When Roger Lawrence left Quaker Oats Co. for McCormick & Co. in his late 20s, he knew a handful of things about the company.
He knew McCormick was smaller at the time. He knew the company was based in Baltimore and didn’t hire many people from outside the company.
“A lot of people were sort of homegrown,” Lawrence said. “My first reaction was, this is not as exciting, not as energizing. The lines run slower. There’s not the potential for doing a lot of things, applying some of the techniques I brought in.”
But, like he had throughout his career, he saw an opportunity.
One of his first major projects at the spice manufacturer involved using statistical quality control to save the company money. When filled bottles of spice came off the line, they were measured to make sure they weighed at least the label weight. If a bottle was supposed to be 10 ounces, and it was measured at 11, that was considered OK before Lawrence came on. He developed a process to make sure the weights were more accurate.
“A lot of product was being given away,” he said. “So, I brought that on, and we saved a ton of money in the process.”
Lawrence, who now runs his own consulting firm after retiring in 2019 as corporate vice president of global quality assurance and regulatory at McCormick, shares his life lessons on leadership, crisis management and more.
I was not a science kid, but I was good at science and math. I had an older brother who went to study engineering. For lack of anything better, I just decided I would want to start out there.
I decided to study chemical engineering in school. It just so happened that I was working part time at a Quaker Oats plant in a job specifically for a college student, and that was in a science-based program working in that plant.
I saw what the engineers did, but I just really liked the way the quality field had its fingerprints on so many aspects of the business.
One of the guiding principles for me is pragmatism, practicality and keeping things simple and straightforward.
We are stewards of the resources given to us.
I saw McCormick as an interesting company. And the product lines are fantastic — spices and seasonings. It’s so integral to all kinds of cooking. Spice and seasonings are the signature. That’s what makes a dish.
What I would say to people is, “Whatever your job is on our team, everybody has a role. They see things in a certain way, and they have a knowledge base to input into how we improve.”
People don’t think the same. And the diversity is a strength because it does allow you to pull in more ideas, more thoughts and so on.
The notion of statistics and understanding variation becomes extremely important when you talk about process capability and how you measure processes.
If you want to be a successful QA, food safety, regulatory, technical person, having an acumen in science isn’t enough. You have to understand various aspects of business.
You have to look at the whole picture.
As a technical professional, your integrity and your reputation are the most important things you have and have to be guarded.
When it comes to something that’s dangerous, like an allergen or pathogen, there is no give and take.
When there’s an issue, you have to grab the bull by the horns and take charge. You have to be the one that leads by example in terms of setting the stake in the ground, in terms of what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do.
I realized halfway through my career that if I wanted to get the top job, I needed to get more engaged with external organizations and build my influence.
That was a bit of a challenge for me because I was far more adept at working internally, developing relationships internally.
You develop a relationship before you need it.