Operating towards success – an interview with Charles Swamy, Operations Manager14th October 2019
When Charles Swamy joined BMMI in 2008 as a Customer Service Executive in our contract sourcing and supply division, he hadn’t imagined how much he would fall in love with a career in operations. During his tenure, Charles enjoyed many growth opportunities at BMMI which finally led him to taking on the role of Operations Manager for the food business of GSS Bahrain. We recently sat down with Charles to learn more about his experience and how he manages his workload and team in this often-challenging position.
What gives GSS Bahrain an edge, and does it help that it is part of the BMMI Group?
What GSS Bahrain primarily does is food and non-food sourcing and supply, that entails many different contracts that vary in terms, conditions and operational needs. With BMMI’s long history and our international experience in GSS, we have become known for how much technical experience we have demonstrated. We know for example that based on all the projects that we’re handling that we’re one of the top choices when it comes to the government sector. For technical merit, our rating has always been excellent whenever we get feedback from our customers. Furthermore, our geographical reach makes a big difference. BMMI operates across various countries in the Middle East and Africa, with a presence in others as well. Being a part of a big organisation gives us the opportunity to learn a lot from our colleagues and other businesses.
In terms of how our division is run, what makes us different internally is how people are trusted to have the authority to make the right decision whenever it is needed. With most organisations you won’t get a response as quickly because of a very complicated approval matrix. But thanks to the way our division is set up, we are trusted with certain financial decisions or compromises made on behalf of the division. This means we can act quicker, and that we’re giving our customers the exceptional service that they’re looking for in a timely manner.
Tell us a bit more about how you got into operations?
Well, my job involved operations from the very beginning, even as a Customer Service Executive. The way the division was structured was that everything was filtered through the team, from customer requests to reviewing what requirements US government and contractors have. I’m sure you can imagine it’s a very comprehensive list! The job really gave me the opportunity to learn everything about the supply chain, different government administration processes and fleet operations logistics.
Have your previous roles prepared you well for your current position as Operations Manager?
Definitely! I’ve always wanted to be in operations because that’s where I knew my strengths lay. I prefer managing a business from A to Z and turn around a profit for it. In this role, I look after key accounts related mainly to food in GSS Bahrain, with our own supply chain, customer service and administration teams. So, we manage the whole process, from receiving requisitions, sourcing from approved suppliers to dealing with customers and finally, delivering the end product. Dealing with local and international suppliers, insurers and freight forwarders plus customs and import regulations requires regular communication with our internal and external customers as well as advising our logistics team on how and when we need to distribute. The greatest challenges arise when working to deliver in conflict zones, ensuring product availability and food safety is critical to meeting our contractual obligations and exceeding customer expectations.
What excites you about a career in operations?
It’s the different scenarios that come up every day – no day is the same. Even though it can get overwhelming and time intensive at times, it’s really gratifying and exciting when you manage to handle the situation and keep your customers happy. We’re pretty much on call 24/7 to achieve that. Because many of our clients are in the US, the time difference means we are working across all hours and taking work home. It can be challenging sometimes, but it keeps you on your toes and I find that momentum exciting.
How do you manage what can be such a hectic workload?
I’ve learned that it’s best to do things as they come. Don’t leave anything till the last minute and try not to procrastinate when things arise. Be quick and aware. Let’s say I am working on something and an urgent task comes in, I will be quick to identify its importance and prioritise accordingly. The ability to switch between tasks effortlessly is key. You need to learn how to prioritise – it’s fast paced, nothing stands still. I’ve found that it’s the best way to deal with an unpredictable environment.
What qualities do you look for in your team?
Trust and openness are really important to me. At BMMI, we have an open-door policy and always promote a culture of transparency. The team knows that they can always approach me with a problem or suggestions, so we work on finding solutions together.
We have a great dedicated team across all our functions. They are extremely reliable and know how to handle themselves even in stressful situations. I am not a micro-manger but with the right culture and guidelines in place, the team knows when a situation needs to be escalated. So, an ability to make good decisions, work independently, be a team player and being trustworthy – those are all qualities I look for.
How do you keep the team’s morale up in a work environment that can be overwhelming at times?
The first thing is giving them the flexibility and trust to actually run things the way they would like them to be run. If someone has an emergency or a problem, the rest of the team always pitches in. We’re all team players, and everyone comes together to support each other.
I also make sure to always make time for the team. I don’t like things building up and I want to help them deal with issues as soon as possible, whether professional or even personal.
When I see that my team is really stressed with certain projects, I know when to step in to relieve some of the pressure.
Additionally, I think recognising and rewarding people who go above and beyond is crucial. Whether it’s solving a crisis at 2am, showing exceptional team spirit or delighting one of our clients, credit and praise should always be given where it’s due.
Finally, we hear that you have been involved with the full revamp of the new coffee shop and cafeteria in BMMI’s Headquarters, could you tell us more about that?
We’ve been trying to streamline a lot of our processes and revamp the space to offer our employees healthy and delicious meals in a setting where they feel at home and comfortable. It has been challenging at times because there has been a lot of planning and a lot of construction work. But it has truly been worth it because the project has helped improve the quality of experience and the food range.
We believe these initiatives are important because they make a big difference to the team’s morale. When I’m walking in the hallways and I hear people talking excitedly about the new space, or when I see people catching up in the coffee shop and eating together in the cafeteria, it feels very rewarding. I think it’s important to give people a space where they can let loose and recharge. Most importantly, it has become a great space that brings people together from different divisions and departments in one space, reinforcing our value of team spirit and our commitment to inclusivity!