Conversations with Amrik Singh Bhullar

By Caleb Thien and Jamie Lim

Amrik Singh Bhullar is the Director for Business Planning and Supply Chain for APAC (ex JP/KR) Fabric Enhancers at Proctor and Gamble. He graduated from Imperial College London with a Bachelor in Engineering, and Columbia University with a Masters of Science in Management Science and Engineering. In this article, Amrik shares his experience working in Procter and Gamble and managing a supply chain. He also provides timely insights and wisdom for young people starting their careers.

P&G is a global FMCG company hosting many of the world’s top brands such as Pantene, Gillette, SKII, Downy, and Pampers with $76 billion in sales in 2021. The APAC region makes up 9% of total sales and is one of the fastest-growing markets globally for P&G. 

I lead business planning and supply chain for the APAC (ex JP/KR) Downy business, managing a team of 20 people across various roles. My job involves helping to grow the top line by ensuring our products are available at the right place at the right time in good quality. I am also involved in managing inventory and driving bottom line improvements by spearheading cost saving projects and leading loss analysis workshops across the region.

I wake up at 6+ every day and spend the first hour of my day with my kids. My work starts around 8-8.30 and my day consists mostly of meetings. I spend around 50% of that time discussing day-to-day operations, and the other 50% on various strategic goals. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past year has been spent largely on these day-to-day challenges. I try to finish work by 7 pm to spend time with my family. On days where I work from home, I save time from reduced travelling. Across the day, I also try to squeeze in 15 minutes of exercise to keep fit. After putting the kids to sleep, depending on how busy I am, I will either continue to work or relax. 

Pre-pandemic, a lot of our operations were systems-based and most of what we had was automated. However, nowadays, everything has gone topsy-turvy. We can go through a week with multiple suppliers or our own staff getting COVID-19 leading to sudden manpower decreases, vessel delays and various other predicaments affecting demand and supply.

For example, Vietnam recently announced a lock-down and this resulted in sudden demand fluctuations since none of our consumers could leave their houses to shop for groceries and we had to scramble to try to adjust the forecast. On the supply side, our plant’s operations were also impacted and we had to shift to manual planning versus relying on our usual automated systems. 

I think there are two really important things. The first thing is to learn to speak up. The second is to deal with and manage people because ultimately you are working in a team. You will have to learn to deal with differences in characters and conflict management. In a huge MNC like P&G, we deal with people of all nationalities. Since we serve global consumers, our workforce has to be global as well. Nowadays, a lot of people only focus on hard skills, and I think these soft skills are often overlooked. 

In P&G, progression works very differently from most companies. Most of our employees actually join right out of college, starting somewhere close to the bottom and then working their way up. They progress by taking on different roles throughout their career and gaining experience. As for the technical skills required to enter the company, any degree obtained is perfectly fine. At P&G, our employees come from all kinds of backgrounds. When we hire, we care more about the fit for the role and your character. You can learn everything else on the job. Examples of such may include basic coding, Excel and PowerPoint skills, and other job-specific skills. 

The truth is that you should not expect what you learn in college to be that useful in the workplace. Rather, it just forms the foundation for you to keep learning and applying at work. It was only after joining P&G that I learnt how to deal with commercial plans, how to tweak operating strategies, etc. I would say that engineering helped me to structure arguments and the way I think. On the other hand, my Master’s programme was indeed very much aligned with what I am doing now. The difference is that you learn a lot more theory in school, while everything in work is applied and actual business impact is visible. 

Back when I was in school, I loved playing sports. I used to play hockey, and that made me enjoy leading teams to deliver results. Since starting work, I have always wanted to be part of a team since I really enjoyed that in school. It is hard to put into words, but the feeling of winning as a team is genuinely amazing, and I have always liked replicating that at work. My history in playing competitive sports also gave me loads of exposure to competition. This definitely also helped me to adapt to the competitive nature of the working world. 

In terms of internships, I did early internships in a firm working with semiconductors. However, I realised early on that I hated wearing the gear and felt that it was not for me. Before joining P&G, the reality is that I did not have any preferences for industries. Rather, I selected it because it was one of the top MNCs in the world. I knew that I wanted to gain insights into how a well-run company managed its brands and business operations. My first job was in ASTAR doing operations management and I realised that I like supply chain management and the business aspect of things. That led me to P&G!

Firstly, consumers’ buying habits are changing. People still went to brick and mortar stores to buy all their household goods a few years ago. Nowadays, a lot of perishables are ordered online as long as the quality of the product is assured. Hence, businesses have had to shift to an omnichannel model that caters to serving customers on different platforms. Secondly, there is also a realisation that supply chain resilience is incredibly important. The ability to supply throughout global disruptions gives a company competitive advantage. Thirdly, there is a huge push towards sustainability and reducing carbon footprint as well as minimising the use of plastic.

Global supply chains have been rattled recently. Freight costs have skyrocketed and many ports around the world are experiencing congestion/delays. Raw material prices have also increased. Factories have had to shut and many companies are having trouble filling shelves with goods on time.

We do scenario planning. We create a plan, learn as the hypothetical scenario becomes real, and then optimise it through automation so that it would be less susceptible to similar situations.

I see myself continuing to lead and work with teams. Apart from that, I would rather enjoy the journey than have an artificial goal of where I want to be. 

As for the industry, e-commerce will continue to grow as a percentage of the business and choice of channel. Companies will continue to focus on sustainability, consumers will demand as such and take preference in products that do not harm the environment. The industry will also invest more in digitalisation and increase resilience to withstand shocks. P&G is already accelerating data visibility, tracking goods at every node of the supply chain from supplier to end-consumer.

A basic degree is enough for you to join a business, there is nothing special to prepare for! If you have the ability to learn new things, to unlearn and to relearn, you will succeed. Do not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone to try new things or challenge the norm. Have fun and continue learning! As for the FMCG industry, you should not have to spend extra time learning as you are also a consumer. 

Globally, colleges are beginning to see the importance of teaching supply chain to business students. Broadly, production planning, inventory management, supplier management, are all important aspects of supply chain management. Digital skills such as PowerBI and being able to manage large sets of data are also equally important. The Master’s in supply chain at MIT is an example of a great supply chain course.

P&G has a very growth-oriented culture where one would begin at the bottom and work their way upward. Knowing that everyone has a chance at promotion, people tend to stay in the company longer and are also very helpful to each other too. I am also able to utilise P&G’s global network to solve problems from different angles by seeking perspectives from different regions.

Most people do not understand that the supply chain is a mix between engineering skill sets and business acumen. 

Enjoy the journey, do not be too hard on yourself. Focus on learning, unlearning and relearning and enjoy yourself.