Listening is what we do best. We give suppliers and retailers across the world the opportunity to improve their own relationships by providing them with the space to be open and honest about the opportunities, challenges, and realities of their B2B relationships.
To be successful at what we do, our associates create an environment of trust, and their ability to do so comes all the way from the top. In celebration of the openness and transparency, we encourage in all relationships, our chairman, John Shanahan, gave us an intimate view of his childhood, his philosophy on humanity, and the positive impact he believes Advantage Group can have on the world.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on July 20, 1949. My mother and father were New Zealanders, and Irish, respectively, and both were Roman Catholics—so my twin sister Gabrielle and I were the first of seven children. My first home was in an army camp reserved for soldiers returning from the Second World War and subsequently for young couples who were waiting for a house. I grew up in a working-class suburb built in the 1950s and went to Catholic primary school and secondary school. As a child, the nuns scared me with their black habits and leather waist belts.
2. Tell us about your career journey.
I went to university and completed an agricultural science degree. After deciding I was better suited for a career in the private sector, my first employer was the American market research company, AC Nielsen. They hired me because they wanted to move into the agricultural sector in New Zealand. Two weeks after I joined, I was presenting Nielsen Data to Colgate-Palmolive. That move put me on the career track that I’ve never left.
After a few years in New Zealand, Nielsen sent me to South Africa where I worked for eight years—my children, Aja and Bianca, were both born there. After a few years I joined Colmar Brunton and opened the first of five Colmar Brunton offices in Australia. Having decided that New Zealand was too small, it wasn’t long before I decided the same is true of Australia, as I saw that the irreversible march toward globalization had begun. With that insight in mind, I bought Advantage Group.
3. What attracted you to the Advantage business, and what keeps you engaged in it?
Coincidence. At Colmar, we were providing services to FMCG companies, including Campbell Soup Company. On one project with Campbell’s, we needed to interview retail buyers. After submitting our proposal, Campbell’s requested that all North American interviews should be done by a company called Advantage Group. After they impressed me with their work and offering, I ended up speaking to Advantage’s owner Ron Pirie who told me he wanted to sell Advantage. In an instant, I decided to buy the company.
The reason that decision was so easy was because I saw the similarities between Advantage and AC Nielsen. I could see the potential to grow the company significantly. I came to Canada, and I liked Ron, his people and the product, and I could see significant opportunities.
Then one day, I saw a video by the Advantage team interviewing the Sales Director of Nestlé Canada about his use of the Advantage Report. In that video, I saw a story of a man burdened and then relieved once Advantage told him how he could solve his problem. I saw for myself that the Advantage offering made a difference to him personally. I saw him going home to his wife and family, a lighter man, able to enjoy life and be accessible to his wife and kids. I wanted to do more of this, and I still do.
4. What excites you most about Advantage’s future?
We are a tiny company with a huge footprint. We have access to suppliers and retailers who deliver their products and services to maybe 7 billion of the world’s 7.9 billion people. If we are persistent, consistent, and clear in our messaging, we can slowly change the attitudes and behaviours of these organizations. We can show them that people are more than customers and employees. We can show how the human condition demands engagement and demands relationships. We can show that when both are present, productivity and happiness arise. Irrespective of their role, from the CEO to the Intern, we know that respected people flourish, and respected people help the world flourish. In our own little way, we can move the world a little bit further in the direction we would all be proud of.
5. What are your interests and passions?
I am passionate about people. I’m amazed about how often people are overlooked, disrespected, and undervalued. I believe business has a big part to play in changing historical attitudes and behaviours toward people—particularly those less powerful in our society. I love what we do, and I believe we have a great ability to influence others and to make the people’s environment far better than it is at the moment.
“If you treat your people right and they are empowered, they will move mountains for your clients.”John Shanahan, Chairman, Advantage Group International
6. You have a beautiful perspective on people and equality, where do you believe these stems from?
I was raised Catholic and didn’t agree with the rigidity of the religion, but what resonated with me was the importance placed on the sanctity of human life. I believe that every person on this planet is uniquely beautiful. As an employer, it is our responsibility to uncover and illuminate the beauty of our associates so that they can do their best work. If you treat your people right and they are empowered, they will move mountains for your clients.
This thought always reminds me of one of my staff, Belinda, who has Down Syndrome. She formerly worked in our office serving tea. Her positive demeanour lit up the office, and her contribution to our workday ensured that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. Every contribution (every voice), matters; no matter how small.
7. What is one word you would use to describe yourself?
Compassionate. Acceptance is such an important aspect of human life. People strive to be accepted, and I’d like to make sure that everyone around me feels as though they are important.
To learn more about working at Advantage Group and the current job opportunities we’re seeking the right talent for, visit our careers page.