Turning a part-time job into an international career: One Leeds graduate’s career journey


How do you go from shelf-stacker to Head of Ambient Supply Chain at a major procurement and logistics company? Jordan Steane graduated with a BA in History from University of Leeds, later returning to take a Masters in Supply Chain and Logistics, and is now Head of Supply Chain with IPL.

Here he outlines how his career in retail has developed over time, including working overseas.

Humble beginnings

My career in retail began in April 1998 with a 14 hour a week shop-floor role replenishing fruit and vegetables at our store in Shipley whilst at school. The work was relatively simple and repetitive, but I absolutely loved it…..taking an empty shelf and filling it up, interacting and talking with customers, working with the head office on stock levels…..something clicked which has stayed with me throughout my career……the excitement of retail.

I stayed in store throughout my time university (History at Leeds) taking on more hours between lectures. Towards the end of my degree I hadn’t really decided where my career path was heading….I had toyed with the idea of teaching and potentially further education within in History, but I caught wind of the Asda Graduate Programme whilst working at Shipley. It just seemed a perfect fit….combining my degree with retailing.

Getting a graduate role

So I applied…….and failed. I thought I had done everything well and had the necessary experience of actually working for Asda. Apparently not. I was gutted, and unsure of where to go next as I, perhaps naively, hadn’t considered doing anything else. Whilst at work in Shipley my boss suggested a role at Asda’s Head Office which was being advertised. It wasn’t the graduate scheme but a good bridge between my role in store and my enjoyment of retail.  It was a supply chain analyst role within Fresh Produce.

I was successful in my application and started at Asda House in April 2002 working on the store helpdesk, the link between stores and the office regarding to stock levels. I could provide a lot of empathy as I had been in stores recently and could provide a good level of understanding from my store experience as well as applying the education and maturity improvement I had learnt at University.

Over the next 3 years I took on more responsibility within the Produce team, working up through the ranks of Supply Analyst (responsible for the replenishment of a category from the field to shelf) and in 2007 was offered the role of becoming Availability Manager of Produce, responsible for the replenishment into stores of all fruit and vegetables. The retail bug had really taken hold and it was about to go a bit further too.

Going international

Being owned by Wal-Mart has tremendous benefits for Asda….global buying leverage, best practice sharing and of course serious financial support. I had brief exposure of Wal-Mart in my Availability Manager role where I’d share ideas with my counterparts in the USA and other International markets and host visitors from the International teams from time to time, but in February 2009 the Wal-Mart link become much more real for me. I was asked if I would be interested in taking a role for Wal-Mart within their Canadian business. Following much contemplation and discussions with family, in May 2009 my wife and I moved to Toronto where I became the Head of Supply Chain for Fresh Food.

Our time in Canada was life changing. I had gone from working in an office and industry I had known for 11 years surrounded by our friends and family, to finding ourselves in the complete opposite scenario. Whilst this may sound daunting, it was absolutely wonderful. Canada is a fabulous country inhabited by friendliest people, and Wal-Mart could not have been more supportive to us.

Over the next 3 years my career and personal life developed to levels I had never imagined in scope for me. I regularly travelled to the US Head Office in Bentonville, Arkansas and developed my supply chain knowledge immeasurably, quickly learning that whilst my UK based learnings were good, they were nowhere near complete. Seeing and practicing a similar role in a different environment developed my practical and behavioural skills beyond recognition….I became more aware of different approaches to the same problem and became a better leader as I was working with a wider range of people with different background and approaches. Alongside this, although unwittingly at the time, I was becoming more confident, independent and responsible and ultimately became more appreciative of what mattered to me on a personal level.

This last point was the driving force behind our decision to return to the UK in March 2012. Whilst our time in Canada was fantastic, 3 years away from our family was enough. We made the joint decision to return to the UK to be nearer to family and to start our own.

I remained in the Wal-Mart family, joining IPL, Asda’s Food Sourcing Division. I took on the role of Head of International Business, setting up a new team exporting European food to Wal-Mart markets worldwide, keeping the link between Wal-Mart and Food.

As I write this in 2014, my career has developed further and I am now the Head of IPL’s Ambient Supply Chain, responsible for £180m of imported Wine, Grocery and Chilled business to Asda.

My career with Asda, Wal-Mart and IPL has been stunning. At times I struggle to believe the opportunities and experiences I have had. How does a kid from Shipley, West Yorkshire start filling up fruit and vegetables in his local Asda store and end up managing a £180m supply chain, via a stint with Wal-Mart in Canada?

The answer is frighteningly simple…..hard work, support from loved ones and the opportunity and support from one of the world’s greatest companies.

As Jordan’s experience testifies, flexibility and being open to new opportunities can be great ways to develop your career in all sorts of interesting and unexpected ways.  If you would like help thinking about your future or what to do after university, pop in and chat to us

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Filed under Develop your employability, Getting into..., How I got my job, International

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