Interview Hussein Rifai Chairman SPC Global: Activate Industry Report Volume 4
Leaders who understand the importance of their people rise as true exemplars of success. Hussein Rifai, Chairman of SPC Global, stands tall in this league, demonstrating that true leadership lies in the synergy of strategic decision-making, innovation, and a people-centric approach.
Hussein Rifai’s family values and insatiable curiosity define him, both as a person and as a leader. His leadership of SPC highlights the importance of staying agile and embracing innovation. However, if there is one key takeaway from the interview, it is this. Prioritising people is not just a strategic move— it’s the very foundation of enduring success in an ever-changing retail world.
In an age of technology, there are key takeaways I’ve gained from these conversations: it’s strong people who achieve meaningful progress in the retail industry. The common thread among these great leaders is their belief in empowering their teams and fostering a culture of innovation and trial and error.
Another key takeaway I found from these interviews is how we often overlook the “coal face” or the frontline field force in stores. Something I’ve been guilty of as well! It pays to remember that they are the voice to the retailer, bridging the gap between businesses and consumers. You can have the best marketing strategies and innovation in the world, but at the end of the day success relies on effective in-store communication! After all you can’t sell a secret!
How would you describe yourself as a person?
As a person, I’m first and foremost a family guy. I’ve got four kids between myself and my wife. We are empty nesters now, so we find ourselves begging our children to come have dinner with us! As a family, we are big on travel and travel overseas at least three times a year. I’m also an avid reader. I read three or four hours in the morning before I go to work and then again when I go to bed. I like to read a bit of everything. For a while, I was into anthropology, but now I’m into space discovery. I’ve got a scientific background, so I enjoy reading a lot of science-related material.
How would you describe yourself as a leader of a company?
I’m very decisive. I listen to everybody, but at the end of the day, I’m not afraid to make quick decisions. I think procrastinating is the worst thing that you can do. The quicker you decide the higher the chance of getting it right. But if you don’t decide, you will get 100% of decisions wrong. Today, as a leader, I’m much more strategic versus tactical. I spent about 25 years of my life as a CEO, so right now, I’m operating more at an executive level.
What do you enjoy about your job, business, the industry, etc.?
I love to lead a business into growth. We bought SPC for around $65 million, however, the assets we bought were worth around $300 million. So simple math would say sell the assets, pocket the money, and go home. However, that’s not the satisfaction that I get out of a business. I like to watch businesses grow. I like to take business into new markets, new products, etc. That’s my addiction. I get a buzz from watching businesses grow and expand.
What is your why? Why do you do what you do?
One is, of course, to make money. Business is about making money and profit. Anyone that tells you otherwise doesn’t understand the purpose of business. Nevertheless, business is not exclusive to monetary pursuits. You can also help advance and develop the society you live in. So yes, I enjoy making money and bringing businesses to profit, but I also enjoy contributing back to the society that I’m in.
Can you tell us a bit about your business?
SPC is a proud manufacturer of fruit and vegetables, based in the Goulburn Valley region of Victoria, Australia. The business operates in five categories. Our biggest category by far is fruit. In fact, we are the largest Australian fruit-based company. Our second-largest category is tomatoes, followed by pulse, i.e., baked beans. Other than that, we have expanded the business into frozen meals and are currently in the process of getting into beverages. Across all our categories, we are moving towards healthy living. When we bought the business, we sold IXL Jam. Times are changing. As a kid, I remember my Mum putting butter on bread with a thick layer of jam for breakfast. If I went close to my kids with that much jam, they’d think I’m crazy. No way would they eat that amount of sugar!
Where are your products currently sold?
We sell our products into retail and foodservice. In retail, we have a presence in all major retailers including Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Metcash, Harris Farm, etc. We also sell our product into foodservice. For example, we sell the little bits of fruit that you find inside your yogurt.
How is business performing?
Last year was incredibly tough. Goulburn Valley was hit with bad flooding days before our harvest. Unfortunately, this led to a significant loss of tomatoes. Adding to this, we also experienced a bad hailstorm that caused significant damage to our produce. However, looking back to the year prior, we managed to turn the business around into profit. Building upon this success, we’re now looking to expand the business and grow it both in Australia and overseas.
What are your top three business challenges at the moment?
International growth is one of the top challenges that we have. It’s expensive, so we need to be able to create a platform for how we work overseas and create products that are specific for that climate. Imports are another challenge along with the regulatory framework. The third-largest challenge is how to create and sustain an innovative culture in the business.
How are you tackling these challenges and leveraging opportunities to stay ahead of the curve?
The only way you can tackle them is by having the right people on staff. For example, we just appointed a very capable lady to manage our international business in Singapore. We also recently hired a new CEO who’s looking at different ways to innovate our product. This is important so we can mitigate the risk of reliance on the weather.
Do you have your own field force teams? Or are you outside? Are you outsourcing these services? If you do own a team, can you talk about the pros and cons?
We work with a third-party field force, predominantly for the independent network. In terms of pros, we find they are a dedicated field team for SPC, they are experts in their field, and lastly, they have access to market- leading analytics.
Why did you decide to go with a service provider?
We chose to go with a service provider for several reasons. One, we wanted to unlock a dedicated field force for each state in Australia. The company’s impressive track record of working with FMCG suppliers of similar size gave us confidence in their capabilities. Their commitment to becoming an integral part of SPC’s business as brand custodians was also a significant factor. Lastly, their account management resources further solidified our decision to collaborate with them.
What successes have you had with the company you are using?
Most notably, we’ve witnessed enhanced distribution throughout our core portfolio of products. Additionally, there has been a substantial increase in out-of-aisle activation and displays, leading to greater visibility and engagement. Furthermore, our third-party’s efficient approach has allowed us to bring new products to market swiftly.