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Career interview: Ben Warden, Premier Foods

20th April 2022

Ben Warden has spent 25 years in Consumer Goods, working mainly in sales roles at the Kraft Heinz Company and Premier Foods, where he is currently Head of Grocery Commercial Planning. Ben kindly gave us some time to discuss the journey his career has taken and the moves he’s made, what success feels like to him and the importance of value-added projects and taking charge of your personal development. Thank you Ben!


Hi Ben! You spent 2 decades in a variety of roles at Kraft Heinz and then moved to Premier Foods, have you consciously decided to stay with big brands?

Yes, I spent 20 enjoyable years at Heinz, then the time was right to try somewhere else. I was looking for a new challenge and a business I had a passion for. I went to Premier Foods as I understood the journey they were going on, the evolution of their culture, the purpose they have as a business, the brands that they have; those are the aspects that appealed to me. Seeing all of that evolve to where we are now with the Enriching Lives programme fits very well with me.

Thinking about the approach you’ve taken over the years to changing roles and businesses, have you been strategic or have you been presented those opportunities?

Earlier on in my career I took opportunities that came about rather than looking for something different. That served me well as it gave me a great understanding of different functions and roles within an organisation. I would have liked to have had a clearer plan though. I always have this mentality that I picked up from someone else; ‘Be a student of the business.’ It means always try to learn, pick up what’s going on and that keeps you inquisitive and keeps work exciting. If you do that, you can put pieces together, and this will provide other opportunities.

Equally what I would say, I got the job at Premier Foods after speaking with Liam and I have a lot of trust in Liam and Seven. The conversation I had with him about what I was after matched up well with this job. It’s useful to be able to have a conversation with somebody, to tell them what you’re looking for, and for them to say; ‘here are the things I’ve got, here’s what I know.’

Premier Foods have a strong Employer brand which we’ve written about recently. In the time that you have been at Premier, how have you seen that develop?

I have enjoyed seeing the Employer brand develop through the growth of the business values. In one of my previous roles, we’d have weekly catch ups to talk about which values we have been working through, and once a month we have ‘values awards’. Taking that approach means the values sort of ‘spread’ as people continuously use them and that in turn develops the Employer brand. Then, we’ve had more bespoke training elements around various company-wide programmes such as D&I, where we’ve heard from guest speakers on a variety of topics. That approach is good as it keeps relevant topics and learning opportunities at the forefront of the mind and ensures learning is continuous rather than just reading and forgetting about it!

Thinking back over the last 20 years, which roles or teams have you enjoyed the most?

The highlights for me always involve working with other people. In my past sales-based roles I have dealt with suppliers and partners externally and that’s great because you build up strong relationships with people across the industry but equally, you need to have those strong relationships internally as well because you are interacting with many different characters all the time.

Different roles have different time frames and different excitements. I’ve enjoyed seeing the plans that I’ve put in place come to life. With sales it might be a quite short-term, for example when displays and executions land in-store that I’ve had a hand in. In my planning roles it’s more a long-term pay-off, it can take 6 months or more to see the path you’ve taken turn into something. Sales can have that daily buzz of numbers and performance, then with other roles it’s about working to a level on the horizon and building a plan that starts to work in a few months’ time.

What I like about my Commercial Planning role is that I am still close to the sales team, and I understand how the retailer works and what their plans are. So, my knowledge of the challenges the sales team will face helps them build plans and activations that will suit their strategy.

Has your definition of success at work changed over the years?

Yes. My background is mainly sales, and I’m still in a commercial function so defining success will be about performance, deliverables and objectives. But success as you progress at work changes from being all about your own development into how you develop others. I have a team to help on their journey and I’m invested in their achievements. Some of the things I wish I had done earlier I encourage them to do now!

Results are important but success is also about what other things the business is trying to do and what part we all play in the wider sense of purpose. These opportunities to get involved bring people together and can feel really special. For example, the environmental initiatives where we’ve changed our packaging and reduced our plastic output. Those projects along with the day job bring a sense of success now.

If you could go back 20 years to 2002, what advice would you give yourself?

Take charge of your personal development early. I was, and still am, very fortunate to have supportive line managers that have helped me to develop, but I would have urged myself to be a bit more focused on my own personal development. So, what are my strengths and weaknesses and what can I do about those? Twenty years ago, it would have been book-based opportunities but now there’s a bunch of options like LinkedIn Learning and many big businesses have their own online learning portals. If you know for example that your communication skills could be a little bit sharper, then there’s course you can do off your own back to work on that. So, if I could I’d go back I’d make sure I’d set myself some objectives and taken charge of my own personal development.

Great advice, thank you for your time Ben!

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