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Career interview: Chris Brough, Butcher’s Pet Care25th May 2022
Chris Brough is Grocery Sales Director at Butcher’s Pet Care, a stable of pet food brands including the category-leading Butcher’s Nourishing Food for Dogs. Chris has taken a classical career path through Consumer Goods giants such as Mars, Heinz and Hovis before arriving at Butcher’s in 2020. We spoke to Chris (and his dog Ozzy!) about the route he’s taken and what he’s learnt along the way, and why the move to Butcher’s has been his best decision yet.
Hi Chris. I’ll start with a history question! Seven was established 20 years ago, what were you doing at that time and what was your biggest learning from that role?
In 2002 I was at Mars, or Pedigree Masterfoods as it was back then. I was a Convenience National Account Manager on Spar and P&H. I felt I was reacting all the time to what my customers and competition were doing. Rather than thinking of our own strategy and what we wanted to achieve. Soon after I learnt to stay true to your strategy, be aware of what’s happening in your market but watch out for those knee-jerk tendencies. I’d say my biggest learning from that time was to ‘Stay in your own lane’ when it comes to business.
Another key learning was around the power of data. I remember being at a Spar conference, and it was reported there was only 30% of promotional compliance in stores. I took that back to my buyer and used it to leverage lower promotional funding, making the promotions more profitable. The power of data became apparent at that point.
This point on data has been raised by many in this interview series; The early 00’s was a real turning point for it as you say. So that was your first job in the Consumer Goods industry, did you realise you were in it for the long haul?
Well, I first started out in recruitment, placing lawyers into investment banks. So, I realised very early that I wanted to sell inanimate objects – a keg of beer or a case of dog food can’t say no! I left there and went to Bass for a couple of years as an Area Manager and then my first National Account Manager came up at Mars. I realised then that I wanted to progress my career in FMCG.
Your career moves have taken you to some huge Consumer goods businesses. Have you been quite strategic about your progression at work, or have you taken a more opportunistic approach?
I initially went with the flow at Mars, but after taking one poor role I realised I needed to take more ownership of my career. Eventually I decided to leave Mars for a promotion at Heinz. I was asked to stay on my last day, but I’d made the choice. My new boss at Heinz asked me ‘What’s your plan?’ and I realised I didn’t really have one. He advised, ‘Write your own plan, otherwise someone will just give one to you!’ So, I sat down and mapped out that I wanted to do in my career. I knew that I wanted to become a Sales Director, but the plan I had to develop was how to get there; from a National Account Controller to Head of Sales in Foodservice, then to move to Grocery as an Account Director.
I worked in Foodservice for 3 years and then moved into Grocery. Then to a Trading Director role with Hovis. I’d say you need to look at your plan but be aware of when that plan is not going as you hoped it would and be prepared to shift – hence my move to Butcher’s. I was Trading Director of Non-grocery at Hovis and that opportunity to become a Grocery head wasn’t forthcoming in the time frame I wanted, so I moved to Butcher’s and I think out of all the career moves I’ve made, it’s one of the best.
What is it about Butcher’s that attracted you to the role?
What I have joined here is a small family-owned consumer goods business, and with that comes a level of humility with a true sense of family; we really watch out for each other. It’s also the most entrepreneurial business I have worked in. We have a really strong purpose that guides everything we do – Nourish Every Dog in a natural, affordable and sustainable way. And as a result, this small family business with 400 colleagues all working at one site in Northamptonshire has become number 1 in our category.
Our smaller size means we’re free to act quickly and go after opportunities.
For example, for some businesses, removing the plastic shrink from packaging would be enormous move, whereas here we can decide it’s the right thing to do, put the wheels in motion and make it happen fast.
That sense of agility must be freeing! Throughout the years, has your measure of success at work changed?
Absolutely! When I started out like most people it was financially and progression driven, and I think gradually as time passes you realise there are other important things. The stage I’m at now, I place far more value on culture and watching out for each other than I would on progression or remuneration. The last two years have been an incredibly challenging time for many people, especially with mental health challenges, and one of the things that I’m amazingly proud of is how this business puts their arm around people. I speak from personal experience on that; I had a very tough couple of months last year and I couldn’t have felt more supported. These are the things that feel very important.
I think we can all agree with that. My final question: if you could go back to 2002, what advice would you give yourself?
Well, there are things that I would have learnt to do – I’d have learnt to be much better on Excel for example! But there are three pieces of good advice:
1) look after yourself, both physically and mentally
2) don’t sweat the small stuff
3) always be grateful.
A lovely point to finish on, thanks so much Chris.
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