Leveraging core business competencies- an interview with James Johnston, Head of Corporate Development

Head of Corporate Development, James Johnston joined BMMI in 2008, and has since then been one of the major players behind strategic initiatives to grow and expand the business, the establishment of strategic partnerships, and the leveraging of key business competencies to consistently drive organisational excellence. The Corporate Communications and CSR team recently sat down with James to learn more about the exciting ventures he’s involved in.

Tell us more about your role at BMMI.

Well, you can say that I look after two things. The first is the business development function, where we look at potential opportunities to grow and improve the company. The aim is to drive new business into additional income growth. That stems from analysing our core competencies and leveraging them to identify what additional services we can offer to our customers and markets, and how we can benefit from our business relationships.

The second part of what I do, is to focus on working on those business relationships. As many are aware, I continue looking after our Beverage Marketing function. I look after our relationships with key Principals such as Diageo, Heineken, Bacardi, and the list goes on.

One of the things which you have with any relationship, is aligning objectives. My main concern is ensuring that I have BMMI’s best interest at hand. At the same time, I also need to look after what the other party’s objectives are, and to come to a mutual agreement that makes both happy.

How does BMMI seek out new opportunities?

Again, this links back to our core competencies which includes our strong capabilities in brand management, supply chain and logistics, distribution and retail. What we seek to do is focus on our capabilities, in conjunction with the relationships built and the knowledge we have on our customers and the markets we serve in order to develop the business.

For instance, we came to the realisation that we have a potential opportunity in the food category when it comes to HORECA (Hotels, Restaurants and Cafes) by working cross divisionally. Currently the Beverage Department directly services all licensed restaurants and hotels in Bahrain. The Consumer Division, Alosra and GSS have food items that can be marketed to these accounts and the Consumer Division has the potential to expand its direct distribution to non-licensed restaurants and coffee shops. Because we tend to be departmentalized we sometimes miss these opportunities which is where I come in, by bringing it all together - improving synergies and promoting cross-collaboration to grow our sales. Moving forward, what we will be able to do is not only expand our product range but also cross-sell our offerings.

Every business faces different hurdles and with the market becoming much tougher, another challenge we faced this year was with one of our overseas businesses. We found ourselves in a situation where we were unable to continue to operate the way we do. This was due to changes in local laws and circumstances beyond our control. In this case, what we did was re-examine our business model and joined forces with a local entity to best mitigate the situation. We sold the business to one of the leading business groups in the country who will now be our local partner and entered into a management agreement with them to manage the business.

In the current state of the country, what should be considered in terms of business development?

Potentially, now, with the current market situation and appetite in the Middle East, anyone involved in business development should consider these points:

1- Risk Management and all that it entails is becoming even more integral with both existing and new projects. Don’t over expose yourself.

2- The world is going towards a period of economic downturn. You need to look at opportunities differently in comparison to a high period of growth. Always go back to your core competencies and stick to what you know and consider any opportunities to improve the way you operate

3- Always stay connected to your consumers Whether in a period of economic downturn or not, consumers are increasingly conscious and aware of the options available to them. You should always adapt to their current mindset and consider the way they would look at things.

What exciting projects do we have coming up?

After looking into three different restaurant entities, we are in the pipeline of entering into a Joint Venture with an Asian street food concept to occupy our restaurant outlet space in the heart of Adliya. I don’t want to give it all away, but it’s the type of place where you would not only go for the food and drinks, but for an entire experience. I must say that it is quite exciting because the concept is not only competitively priced, but would appeal to a wider Millennial generation, and that’s exactly why it was chosen.

What’s the goal moving forward?

I think I slightly tapped into this in the beginning of our conversation- as opposed to reinventing the wheel, what really works for us is going back to our core business competencies. Using the capabilities and skill set that we already have rather than getting side-tracked in areas we don’t have expertise in, is what drives most of the business decisions being taken. Primarily, it is my ultimate priority to help in sustaining, growing and gaining market share for the company. As such, and with an involvement in strategy, moving forward we are better equipped to capture new clients and maintain customers through our business.