I joined The Co-operative Business Management Graduate Programme in September 2006. I chose to apply to the Co-operative for a number of reasons. Firstly the variety of business areas you are exposed to. The Co-operative was one of the only organisations which could offer the breadth of experience across such a wide range of businesses.
The second reason I applied was down to the exposure you have to senior managers whilst on the programme – whether it be through presentations to the exec board members or dealing with senior managers as part of your project, the level of buy in and sponsorship of the programme from senior managers from across the Group was second to none. I was also attracted by the relatively small numbers that they recruited – making it a much more tailored experience. The final reason was simply because I like a challenge – the level of responsibility which you gain from the very beginning was nerve-racking but an excellent way to push myself and accelerate my development.
Whilst I was on the programme I undertook four projects. These ranged from facilitating the implementation of promoting cross-selling leaflets for CFS products into our Food stores right through to managing the launch of various Wills products through the Co-operative Finance Advisor channel. I also had the opportunity to be involved in a number of other activities such as the organisation of a Prisoners’ Art Exhibition.
At the end of the programme, the first role I moved in to was Commercial Support Manager within our Group Procurement department, managing the marketing category. Despite having no previous experience in Procurement, I achieved the highest level of savings of anyone in the team in 2009 (£8.3 million) and went on to be awarded the ‘Individual Achievement of the Year’ award at the Estates Awards in 2009.
Although I really enjoyed my time in Procurement and developed many transferable skills from my role, I knew it wasn’t the place for me for the long term. After 2 years in the role I applied for the role of Programme and Change Manager within Food Property and was successful. I am now responsible for managing large-scale change initiatives across the department, with a particular focus on ensuring we have the required processes, capability and resource to deliver the business’ accelerated store acquisition programme.
My advice for those graduates who are ready to move off the graduate programme in to their first role would be to be pro-active. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you – go out and find them and above all, always keep in touch with your project contacts – this is a key source of job opportunities and useful advice for the future.