Women in the food industry – An interview with Claire, a Group Technical Director for New England Seafood
At Silven Recruitment we believe in celebrating successes and we’ve been reading some amazing articles about women in business and so we thought what better way to join in, than by interviewing some of the talented women we work with in the food industry. Here we speak to Claire, a Group Technical Director for New England Seafood.
1). Please provide a short bio on yourself :
I am 44 years old, I have two Children, one 14 and the other 12 years old and live in Pocklington near York with my husband. I am originally from Plymouth in Devon but left the South when I went to Uni at the age of 18 in Hull. Science has always interested me even from an early age and I knew I always wanted to do something related to that. Originally I wanted to be a Surgeon (and if I’m being honest I think part of me always will!), but Food and the Science behind it was always a close second !
2). Provide an overview of your background including education
I went to the University of Hull and studied a BSc in Applied Biology with Chemistry and upon completion I was lucky enough to gain first work experience and then a permanent position with Nestle working in their Regional laboratory in York. This gave me a good practical understanding of both Microbiological and Chemical standards and their application across a wide range of products. From there I moved down to London with Nestle and ran the Quality Systems across two sites (A Chocolate Factory and a Freeze and Spray Dried Coffee plant) after a couple of years I was hungry for further progression and when there was no suitable internal vacancies, I applied externally and was successful in securing a role as Technical Manager for Vandemoortele (Mayo, oil, margarine, bread, Soya). This was the first role I had had where there were factories not only within the UK, but, France and Belgium too! The role involved driving the various retail Technical Managers to the different manufacturing sites, showing them around and talking through the specifications, the sites food safety plans and the general Quality Systems.
After two and a half years of often long commutes to work, my previous Line Manager from Nestle called me to say that an internal opportunity had arisen back at my previous Nestle site that he believed I should apply for! So I did, and went back to work for Nestle 2.5 years later as the Site Quality Manager for the Coffee plant. After a couple of years another internal promotion arose, but back up North in Castleford, so still keen to progress in my career, I made the decision to relocate to York and still with Nestle, ran the Technical Dept across the Castleford site where both Toffee Crisp and After Eights were manufactured. By now I had been in chocolate for quite a while and wanted a category that was of complete contrast for my next role, so I moved into Meat! Securing a role as the site Quality Manager for Vion foods. In my new role I looked after the abattoir, slaughter lines, butchery dept, curing lines, raw meat retail packing and the high risk sliced meats plant. A huge role and a really challenging one, but one that definitely toughened me up! I then moved into my first fish role as Technical manager for Coldwater Seafoods, where both coated and battered fish products were produced, after which I made another ‘fish’ related move into Morrisons. Here I set up two brand new factories, literally from the bricks up! The first a low and high risk site, and the second site, opening 2 years later and about three times the size (!) a high risk, high care, and low risk site. From Morrisons I moved to New England Seafoods, a three site operation. Two sites near London and the newest acquisition in Grimsby.
3). What are your biggest achievements to date?
One of the biggest has been the successful launch of two start-up operations, in full, to budget and on time. The first plant was literally a building site when we picked up the project and we opened our doors, having gained BRC approval at grade A (the highest level at the time!), 4 months later! The second site followed on 2 years later and presented it’s own challenges, as we had to transfer existing lines and products across from one site to another whilst installing both a high risk and a high care area production area, introduce new products and processes, recruit and train a huge number of people and keep the first site running! It was such a challenge, but you learn so much about yourself when you do things like that and I definitely learnt that the only way to deliver huge projects is to work as a team and multi task. It also helps if you can have fun whilst you’re doing it!
4) What is your current job role?
Group Technical Director for New England Seafood
5). How did you get into this career?
I have always been in food, it’s always interested me. I was lucky enough to work for Nestle, which was a great bench mark for Technical Standards… it all started from there!
6). Were there particular challenges you faced?
Every role has had its own challenges but I have learnt from each of them and I think it’s those experiences that allow me to shape the decisions I make in my current role today.
7). What advice would you have for young women thinking about food manufacturing as a career
Be prepared to be in rooms full of men, it’s still a very male dominated industry! But if it’s what your passionate about, then go for it and don’t give up. It’s a tough but rewarding industry but there are bound to be bumps along the way, so make sure you learn from them and move forward stronger!
I’d also suggest early on in your career you find a mentor, someone that you really trust and use them as your ‘sounding board’. If they are doing their job correctly they should push you whilst supporting you. It will provide a ‘safe’ environment in which you can challenge the status quo and learn to see things from not only a technical view point, but other key operational functions.
8). What skills and attitude do you need to be successful in this industry?
- You need to listen to people at every level, really listen to them, their opinions and experiences will be invaluable.
- You need to be able to take criticism and learn from it
- Having the ability to be calm (or at least appear to look it!) in a crisis, is important as there will probably be a few along the way.
- To be able to talk to a wide range of people from Retail Directors to Factory Floor Operatives. Each one as important as the next, but a different approach needed in each case.
- And finally to be adaptable, never expect a normal day! Things can change by the hour in food and you have to be prepared to change with it!
9). What do you love about the food and drink industry?
It’s constantly changing, the pace is fast and it’s secure (people will always need to eat). Plus, there are some really great people across all sectors of the industry that are really passionate about what they do.
10) What is the best part of your job?
The people! My role allows me to really help to develop people and teams, giving them the support they need to reach not only their career goals but their personal ones too !
Some of the people in my very early teams that I managed as QA’s, are now Technical Mangers, and not just any Technical Managers, really good Technical Managers that are looking after large complex sites and customers!! That makes me feel really proud (and quite old too!!).