Ocado has the distinct feel of a start-up while being a big company. It is genuinely innovative – if you go online you can see videos and news stories on how we are using robotics in automated warehouses to revolutionise our picking and packing. It was Ocado’s ambitions that made me apply to the company, after I’d started in a job for another company that just didn’t excite me.
From graduate to manager
Logistics at Ocado is partly about improving the productivity of our chain from suppliers to customers and partly about implementing our tech in client warehouses (or customer fulfilment centres, CFCs); it involves constructing new CFCs, developing our tech and selling our capabilities to other businesses. The graduate scheme is rotational and I gained insights into the entire process, from tech implementation to sales.
My first placement was at one of our test sites and I looked at error codes from our robots and helped to solve them. I then moved to one of our under-construction CFCs and handled change management requests – for example, what would happen if a door was too narrow for pallets? – and here I also learned that it was OK to challenge. One thing about Ocado is that it is so innovative that it is happy to make mistakes, but this means that our change management processes have to be quite closely controlled.
In my final two placements, I worked in teams that marketed our tech and processes to clients. My roles involved providing any support that was needed – for example, preparing presentations and handling queries – and I felt I was working on the future of Ocado. The company was in a position for the first time to market our revolutionary robotics and CFC tech to clients; I learned a lot about how you sell something that is fundamentally business-changing.
In fact, while I was part of this team the business secured a deal with French supermarket chain Groupe Casino to build a CFC and share our tech, and that is one of my highlights to date. I was in meetings with senior people from different businesses as well as Ocado – people who are highly intelligent and skilled at what they do – and it only helps your own learning and development to be in the same room as them.
Two years later, I am project managing one of Ocado’s newest ventures. We are creating our first mini-CFC in Bristol – the idea is that if we minimise our warehouse sizes, it will improve both our search for suitable warehouse locations and our delivery efficiency. The complexity is that you don’t get the same efficiencies as from the larger CFCs. I’m really proud to be working on it. There are about 18 in the project team and I also directly line manage two. My day can range from change management activities to bidding for a new piece of equipment to investigating opportunities in vertical farming.
Be willing to be wrong
If I was applying to Ocado now, I wouldn’t stand a hope; the standard is so incredible. I volunteered to help run our graduate programme and I do this because of the fantastic people I get to work with. Alongside recruiting them, I also set and help them achieve their objectives, which are focused on developing them into future leaders.
To succeed at Ocado, you need to be able to cope with change and be collaborative. So, my advice for the recruitment process, strange as it seems, is be willing to be wrong. You might have interview questions that make you think, such as how many orders we can get into a van, and it’s not necessarily about giving the right answer; it’s about having a go and adjusting your answer following feedback. Similarly, many graduates tackle group exercises by thinking they need to be the loudest to demonstrate leadership, but what we often look for is how you can take account of different people’s interests and build consensus.
This content first appeared in the UK 300, a product developed and created by the editors at TARGETjobs.