FoodGrads Podcast Episode 48: Team development in food safety and quality with Tanguy Etoga,Msc, 6? BB, CEO & Founder at NORMEX inc.

Welcome to episode 48 of the FoodGrads Podcast we interviewed Tanguy Etoga, CEO & Founder at NORMEX inc. Normex Inc is a food safety software company that will make the expected bridge to overcome the problem of limited resources and help companies automate their Quality, Food Safety and Health & Safety tasks and operations. Today, several companies in North America have adopted NORMEX to maintain their food safety systems.

On episode Tanguy talked to us more about Normex Inc and how it came to be. Tanguy walked Veronica through his career journey and shared his story of where his passion for Operational Efficiency, Quality & Food Safety comes from. We spent a lot of time talking about leadership and what it looks like in food safety – leading by example, building trust, actively listening and figuring out how you can provide value. Tanguy is a great story teller giving first insights how he led working in a first role as quality assurance manager. If you are interested in a career in quality assurance and thinking about one day becoming a manager then you need to listen to this episode.

Show Notes

[00:01:41] Can you tell us about Normex Inc?

  • Normex started in 2018 with an idea. First it started as Safer Produce Consulting providing a consulting service to help companies with the implementation of GFSI programs and the Canadian Regulation Program. Then this led to the observations of paper work at companies and this led them to ask the question is, “is there something that exists that can help reduce the amount of paper that is being produced.

[00:03:34] How does Normex help companies organize their documentation?  

  • Normex helps companies from food to fork in their food safety operations. They help automate the processes by electronic means. Additionally they also have health and safety modules to help clients.

[00:04:40] One of the things that you mentioned was automation. Are staff still filling out paperwork or is it going through a tablet?

  • With the way things are done there is no paperwork. Normex’s builds into the software monitoring and verification. There are two profiles one for the staff and one for supervisors. The staff can fill in their sanitation check list, pre-op check list etc. on tablets, smartphones, laptops and even computers. Once they fill out that information a notification goes automatically on the manager’s profile. .

[00:06:14] Veronica mentions about how difficult it can be dealing with filing of paperwork and how it can get lost

  • [Tanguy] Normex makes it easy to pull out information quickly from a particular date.

[00:07:11] What do you do as the owner of Normex and what are some of your day-to-day duties?

  • Tanguy does a lot of software development with their development team because he is also a consultant for food safety. Normex has a food safety consultant team and what they do is make sure that Normex is in accordance with all CFSI and GFSI requirements.

[00:09:01] Can you walk us through your career journey and how you got to where you are today?

  • Tanguy arrived in Canada in 1998 from Cameroon a country in Africa. He went to the University of Laval for Food Science and Technology and once completed he moved to Montreal and started working in the field. There he worked as a lab technician at a refinery at a sugar company. He moved on to become a Quality Supervisor and then started working at another company that imports fruits and vegetables.
  • As a quality manager Tanguy got really involved with quality management and food safety management and production sanitation. It was a small company and that allowed him to see everything that company did.  He then decided to get his business degree and move to Alberta and work for Cargill. This was his first expose to working at a large company. Then after working and travelling he is now located in Gateneau, Quebec where Normex is located now.

[00:12:51] Can you tell us more about your philosophy of leadership? Was that something you actively tried to develop over the years? How have you done about that?  

  • Working for the fruits and vegetable import company was a turning point because he learned so much working at that company. He had a lot of exposure to being in leadership. If you are short staffed then you have to develop a lot of skills and what impact that will have on other people’s work. That is leadership.
  • Tanguy went on to get a certification called Sigma which is a black belt certification. Tanguy wanted that certification so he could have more tools to pinpoint problems in a company and help to resolve those problems.  This could be for example helping reduce time waste of resources such as what he did at Cargill.
  • It is important for Tanguy to present himself as being of value and that is where his need to want to build his leadership skills. At his time at Cargill although he helped production with their downtime he wasn’t actually in that department. Demonstrating you can make changes to a company even if you weren’t directly related to it.

[00:16:54] Tanguy begins to tell a story about how he demonstrated leadership

  • “After coming out of school you think that the world owes you something because you have a degree and the world owes you something and you feel good about that.” Tanguy had started with that idea coming out of school however when out of school he immediately became a supervising technician. Though in the position he worked with a technician which had 35 years of experience and at the time Tanguy didn’t realize how much more he knew then him. He though that just having the position would give him knowledge but no.
  • The first time he started the production had a problem and the technician came up to him and said, “Hey boss, what do you want to do in this case.” However, Tanguy had no idea what to do about the problem. In this situation he had two solutions he could do in front of him. The first was that he could just say were going to do this because I am the supervisor.  So I looked at the problem and I looked left right up down. I didn’t have any idea what to do. The second option was to learn a lot from him.
  • Tanguy learned from this experience that just having a supervisor position doesn’t empower you. Instead to acquire or to get that leadership you have to learn the skills to develop some skills. The first skill you need to develop is listening to everybody across the company because anybody and everyone has something that they can teach you. You also have to have people trust you or otherwise it is difficult for you to succeed.

[00:20:02] How can you lead with a lack of experience, even though you are actively trying to listen?

  • If you don’t have the experience but have the position you have to do some work. You can either do it your way or you do it as a team. If you take the team approach even if you manage one person that one person can have the experience you have to rely on the people that have the experience, skills and knowledge. However, at the end of the day you are going to be responsible for making the decision but the last thing that you want to is make a decision alone. You need to look unilaterally and consider all the points of view and that’s how you develop the leadership skills and knowledges as well. When you hear different point of view, and when you hear different experience, different exposure, it feeds you, it feeds your knowledge, it feeds your experience and you, even fast, fast track that, that experience and knowledge.

[00:21:55] Tanguy starts telling Veronica about things that school does not teach you

  • For example there are things at you won’t know until you start working. Yes, you will come in with your technical knowledge from school but once you get to a company it has it’s own unique culture. You cannot learn that from school so you need to know what that culture is at that company. When is the culture, for example, at the company, do people act without disgusting first because you have some company when an incident happened. Do they have the liberty to fix the problem right away? Because that’s the company’s culture. But at other company, they have to meet first. There’s a chain of command before you make a decision. That’s one example.
  • So if you come out of school you want to make sure to learn about company culture. You can almost think of this as a political lens or the power of the company. That’s important because you can have all the right answers but if you don’t run that floor then even as the person with the power things won’t change.

[00:24:23] Do you think that there is a sense of community and food safety that you can help depend on or young people can for their careers?

  • The food safety community is growing and when Tanguy was in school he was looking for the same information that you get easily access from LinkedIn and Facebook. Both him and Aaron Aboud are both on the same board of directors at the OFPA (Ontario Food Protection Agency) and they are a great organization in terms of membership. The organization also welcomes student members. So if you are a student and can connect with members of the OFPA than you will have great results. It is in the GTA area and that is actually amazing for any student that wants to be a part of a food safety community.

[00:25:58] What is a good food safety culture in a company?

  • It always starts with listening because everyone has something important to share and has something to say. When you work for a food company it is important to understand exactly what happens. In many organizations the food safety department is not viewed as valuable but instead an evil that is preventing a product from going out.
  • That is why you have to show your value and listen to those around you. Production wants to speed up and kick the product out while quality wants to slow down because you can have a food safety issue. If you have this type of quality problem then you have to listen and go out on the floor and not stay in your office. When you stay in your office people view you as a threat because you only come out and say, “Hey, I’m just going to put your line on hold because you find this and this in the product.” So when you are on the floor and you discuss with them, you help them solving their problem. That’s when they start listening to you. That is how view value in a company and build a sense of community.

[00:28:24] Veronica speaks about her first experience working in a quality assurance role

  • When you are new to a group you always have to follow the four phases of a group – forming, storming, norming and conforming. First you have forming which happens when you join a team. The second step is storming because that they don’t know you. You don’t know them and they will test you by asking you about issues to see if you shy away or if you will stand your ground. The norming phase is important because they will know what you are about and that’s where you have to demonstrate that you not only, you are persistent, you want to find a solution and you know what you’re talking about, but at the same time, you are willing to listen. The final step is conforming and in this phase if things went properly it will inspire respect even if you don’t have the same knowledge as they do.

[00:34:38] Where does your passion for food safety come from? What keeps you want to keep improving?

  • When Tanguy was a child he was having dinner with his family and they were eating mangos. His father pointed out that after mango season is over you can’t get any mangos. Then he looked at him and said that maybe you are going to be the one that we can get mangos from. That got Tanguy thinking that would be amazing because he loves mangos so much. The more he grew up the more that he looked for information on how someone could preserve mangos all years round. That eventually led him to learning about food science and technology in university. He still uses that energy to help him keep improving himself. Normex came about because they wanted to improve the food safety sector. This is what kept him going.

[00:37:15] What advice would you give students looking to go into a career of food safety?

  • 1. Find your interest because you don’t want to start something that you don’t like to begin with. Then figure out the type of role you would like such as R&D or food safety. You don’t have to know 100% just have an idea of where you want to go.
  • 2. Go into your first roles in smaller companies because you will lose a lot of opportunities to learn. Even if you get hired for example to do manage food safety you will also get to know sanitation. You will help out in many areas.
  • 3. Make sure that you find a good boss because if you have a bad boss they will make you feel guilty all the time. That’s not a good sign.

[00:40:08] Where can people find you?

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