preferences to the edge. Supply chain, logistics, and customer experience have become pivotal in driving the success of any CPG business, especially in e-Commerce and the food industries. Ajith John, Head – Planning, Logistics, & Customer Service, General Mills, understands that in today’s market, supply chains and capabilities must be thoughtfully crafted and supported by digitalisation to cater to diverse customer segments. Striking the right balance between reliability and cost efficiency while fostering an environment of innovation and rapid response is paramount. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through globalisation, e-commerce, and digital transformation, setting benchmarks requires drawing inspiration from trailblazers in various sectors.
With over 20 years of experience, Ajith has amassed a wealth of experience spanning multiple industries in sourcing and supply chain transformations and digitalisation in service of meeting customer needs. Throughout his journey, he has uncovered the key ingredients that unlock profitability and customer satisfaction. These ingredients encompass competitive sourcing, setting high service levels, building people and process capabilities, relentless pursuit of innovation, unwavering compliance with regulations, and a steadfast commitment to sustainability. As time becomes a precious commodity for customers, and with new instant delivery offerings, traditional distribution strengths and market presence alone may no longer suffice. Ajith recognises the seismic shift brought forth by emerging channels, such as e-commerce and modern formats, demanding fresh approaches to capture and engage the ever-evolving customer base.
In this dynamic business landscape, staying ahead of the curve and embracing emerging trends is imperative. Armed with his extensive expertise and astute understanding of industry dynamics, Ajith is primed to navigate challenges and seize opportunities that lie ahead, while consistently delivering exceptional customer experiences. Trade Flock interviewed Ajith to understand the key components of his success, his plans, and what drives him. 

Sustainability is a growing concern globally. How does your organisation incorporate sustainable practises and technologies into its strategies and operations?

Sustainability is key to ensuring an enterprise operates with a triple-bottom-line view to succeed in the long term. The enterprise focusses on pillars agreed upon in the UNDP SDG around regenerative agriculture, reducing food wastage and greenhouse gas emissions, designing to use 100 percent recyclable packaging, and respecting human rights through the value chain. Enabling these goals are innovative technology and processes, which play a key role. From a supply chain perspective, the focus has been on encouraging the usage of electric vehicles in our secondary logistics as well as ensuring food safety by having partners who collect and recycle expired food products for cattle feed across the chain, ensuring the safety of all in the chain.

In your experience, what are the key factors in operating multichannel supply chains, and how do you manage the complexities associated with logistics?

A multi-channel and multi-temperature supply chain presents its own challenges to operate and manage. The foundation is good demand insight, good availability through optimal inventory, and channel-specific logistics design. Today, with consumer trends changing faster with multiple choices, the ability to spot a trend and act on it quickly becomes important, which is aided by Digital tools. From a last mile logistical perspective, which has changed greatly, variables that play a role are the location of customer premises, the time window provided/operating time window, and unloading infrastructure/resources. In traditional trade, the same distributor works with different categories for a city and micromarket, and hence, other logistical operators are attuned to these and reliant on tribal knowledge. However, in modern formats and e-Commerce/quick commerce, the order size, delivery window, and location vary dynamically. Hence, all participants must be able to comprehend and act on these instructions, often spelled out in a purchase order, which is quite a change. Automating error-proofing mechanisms and enabling CFA and logistics partners on this journey through empathy and support is integral to helping address the complexities arising out of new channel play.

With your expertise in strategic sourcing, how do you identify and evaluate potential suppliers or partners to ensure the best outcomes for your organisation?

The benefit of strategic sourcing exposure is that one understands business models and supply market dynamics. This allows for a win-win proposition that marries partners’ strengths, organisational needs, and business models. When I look at new suppliers and partners, I try to account for all their strengths holistically. This includes people capability, infrastructure quality, prior, understanding of regulations and compliance, and price. I generally constitute a cross-functional team that evaluates this, scores it, and proposes a choice. For price discovery, I use advanced formats of reverse auctions.

What are your plans for the next five years of your professional career? How do you see your role evolving?

I believe life is a journey where you learn, teach, and contribute along the way, and I help set up people, teams, and organisations for success through my philosophy of Servant Leadership. My approach has been to look at roles and assignments through the lens of how I can bring my skillsets and capabilities to help the organisation succeed and how I learn along the way. Over the last three years, my role has already evolved from that of an operator and functional efficiency to focus on transformation, end-to-end value creation, business partnering to innovate, capability building, digitalisation and sustainability. From a purely functional standpoint, going ahead, I would love to take on new assignments that add new geographies, global perspectives, and transformation at the heart of the assignment. I love roles that undertake ‘operate + transform’ as it always needs clear vision and goals, resilience, and leadership to see and take teams through it.

How do you stay updated and continue to learn in your field?

Today, there are many learning avenues. A great deal of learning is always done by solving real-life business challenges innovatively. While solving it, engaging in industry forums with peers/experts and benchmarking help build additional perspectives. Another great way is to identify new-age firms working to solve similar problems, partner with them for small trials, and pivot as needed. It is a win-win, as you either succeed or learn. And finally, nothing beats the old-fashioned way of reading articles and content around new developments in your subject.

How has Symbiosis helped you become a better leader?

Symbiosis has been instrumental in shaping my leadership journey. My transformative experience at SCMS, Pune commenced with a vibrant introduction to an array of clubs, departments, events, and student bodies. Over the course of three enriching years, I undertook seven internships, assuming pivotal roles in our college fest, placement cell, and contributing to the Research and Development cell and Enactus. This immersive exposure honed my street-smart acumen, fostering a profound understanding of business dynamics, refining my communication prowess, and fostering adept relationship management skills. Post-graduation, the unwavering support of Symbiosis International University (SIU) through SCAE provided an avenue to sustain meaningful connections with alumni spanning global locales. Our diverse paths post-SCMS, scattering to pursue advanced studies, enter family enterprises, initiate entrepreneurial ventures, and join esteemed corporates, culminated in a robust network, fortified by the alumni continuum. This expansive network has proven invaluable, offering dependable job referrals, trusted vendor collaborations for our entrepreneurial endeavours, and a steadfast community to reminisce cherished moments and extend support when sought. Presently, I remain an enthusiastic member of the Alumni community, maintaining active involvement with SCMS, Pune. This entails conducting insightful AMA sessions and delivering guest lectures, reinforcing the cycle of knowledge sharing and mentorship.