|Degree:||MSc Operations Management|
|University: ||Manchester University|
|Year joined AkzoNobel:||2007|
|Current Job Title:||Assistant Brand Manager|
|Business Unit:||Decorative Paints|
|Work Location:||Slough, UK|
What first interested you in a career with AkzoNobel?
During my time researching at university I came across ICI (now part of AkzoNobel) as I had to undertake a case study on the company and was therefore naturally interested. When reading the job descriptions and graduate profiles it appealed to me that the Graduate Development Programme seemed to be a very challenging and diverse programme offering opportunities to experience different functions and work areas, as well as being given a lot of responsibility from day one.
During my whole application process I was very impressed by how organised, yet personal every step of the process was. Everyone I talked to actually worked for the company (there were no agencies involved) and along the way, decisions were made quickly. Furthermore, there was always someone that could be contacted in case of more questions and they actually responded to me within a day! This experience was so different from what I had seen with other companies and it made me feel that AkzoNobel must have a real interest in its graduates and value them.
What were your first impressions of AkzoNobel?
My first impression of the company, when I joined, was that everybody was very helpful and welcoming. There were different events in the first few weeks that allowed new joiners to not only meet each other but also the senior management of the company. Considering that these people tend to be extremely busy I was, again, impressed that they would take the time to meet all of us new graduates in person and spend time with us. This commitment to graduates seems to exist in every layer of the business.
What have your training experiences entailed?
When joining the Graduate Development Programme, there are four main training events that all graduates of the same year attend, which aim to raise the level of knowledge of the company and the industry, to provide graduates with a good grounding in commercial awareness and also to teach them how to work in teams more effectively and efficiently.
All these courses have been very helpful so far, and they’re also a lot of fun from a social perspective. In addition to these “official” training courses there is always the opportunity to get more specific training in any area where you and your manager feel more development could be needed. In my job, so far, some of the most essential skills have evolved around presenting to larger audiences, working in cross-functional teams and project management.
What are the main challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
I’m currently at the end of my first graduate placement, which I have spent in Trade Marketing as an Assistant Brand Manager for the Dulux Trade Core Whites portfolio. There are numerous great and challenging experiences that I can look back on. One of my larger projects during my first year was to develop and launch a new High Gloss and Undercoat into the Trade Paint market.
This involved working closely with different functions such as R&D, Sales, Supply Chain and Finance, as well as our external agencies and to project manage their inputs according to deadlines. Such cross-functional working is an everyday reality of being in Marketing and is greatly satisfying in the sense of having real project ownership whilst at the same time meeting lots of different people and learning a huge amount about different functions.
The project launch also taught me a valuable lesson in dealing with uncertainty. There were often times where I had incomplete information or problems occurred along the way and I learnt that in such situations all you can do is to work with what you have rather than waiting to have everything together perfectly – because often that won’t happen!
The great thing about all the projects I am working on is that I am given real responsibility and ownership of projects which is a great opportunity for ‘learning by doing’ and very satisfying when you see the final result. What can sometimes be a bit frustrating about working for such a large company is that things can sometimes take a while before something is happening and decisions are made. But at the same time, this is a challenge in that you have to learn to identify the best way of managing and navigating your projects through the company, keeping the right people informed and making sure that you have all the needed information to present to key stakeholders in order to speed things up.
What are you next career steps with AkzoNobel?
Personally, I know that I ultimately want to work in Marketing. However, in order to widen my experience, I’m going to spend my second graduate placement in the Retail Sales Department. I will be working on high street and grocery accounts such as Tesco, Wilkinson and Sainsbury’s. In most companies, although Sales and Marketing are the functions that should work together very closely, the reality often looks different. One of the reasons is that Marketing often doesn’t understand the needs of Sales and vice versa.
I am really looking forward to getting an insight into Sales and especially the Retail sector as I only know a little bit about this at the moment. After this placement I would like to move back into Marketing, maybe Retail – but who knows! I might love Sales and decide to stay in that area for longer. That is the nice thing about AkzoNobel, flexibility really exists.
Do you have a work/life balance and what does “life” involve?
Since I started working, the amount of leisure time I have in the week has definitely decreased compared to university days! But this has just highlighted to me that managing my time outside work is just as important as it is at work, and work-life balance is something that needs to be created. I try to make the most of my spare time, spending time with my husband, meeting up with friends or just doing nothing but sitting on the sofa and reading! I am also involved in a church where we live which is always a great place to unwind and re-focus, as well as having fun with friends.