Meet the Team: Rupert Hodgkins

Posted: 14 October 2013

Blog category: Meet the Team

Bottling Hall Manager, Rupert Hodgkins, recently spoke to The Manufacturer as part of their 'Employee of the Month' feature:

What is your role and what are the main responsibilities?
I am manager of a bottling hall fitted in 2009 with a state-of-the-art line capable of producing 27,500 bottles an hour. We can fill and package up to 65 million bottles a year covering 82 different SKUs to provide a wide range of ales and lagers for the off-trade and on-trade both in the UK and internationally. My responsibilities cover man management, process management and quality control.
What are the key technical skills you use?
My training in engineering and brewing gives me an understanding of how to treat beer from filter to bottle, in order to maximise shelf life and maintain the flavour of the beer. We need to control the process carefully and combine a desire for speed and efficiency with making sure that the product leaves us in the best possible condition.
What personal characteristics help you in your role?
I like to think I am open-minded, flexible and approachable. I am very happy to take on new things, whether it is brewing, plant design, changing processes or dealing with the everyday people management issues associated with any manufacturing workforce.
What do you consider to be your biggest personal success at the company so far?
We brew Asahi Super Dry under licence in the UK and I was chosen to spend a month with Asahi Breweries in Japan, working at the Shikoku brewery, which is similar in size to our brewery in Faversham. I was there as an observer but worked normal hours, accompanied by an interpreter so I could communicate with the brewers and understand everything that was going on. It was fascinating to see how they run the plant, how they organise the workforce and how their engineering and production teams work together. It was a valuable opportunity to be completely immersed in a working culture that is very different from our own.
Why was / is it a success?
I was encouraged to record my impressions in a report to the head brewer and share my experiences with colleagues. It was inspiring to be part of major developments in production and distribution at the brewery, including new plant and working practices that led to Shepherd Neame winning awards for process excellence. We have made enormous progress in terms of maximising our capacity and making best use of raw materials and energy. We have just entered an exciting new deal to export Spitfire Ale into North America and several of our ale brands are being exported into supermarkets in Japan through our association with Asda’s parent company Walmart.
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
I enjoy working at the brewery because there is always something new to learn. I am working on a new piece of plant to enhance water recovery and I have had the chance to experiment in the micro brewery, creating a traditional porter using smoked malt and local hops. It’s great to work in an open culture where ideas and improvements are valued.
What will be your next career move?
I am happy to continue learning my trade until I can take the next step up, perhaps to be a Master Brewer.
Do you have a grand career ambition?
I’d like to progress and gain the knowledge and experience required to be a production manager or director.
What first attracted you to a career in manufacturing?
I enjoy producing something tangible. There is never a question about the value of the work you are doing because you can see the end result right in front of you. At university I was an enthusiastic home brewer. Now I play a part in producing Kentish ales and distinctive international lagers.
How do you think best to get more young people interested in manufacturing?
Show them how rewarding it is to take great British raw materials and to work as a team to create quality products that are enjoyed locally, nationally and in export markets.
CV in brief
Rupert Hodgkins
Age: 32
Education: Masters in Biochemical Engineering at UCL (University College London), IBD (Institute of Brewing & Distilling) Diploma in Brewing, currently taking IBD Master Brewer modules, the highest professional qualification for brewers.
Career to date: Joined Shepherd Neame from university in October 2007 as an assistant project engineer. Worked as trainee brewer, then as a shift brewer before returning to engineering department as a process development engineer, identifying ways to improve the quality and quantity of beer produced. Current role: bottling manager.
Hobbies and interests: home-brewing, cooking and travel.