Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

Episode 32: How Ben Handley and His Team at Pepsico are Responding to COVID-19

Ryan Chan

On this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we welcome Ben Handley, Plant Maintenance Manager at Pepsico, on the show! Ben shares the incredible work he and his team are executing every single day to provide those at home with the brands they love! Listen today!

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00:05 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan. I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful, and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today, I’m super excited, we’ve got Ben Handley on the show. When Ben was 19 years old, he left school and followed his dad to PepsiCo in Coventry UK, where he began working as an entry level role as a seasoning operator, essentially filling a small hopper with seasoning, sweeping floors and emptying bins. Now, Ben is a senior leader of PepsiCo working as a plant maintenance manager. From sweeping floors at 19 to now being responsible for multi-million pounds worth of assets on sites and accountable for a multi-million pound budget, while also leading a large team of 45 individuals at the largest snack manufacturing site in Europe, which spans all of 12 years of your working career. Ben, welcome to our show. [chuckle]

01:05 Ben Handley: Thank you, Ryan. Firstly, I wanna say thanks having me on the podcast. It’s great to be able to share my story. I love what you’re doing in this space, the content that you’re pushing out, I’m all over it, it’s definitely down my street. So yeah, I just want to say thank you.

01:21 RC: Well, thank you Ben for joining us on today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. I know I gave the super brief introduction to you and your background, but we’d love to hear from you, Ben. Can you tell us more about your journey?

01:34 BH: Yeah, so I’m 31 now, married, two kids, big fan of classic cars. I’m actually coming up to my 13th year now in PepsiCo. And really started working, really, when I was really, 11 years old, helping my mom and dad. So my dad worked extremely hard when I was a child, he was doing like seven days a week at a screen printing business, and he’d bring the art work home and we would help him as kids. So really, it’s in my blood to work hard. Throughout my whole teens, early teens and late teens I was in and out of work while I was probably should be really, in school and studying, but for me, I just really had a big appetite for earning money and kinda working my way around, and learning new things. I really enjoyed working with people, especially older people, so that’s kinda where I got the bulk for work. I kinda quickly learned that school was not really… I went to quite a disruptive school, so I quickly learned that I wasn’t very interested in school and I wanted to be on the ladder, earning money and bringing home the money and getting that big paycheck, I guess. That’s really where… A bit of background.

02:56 RC: Alright. Yeah, I feel like money is one motivation but also going through the struggles is almost a bigger motivation than anything. Just saying you wanna get out of that. And it sounds like you’ve really made your career in the space of maintenance reliability. Congrats on going on to your 13th year. We’ve spoken to a few guests over the past few weeks about how their industry is getting impacted by the global pandemic that’s going on, obviously the coronavirus. We’ve seen some businesses get completely shuttered due to this and we’ve also talked to some businesses and folks in the industry that are actually doing very well. I’m curious, Ben, PepsiCo, where are you guys on the spectrum? And how is coronavirus affecting you?

03:48 BH: So it’s a really good point. Probably the latter. We’re extremely busy, probably just as busy as before the pandemic. It’s taught us a lot, we had to react very quick. So certainly week one and week two, I was really out of my comfort zone, I’m a very planful person, so then I was coming to work and having to react to mass, mass amounts of absence issues across the plant. Reliability is actually good, but it was really kind of like, “How are we gonna the work, how are we gonna execute maintenance?” We have a lot of priority work and legal compliance that we need to do and it was just… We needed to make decisions fast, and that for me… I am very planful, it pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it’s made the team so strong. My engineering team, I have a lot of high-risk individuals that will now be off for three months, which is a struggle, but… So they’re working from home, a lot of my team are working from home. I’m still at the base, so even that brings challenges as well. But it’s just brought us so close together as a team, I’m seeing some really good stuff come out and I actually really enjoy how things are changing in the team, and shaping up.

05:06 RC: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve talked to a few people in the industry and the folks that are still, let’s call it, deemed essential and do have to obviously maintain the manufacturing plant, ’cause you guys are basically doing more with less people. I’m curious, how have you guys adapted to these changing times? And how have you also maintained a positive culture with your team of 45?

05:34 BH: So for the… We spent a lot of time on communication, so those that are back at the base, we’re spending a lot of time on the front line talking to people, reassuring people. Communication’s been absolutely fantastic from the senior leaders above, right down to the senior leaders on-site, just to make people feel that little bit safer and better. Really, it’s uncertain times for everyone, but we’ve just really rose up to the challenge with what we’re doing. We’ve obviously spent a lot money to make sure that we’re meeting the legal… The government guidelines. We’ve done so much across the plant, every time I walk through the doors, there’s something different, either it’s a new hand wash station or… It’s hard to keep up and the guidelines keep coming, new guidelines. And so, certainly from a people manager point of view, that brings challenges to just remember all the new stuff. You haven’t got much time to put it into practice. But with the team, we normally plan shutdowns three weeks out, we’re now doing almost… We’re planning the next three ahead almost in one day, we’re doing so much in a day. All the rulebooks are out the window, we’re just… Almost this reactive state where we never wanna be as a maintenance team. Actually, we’re really good, we’re really geared up to deal with that as an engineering team, that’s kinda where we fight best. [chuckle]

07:00 RC: [chuckle] Yeah, and I’m curious, do you have any advice for people who are going through something similar as you guys with your business, where you basically are being forced to do more with fewer people knowing that you’ve had to send some high-risk individuals home. Any advice to some of our listeners who are still working, who are in a very similar position as you at PepsiCo?

07:26 BH: I guess I’d cover it from different areas. As a people manager, I would say you’ve got to connect with your team. It’s so important to connect with the people that are working on-site. We’re all in it together. But also connect with the people that are not at site, from a mental health point of view, it’s very difficult to be at home when you’re on your own, especially if you’ve got kids. And especially those high-risk individuals, ’cause they’re obviously very worried as well. So from a people manager’s point of view, it’s all around great communication and spending time with the teams. Don’t batten the hatches down and go and hide in an office because it’s not good business. Then for the people that are on the shop floor, it’s keep talking, raise… What our team have done, we call it, “Voice your opinion fearlessly.” If people have issues or concerns, they could talk to anyone, right up to the plant manager, they can have an open conversation and say, “I’m concerned about this,” and they will be listened to, they will be valued and we’ll do something about it. And this last three weeks have shown that. We’ve had issues where people have been uncomfortable with procedures or the social distancing, and we’ve just stepped up and put measures in place to make people feel better at work. Very difficult, that social distancing, that’s the biggest challenge that we’ve had.

08:45 RC: Yeah, especially in a small plant with a lot of people. I think the topic that you really honed in on was this idea around communication, and I think that’s absolutely critical for any maintenance reliability team that’s still working right now on the shop floor. Communication is so key, especially when there’s a lot of uncertainty right now. And like you mentioned, Ben, changes are happening so frequently. The different rules, regulations, laws being passed are just happening at breakneck speed. So this communication factor is so, so important. And it sounds like you and your team have done a really good job at that already. On the flip side to that question, Ben, any advice, words of wisdom for people in the industry who, let’s call it, aren’t working at all, and their production floor has actually stopped?

09:46 BH: I think… Well, I’ve been doing a bit of this anyway even though I am still full-time. There’s so much content out there at the minute. It’s a great time to learn new things. It’s a great time to look at those objectives, long-term strategies that you wanna develop that normally the day job gets in the way of. I don’t think you need to just down tools, there’s so much you could do to almost to get ahead of the curve. So when we do go back to business as usual, you’re geared up to almost go full power into where you wanna be, where you wanna take the team. That’s kinda… There’s great. While we’re all going virtual, LinkedIn is full of webinars. Most evenings, there’s now webinars and training sessions. I’m finding them very useful myself but certainly that people got a lot of time on their hands, it’s… You could fill your boots with them all day long.

10:36 RC: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, Masterminds in Maintenance, we’ve got one resource for all of our listeners. [chuckle] Ben, another question… And I am asking you to predict the future on this one a little bit. But how do you think… When this goes back to normal, at some point, it will, we know that it will. How do you think the coronavirus pandemic is gonna change the future of food and beverage manufacturing, if at all?

11:14 BH: I think across the board, our ability to adapt, which is what we’ve always wanted to do, our ability to adapt quick is gonna be improved across the board ’cause that’s what everyone is having to do, across all the functions in PepsiCo, it’s making quick decisions. And that covers a certain element of risk, but actually, sometimes risk is good ’cause you can challenge the status quo. But also, I think that remote working and how we manage our teams’ time and the time that they spend, not necessarily working 9 till 5. I’m personally seeing a lot of that from my team that are working from home. I feel like we’re getting lots more done. And that trust there for people to do that, it brings a good culture to the team as well. I know we always mentioned this word ‘culture’, it’s a dreaded word in maintenance reliability, but it’s anything that we can do to improve. That is always something that we’re looking to do.

12:15 RC: Yeah, absolutely. I think this idea of change is happening again at this breakneck speed. And what I feel so good about is the fact that so many companies are rising up to this challenge. So many companies are just changing at a breakneck speed to really help the entire community, really help people in the industry as well. And I feel really good about that. Companies like PepsiCo, for example. I’m sure you guys are making some changes that have kind of been on the docket for several years. And because of this, it’s been this catalyst to push that forward, because we’ve known for several years that this is really important. Ben, I’m also curious, what are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve either had to face during the coronavirus pandemic problem or you still are facing at PepsiCo?

13:21 BH: The biggest one is you don’t know what you’re gonna walk into. In terms of absence, it can change hourly or daily. So I’m almost constantly buried in manning matrices to make sure that we have enough skills and resource on shift to keep the seven lines running. Obviously, we’re not running seven at one time, but we’ve still got seven production lines. But the biggest challenge for me, I think, as a manager, is dealing with those high-risk people and those conversations. It’s a worry for me as a manager that every time I get a phone call or a text in the evening, that it’s bad news. And it’s the time that you dread as a manager, that there’s gonna be an issue with your team or someone is gonna be taken ill. With a team of 45 and quite an older generation of people in my team, it’s always something that you fear most as a manager. Luckily, it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s just there, it’s kind of like a bit of a cloud that’s there.

14:26 RC: Yeah, no, I definitely feel that as well. We’ve got a team of almost 100 people now. And fortunately for us, we do have the ability for all of us to work remote because we are a technology company, but obviously, we’re so thankful for the people that are still working, helping us keep food on our tables, helping us take care of us when we’re sick if you’re in hospitals. And on that same topic, obviously a lot of countries, a lot of businesses have ordered these stay-at-home mandates. And I guess for me, for you, Ben, what does it feel like knowing that for as long as we’re under quarantine, you guys, your business, your company is deemed essential. How does that feel, knowing that all of us, we’re still shut in and indoors?

15:28 BH: When you talk to the guys, we feel really proud to be able to carry on doing what we do best. And we put it that you can have the argument that we’re not an essential food, but what we do do during this time is give people that moment of joy, where they can eat something that they wanna eat. And have a bit of normality, I guess feel that bit of normality. When you get your bag of crisps or snacks, that’s your comfort blanket, I guess. If we weren’t working and producing, and when you go to the supermarkets, and you look at the shelves, and at times we’re not on the shelves ’cause people want our product so much, it’s telling you that actually people want to buy our products during this time. So it’s good to be able to deliver that to people. Definitely as a manager, having that huge team, watching us all come together, again, that just fills me with pride. And messages above from CEOs and from America and people in the UK, we’ve had videos sent to us from people that work at Green Park in head office, sending us videos saying how proud they are of us, it just gives you that kind of sense of purpose during this time.

16:44 RC: Absolutely, Ben. And you mentioned that some people may not view you guys as an essential business but I think… I definitely believe that you guys are. For me, I have the luxury to go to the grocery store and pick up food and bring it home so I can eat it at home. Without that, obviously, our lives could not go on. So I’m very thankful for you, for people in the industry that do continue to work to help supply food for us on the table. SI really appreciate that and I appreciate all of your colleagues as well that do continue to go to work, and again, help supply food to stock the grocery stores to keep us fed at home.

17:33 BH: Thank you.

17:34 RC: We’ve got some interesting buying patterns here in the US. I’m curious, is there panic buying across Europe and Australia? Is this affecting the demand for the PepsiCo goods?

17:54 BH: Yeah, there’s still… I went shopping this afternoon and it’s not just us, but the shelves are still quite sparse, and it’s quite a worrying time, especially when you’ve got two children to feed as well, and a wife. And funny enough, it’s all the snacks category that can be often [chuckle] quite sparse. You go and get a bar of chocolate and there’s not much choice on the shelf, so it is telling you that as a nation, we’re still going into the… We’re not going just to go and get the essentials, we are still getting that comfort food. It’s got better, certainly. At the start, every single shelf in the shop was empty. You’ve heard all the bits around loo roll and stuff. But no, it’s really good that we’re full power at the factory. We’re still running our usual maintenance programs, we’re still trying to maintain everything that we can. It feels kind of business as usual, but it’s taken a lot of effort behind the scenes, a lot of sleepless nights, I guess, certainly from the senior leaders to make this happen and feel like business as usual ’cause it certainly isn’t actually happening that way.

18:40 RC: Yeah, definitely. Ben, what do you think are gonna be some lessons learned after all of this? We talked a little bit about change management, we talked a little bit about moving fast and being adaptable. I’m curious, do you think there are gonna be any lessons learned?

19:25 BH: I think certainly, for PepsiCo… We’ve reacted so quick. ‘Cause usually, we’re… Everyone can say that we’re… Heard it before, that we’re kinda like a big oil tanker that takes ages to navigate. So for us to make decisions almost overnight, the massive, that impact the whole of the UK-Euro workforce, I think we should be really proud of what we’ve done with that. I think almost, going back to our emergency preparedness, there’s nothing in there around pandemics and stuff. So I think that’ll definitely going into the… If this happens, what do we default to. There’s certainly stuff around that. Certainly, from PepsiCo, it’s been very impressive, what’s come from above to allow us to operate with the government guideline.

20:17 RC: That’s awesome. And it sounds like PepsiCo has done a tremendous job at not just reacting to this, but also helping support all of the workers on the frontlines. What measures has Pepsico taken to ensure safety for those folks working on the frontlines? And do you have any recommendations, tips for other businesses that are in a similar position as well?

20:45 BH: Okay, so the biggest one was social distancing. So, that’s proved challenging, but we’ve implemented that very quickly. We’re a large manufacturing facility, but actually, we have small locker rooms, we have a small, smallish canteen facility, so we had to almost ditch all the meeting rooms, open them all up for extra canteen space, order new locker room, porta-cabins, handwashing, improve on our rigorous cleaning that we do, which obviously, being a food factory, we do that anyway. So to do extra is incredible. But the one, the biggest one has been, yeah, with the technicians, there’s lots of two-man working, three-man working, you know, big maintenance tasks, that’s been the challenge because there’s a restriction of space where that’s physically not possible to do that. So then you have to buy lifting aids or spend money, not do it, or bring in contracts. So it’s very… That’s where it’s difficult as the maintenance team. And it’s in its… We’ve had to review that case by case, so there’s almost not a blanket approach, but it’s working with the frontline teams when those jobs are given and going out, go see, and put a solution in place so that they feel safe. The last thing you wanna do is bundle them up in PPE, but sometimes, it may come to that, but we’ll look at every other kind of means possible before we get to that point.

22:11 RC: Absolutely, and it sounds like you’re obviously taking good care of your team and putting their safety first. So definitely again, really appreciate all the work that you are doing, Ben, and the entire team over at PepsiCo. I guess, pivoting a little bit into, hopefully something a little bit more light-hearted now. [chuckle] I guess the question that I always ask all of our podcast guests is: What’s one thing that you wish more people knew about the maintenance and reliability industry?

22:43 BH: [chuckle] It’s how much fun you can have. I’ve spent a lot of time in operations, then came… Started off in engineering, went to operations, and then I just came back, just drawn to the problem-solving, the ability to resolve large-scale issues. I think I’ve said to you before, but it’s having that high five when you’ve had a failure. Ultimately as a maintenance team and as a maintenance manager, I don’t wanna have failures with my equipment, but when you do and you resolve it as a team effort and have that high five moment, it’s like a feeling that I’ve not had in any other kind of sector of the business. And the team love it. There’s a big drive, the team love fixing things, they love getting a resolution, putting things to bed. For me, that’s what I love about maintenance and reliability. And with PepsiCo, there’s a lot of stuff, whether it’s financial or not, you can almost go after anything and change it for good.

23:44 RC: Yeah, absolutely.

23:45 BH: There’s no bounds. There’s no bounds.

23:47 RC: Absolutely. And surprisingly, I’ve heard that once or twice, where this field is very gratifying when… It’s almost like a puzzle, right? Yeah?

23:56 BH: Yes.

23:57 RC: And once you get that thing turning, then it just feels so gratifying. I definitely think that’s something that more people outside of our industry can and should know as well. What are some different ways that all of our listeners can connect with you and follow you on your journey in maintenance reliability?

24:18 BH: So mine is my… If you can connect me on LinkedIn, I’m a massive LinkedIn user, I put out quite a bit of content myself, not on par with you, with yourself, Ryan, but that’s the best way to connect with me. I’m always looking to connect with like-minded people.

24:32 RC: Alright. Well, thank you so much, Ben, for joining us. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning into today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, or shoot me an email directly at [email protected] Until next time. Thanks again, Ben.

24:50 BH: Thank you, Ryan. Cheers. Thank you.

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