Presenting To The CEO: What Would You Do?

Sam Masri

I just made a gamble that at first glance might appear crazy and dangerous. Michael McCain—son of the legendary co-founder of McCain Foods, Wallace McCain, and now CEO of Maple Leaf Foods in Canada, the country’s largest packaged meats company—is eyeing digital transformation. He’s a busy man, obviously, but he knows the importance of innovation. He could make time to get an update on cutting-edge digital transformation ideas we can offer his business today.

This is an opportunity to continue building and executing on a digital road map with a $3.3 billion company, transforming its marketing, operations and customer experience. Here’s where you send in the big guns, right? Well, not quite!

You see, times have changed. For perhaps the first time in the history of business, the youngest generation in the workplace – the Gen Z-ers, born in the mid-90s – holds something over the older generation. They are digitally native, meaning they have spent most or all of their lives in a digital world. They think digital, work digital, and play digital. Hence, they will be foundational in shaping the digital economy.

Perhaps this is why, as I mentioned, I decided to gamble. Sitting alongside John Graham, SAP Canada’s managing director, in the meeting with Michael McCain last week, we barely said a word. Instead, two Industry Value Engineering analysts on my team (Bill Murphy, from Queens University, and Marcel Heckler, from the University of Mannheim in Germany), yet to graduate from university, spent an hour alongside two of Maple Leaf Foods’ own Gen Z-ers, presenting their ideas for digital transformation to the CEO and his C-suite.

The interns kicked the meeting off with their thoughts on how Maple Leaf Foods could make consumers feel more special. As in many industries, the product alone is no longer enough (although eating bacon has been known to make people feel special). It’s now about creating “moments” for the consumer, being a partner in their life through mobile apps, and bringing gamification’ to their diets and cooking. This is what millennials and Gen Z love, we are told.

Or how about their idea of a Maple Leaf Bistro, a restaurant packed with digital capabilities? Think of it as a “brand theme park:” The customer sits at a table already booked through an app, browses the digital menu, and customizes their recipe through a touchscreen device before watching a video feed of the chef preparing their meal. They’re then encouraged to go home and create their own recipes with Maple Leaf Foods products. Millennials and Gen Z want to be inspired, guided, and educated. This ticks all those boxes, while creating longer consumer engagement and delivering the social-digital environment they crave.

Next we were given a tour of the digital possibilities in operations and shown how advances like personalized livestock feeding, biometrics evaluation, sound monitoring systems, and augmented reality can create a completely new level of product quality and operational efficiency.

Sustainability entered the conversation too, with a target of Maple Leaf Foods reducing its environmental footprint 50% by 2025 confidently put forward and rationalized. An executive in the room called the idea of building advanced sensor networks in barns to track resources and automate and optimize operations “incredibly doable.”

Fittingly, the presentation closed with some ideas to promote new ways of ideation using digital technology. The interns ran the gamut of ideas, from crowdsourcing, open innovation, startup events, and digital innovation hubs where ideas are compared, tested, and validated across the enterprise.

The gamble had paid off – emphatically. So much that it hardly felt like it had been a gamble after all. After the presentation and a discussion around the company’s biggest challenges and opportunities for digital transformation, Michael McCain was clearly impressed. He called the meeting very timely and important for his business as it builds its digital future, as well as being very enlightening and interesting for him personally.

This is precisely why it’s vital that we continue to invest in young talent, especially at a time when digital natives are about to enter the workforce in massive numbers and with the advantages of knowing nothing but digital and what today’s young consumers want. We started our IVE analyst program at SAP Canada two years ago and have seen some of the best young talent from the country’s finest business school programs walk through our doors.

2016’s crop of talent made this project happen, fully absorbing themselves in creating something transformational rather than transactional. It wasn’t just about selling software; it was about working together to solve business challenges, leveraging digital innovations to come up with big yet simple solutions.

In the words of Michael McCain, as the meeting ended, it’s now about putting some of those big ideas into action.

For more hiring strategies that attract young talent, see How To Use Animation To Improve Your Recruitment Videos.

Sam Masri

About Sam Masri

Sam Masri is the Chief Operating Officer for SAP in Canada. He leads SAP Canada's strategy, operations, and innovation teams including solution, value and industry advisory, with the core mandate of helping SAP customers leverage digital innovations to become intelligent enterprises.