Sven Friedli, the new CIO at Bell Food Group, calls me from a hotel room in Vienna. Behind him hotel art aimed at creating a bit of local colour (this time a faux-oil painting of sailboats on the Wein) marks the only real difference between this room and the many others in which he spends his weeks. “Since I started, I've been meeting a lot of different people and visiting a lot of different sites. Bell Food Group has more than 60 locations throughout Europe - from Spain to Romania,” he says. “I've been taking COVID tests like hell. You get used to it. My normal Sunday afternoon is spent getting a COVID test so I can travel during the week, and then at the end of the week I take another test to make sure I can get back into Switzerland.”
Friedli’s hectic travel itinerary is the result of his ongoing efforts to attain a deep level of in-person understanding of Bell Food Group’s operations. “That's one of the reasons I travel so much,” he explains. “You have to spend time with people throughout the business to understand their needs.”
Understanding the business’ needs is the lynchpin of Friedli’s strategy for driving digital transformation across the whole of the Bell Food Group’s operations. “The main priority of my role is to ensure stability and performance in the production operations for the group. Today, IT is an absolutely essential part of what we do here at Bell Food Group,” he explains. "If our IT systems have an outage, no more cows are slaughtered, salads get packed or pizzas get delivered any more. Therefore, IT security is also a major focus."
Planning and executing on a digital transformation strategy at an organisation as large and diverse as Bell Food Group is no small feat. And Friedli - a newcomer to the food production industry - is jumping into his new world feet first.
“I didn't plan to end up at Bell,” he reflects. Prior to his latest role, Friedli spent 12 years working in a number of positions at Swisscom, the country’s leading telecom carrier. “I had a lot of great opportunities and a great career. But one day I realised that I had to learn how to do something new,” he says.
Swisscom’s chairman - never a man to let talent go to waste - approached Friedli, mentioning that the Bell Food Group (the board of which he also chaired at that time) was looking for a new CIO. “He told me that there was an opportunity for a new role here at Bell Food Group and that I should take a look at it,” says Friedli. “I thought I would stay in the telecom industry, but I met the CEO and other group members, we understood each other well, and in the end I made the move because of the opportunity to learn how to work in a completely new industry.”
Moving from Swisscom to Bell Food Group has turned out to be a much more radical change than just switching out routers and switches for chicken nuggets and Jamon Ibérico. Friedli explains that “It's a different culture, they have different priorities, and I thought it seemed like a really interesting opportunity to pursue.”
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“It's very different recruiting people for something you're building from scratch, compared to recruiting for something that is already running.”