“Running the fresh food business at Sainsbury’s means I’m responsible for what we buy, the sales price, and where products are stocked,” says Adrian Cooke, director of fresh foods, Sainsbury’s.
Everything I buy, I also sell. It starts with really understanding the consumer – what they want, need, and how their habits are changing – and translating that into the products we buy.
It’s my first non-procurement role in almost 20 years. I started out in sales at Bass Brewers, selling to clubs and pubs, before moving into procurement. I tried consultancy for a bit, then moved into CPO roles in a variety of sectors. When I turned 40, I took a couple of years off to be a family man, before becoming CPO at Babcock International Group. Then I got the call about this role at Sainsbury’s.
There may have been some surprise [about a procurement person doing the role], but commercial skills are largely transferable. You might be talking about sausages, but you can bring it back to a spare defence part! Procurement roles are really good in teaching you about commercial problem solving, managing complexity and people skills, working cross-functionally and with suppliers. Being numerate is critical. I’ve never had so much data as I have in this role: you have to be able to handle numbers in the moment.
Have breadth as early as possible in your career. The more senior you get, the harder it is to get breadth and depth at the same time. Get exposure to different disciplines by volunteering for special projects and secondments. Make sure you’re building your skills early, rather than chasing the next promotion. I look to hire people with positive energy, so do something you are personally interested in.”
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