Exclusive interview: Sandra Santos, CEO of BA Glass

Exclusive interview: Sandra Santos, CEO of BA Glass

BA Glass has emerged as one of Europe’s leading glass packaging producers for food and beverages in recent years, with 12 plants in seven different countries. Sandra Santos, Chief Executive Officer, spoke exclusively to Glass Worldwide about the group’s multi-national activities and some of its achievements. The full version of this article appears in the November/December issue *.

Firmly established as one of Europe’s top five glass packaging manufacturers for food and beverage brands, BA Glass produces more than 10 billion bottles and jars annually and provides employment for some 3800 people. A turnover of €853 million was achieved in 2018, yielding net results in excess of €96 million.

Headquartered in Avintes, northern Portugal, BA Glass brings together 12 European glassworks, many of which have been the subject of significant investment and modernisation since coming under BA ownership. This includes three factories in Portugal (Avintes, Marinha Grande and Venda Nova), two per country in Spain (Léon and Vila Franca de los Barros), Poland (Jedlice and Sierakow) and Bulgaria (Plovdiv and Sofia) and one each in Germany (Gardelegen), Romania (Bucharest) and Greece (Athens).

Led by Sandra Santos, Chief Executive Officer, the Executive Board includes nine members, reporting to a Group Board of Directors. Six Executive Board members are accountable for corporate functions, while three Divisional Managing Directors are responsible for Iberia, Central Europe and South East Europe respectively. “This matrix structure allows for the sharing of goals and resources and has been one of the key reasons for the success of all acquisitions and integrations” Sandra Santos explains. “Our DNA of growing by acquisition is very present in all of our steps.”

Today, the company has a strong position in European markets and has been able to operate through a higher demand cycle without losing important market position, continuing to innovate and supporting the growth of its customers. Exports to countries where BA has no production facilities account for approximately 24% of total group sales and are conducted to 70 different countries.

The BA way

It was following the retirement of Jorge Alexandre in 2014 that Ms Santos took over as CEO, although she has been associated with the company in various management roles for two decades, including time as a Plant Manager. “As CEO, my main task is to lead and inspire our teams, to create value for my shareholders and to make the company better prepared for future growth and challenges” she suggests. “I dedicate my time mainly to my team, customers and growth projects.”
Leading by example is cited as a key element of Sandra Santos’ leadership philosophy, in addition to which she takes great pride in preparing employees to assume greater responsibilities. “Throughout my career, I have been part of successful teams that have implemented transformations, so working with such diversified teams at BA is very special.”

The group’s management team is working diligently to develop its workforce, creating conditions that provide exciting career challenges and opportunities in current and future projects, as well as engaging them in the options and outcomes of each decision. “Afterwards, they are given the authority to proceed with the implementation and recognition for the results accomplished. Ownership is part of the ‘BA way’, a roadmap of principles for those who wish to be successful at BA” the CEO confirms. “We have a clear understanding of the fact that people are what can differentiate us from others. The entire senior management is directly involved in the assessment of the performance and potential in all management lines and clear career and succession plans are built to cope with the group’s growth and development.”

Last year, the Futura Programme was launched, for example, as an immersive initiative, designed to attract and integrate recently graduated engineers who aspire to develop behavioural and technical skills in an industrial environment. “We are focused on preparing future generations who will lead and ensure that BA grows stronger every day!”
An in-house training academy has also been created as a structured way of training and developing people. “We have worked hard to ensure that it is possible to deliver training adapted to our specific needs and allow our teams to be prepared for current and future challenges across all departments and geographies” says Sandra Santos. “We continue to believe that by displacing our people across geographies, we will spread the internal knowledge and consolidate our culture, the ‘BA way’. During all short or long-term displacements, we assure the growth of the person displaced but also that of the teams in which he/she is integrated, as benchmarking is leveraged.”

Corporate goals

As well as creating value for its shareholders, ensuring expected levels of growth and profitability, BA Glass strives to be first choice for its customers, a partner in their growth, innovations and developments by providing consistent service excellence. As previously explained, the glassmaker is also keen to enable the development of its people by providing them exciting challenges and opportunities in current and future projects, engaging them in the outcome of each decision and recognising the results accomplished. Social and environmental responsibility is another key tenet, engaging in activities with local and educational entities, while promoting and investing in the continuous improvement of BA’s environmental performance.
The company’s commitment to research and development is described by Ms Santos as fundamental to the realisation of product development and improvement of glass manufacturing practises. “It is a matter of survival. Although several advantages of glass packaging are recognised by consumers, there is still a lot to be done to ensure growth of the glass share in the total packaging market. Today, we seek to develop packaging that supports consumer needs in close partnership with our customers. It is our goal to boost our customers’ sales and brand and make glass the packaging of choice for consumers. Glass is the only packaging material that can be infinitely recycled without changing its initial properties and which, given the natural properties of its raw materials, blends in with nature. It is also the healthiest material, preserving the taste of food and ensuring that there is no level of food contamination.”

According to the BA Glass CEO, planet sustainability is changing the way in which the industry is taking decisions and making investments. “There is a clear will in the supply chain to change the course of global warming and we truly believe that creating partnerships with our customers and suppliers is the only route to rapid success.”
Furthermore, it is recognised that the labour market has undergone significant changes, requiring the industry to increase its ‘attractiveness’. “Digitalisation of the manufacturing process in a closed loop will undoubtedly bring the power of predictiveness to an industry where automation has been a reality for years but requires upgraded skills.”

Environmental initiatives

As with many other industries, it is now considered fundamental to ‘do more with less’ in order to accomplish a competitive cost base. And in this regard, BA Glass has a clear perception of its impact on the use of natural resources such as raw materials and energy.
The production of lighter and more environmentally-friendly packaging is part of the development process, with a reduction of its environmental footprint being one of the organisation’s greatest priorities. To increase the use of more cullet in its products, for the last two decades the group has been investing in building its own recycling facilities. The group consumes more than 750,000 tonnes of recycled glass every year, treating approximately 400,000 tonnes of material at its recycling facilities.
“We need to continue to work together with local communities to promote recycling” Sandra Santos maintains. “The more the local authorities can collect, the more we can reuse. There are no limits. BA will continue to buy and use all glass available for recycling. We wish there was more!”
Several million Euros have also been invested in the implementation of environmentally-friendly technologies at the group’s production sites. This includes the recent installation of photovoltaic panels at one facility, with similar projects in the pipeline to increase the use of renewable energy.

In 2018, BA Glass became a founding member of the Porto Protocol initiative, making a public commitment on sustainability goals to be achieved by 2030. This involves the following goals:

• Use at least 70% of electricity from renewable sources.
• Reduce natural gas usage by 10% by replacing it with electricity.
• Reduce water usage by 75%.
• Increase the use of recycled glass by at least the same percentage as the increase in the collection rate.
• Reduce CO2 emissions to at least the levels defined by the European Union.
• Work together with customers and suppliers to reduce the amount of secondary packaging used in the final product.

“BA Glass is committed to transforming its process into an eco-friendly operation and this has been proved by our improved performance on each of the environmental metrics over the years” says Sandra Santos. “We believe that all countries will have to work hard to make the waste collection systems more efficient and effective, allowing us to increase the replacement of raw materials by recycled glass. Furthermore, we trust that investments in the production of clean energy will be speeded up by the demanding commitments that each European country has taken on.”

Collaborative innovation

Innovation is acknowledged as a key driver to potential successes achieved by customers and that of the group, the result of BA Glass dedicating time and resources to a wide variety of projects in recent times. “Three years ago, we changed our vision to introduce a new pillar, the consumers pillar” Ms Santos explains. “And we did so because we believe that we still lack knowledge on consumer behaviour and preferences that can make our proposals richer and more successful. Our striving for value-added innovation has certainly been a strong contributor to growth. With a larger market research and design team, we continued to pursue our vision, trying to bring to the discussion ‘complete’ proposals for every product launch, evaluating the complete portfolio and geographical scope of our customers and helping them to increase their sales and profitability.”

It is suggested that relationships with all stakeholders must be supported and reinforced with transparency, rigour, trust and ambition, all of which are important values for the group. Close partnerships are maintained with existing and potential suppliers with the purpose of always seeking the best technical and most creative solutions that can benefit both parties and lead to sustainable development. “All suppliers play an important role in BA’s growth and its ability to provide an excellent and innovative service” says Sandra Santos. “That is why BA continues to apply its supplier assessment tools, to ensure a solid base of suppliers who share the same purpose and are compliant with appropriate ethical and environmental principles.”

Growth potential

While agreeing that glass packaging is becoming increasingly popular among consumers throughout Europe, BA Glass believes greater efforts are required to reinforce the material’s position as a sustainable choice. “Today, we benefit from a very important window of opportunity from the increasing awareness about plastics’ negative impact on global sustainability and human health” Ms Santos contends. In the long-term, she anticipates significant opportunities for glass, as a result of income growth and the more sustainable choices being made by consumers. “The key factors that can turn this into reality are enhanced innovation in product development and in the way we produce bottles and jars. Lightweighting is critical and obligatory in order to compete with other materials, while a reduction of the industrial environmental impact is mandatory. All of this will require a great deal of innovation and the establishment of partnerships.”

Over the coming 12 months, the BA Glass management team will continue to lead the business in the direction of greater profitability and growth. Its aim is to be the preferred option for current and future customers, with a strong value proposition and to contribute to the promotion of glass as the best packaging material. Several important projects are now underway, with sustainability and digitalisation at the top of the agenda. The need to remain competitive is critical, in order to accommodate any significant market changes encountered.
A key priority for the team, however, is to attract and retain a skilled workforce. “We have to reinvent the way we do it and how we manage our processes to make working in the glass industry more attractive” says Sandra Santos. “The people are at the centre of the organisation and we are fully aware that they will be the main reason driving us to reach the level of profitability and service we are aiming for.”

The BA Glass CEO is confident that her company and the glass industry in general is full of vitality and people whose dream is to generate transformation, disrupting traditional (and sometimes false) paradigms.

Further Information: 

BA Glass, Avintes, Portugal
tel: +351 22 7860500
email: baglass@baglass.com
web: www.baglass.com

* The full version of this article appears in the November/December issue, alongside a series of exclusive interviews with other industry figureheads, topical market reports, events round-up and technology updates. Subscribe now to receive the full paper and digital versions (subscribers receive a free copy of the Who’s Who / Annual Review yearbook!).