19 January, 2020

Drinks execs reveal how peer-to-peer learning grew their careers

Drinks execs reveal how peer-to-peer learning grew their careers

Three senior drinks executives discussed how to unlock the expertise and experience of colleagues to maximise personal career development at the latest Women in Drinks NSW event.

The panellists - Kerry Appathurai, EDG Customer Director at Lion; Eric Thomson, Marketing Director at Pernod Ricard; and Kylie Farquhar, NSW State Sales Manager at Treasury Wine Estates -  were joined by moderator Lee James, Global Fine Wine Director at Pernod Ricard.

Appathurai is a results focussed and people orientated sales leader. She is passionate about seeing people excel and realise their true potential. With a career in sales and category strategy, spanning 20 years, Appathurai has worked in large global organisations such as Nestle, Parmalat (Lactalis) and Cadbury Schweppes.

She joined Lion four months ago and revealed that peers such as Michelle Pelizzari, Lion Customer Director – Coles Liquor Group, had played a pivotal role in her seamless integration into the business.

"For me, it's about finding people I can trust and learn from to get me up to speed," she said. "I couldn't have gotten through the last few months without Michelle." 

She also noted out that vital it was to let your peers and superiors know the direction you want your career to take. 

"I've always made sure to speak to them when I had ambitions to take the next step," she said. 

Farquhar has been passionately involved in the independent liquor trade her entire career and in the wine industry for over 18 years. Her personal motto is “with purpose and passion” and she loves imparting that energy within her TWE NSW team.

She agreed that having open communication with colleagues around career development was important. 

"We're not very good at communicating what our goals are," she said. "We're very planned and clear on our goals, but often don't feel comfortable articulating them."

Thomson has extensive experience in the alcohol industry having worked in marketing and brand management roles across multiple businesses, brands in Australia, US and Canada.

He said he's very comfortable telling people where he wants to be next and asking "What don't I do well enough to proceed to the next role?"

Asking the tough questions

Farquhar said it was important to be open to feedback, both positive and negative.

"When sitting with colleagues and peers, ask them some tough questions about yourself," she suggested. "Negative feedback is difficult to hear but its eye-opening to know what they perceive your strengths and weaknesses to be.

"Focus on what you're fantastic at doing, what can you use that for and where can you take it as your next step."

Appathurai agreed that "feedback is a gift".

"You can bet the way you are being perceived internally is how you are seen externally as well," she said.  

Thomson admitted he thought he was a "high-flying brand manager" at one point in his career, only to receive feedback that he was "obnoxious and a terrible listener".

"It was a defining moment to see that what I thought I was trying to achieve with my attitude wasn't landing and to understand that everyone processes behaviours in different ways."

Thomson said women don't back their strengths as much as they acknowledge their weaknesses. He felt they often placed too much focus on the gaps in their skill sets, rather than embracing the challenge of the unknown.

"Every role should stretch you," he said. "Change the conversation when you apply for roles. I don't have a problem with someone having gaps in their experience. Finding someone who has the ability to learn quickly and get up to speed is far more important to me."

Thomson noted that peer-to-peer learning makes you better at your job, even if it's with someone working in an entirely different sphere of the business.

"Surrounding yourself with diversity of thought adds value to your decision making," he said.

"When I worked on Captain Morgan in Canada for Diageo, I sat next the brand manager for Baileys. They were very different businesses, but it was so refreshing to talk to her get another perspective on my business plan."

Find your champions

Farquhar said developing relationships with peers both in your own department and others within the business was a good way to find your "champion".

"Finding the right people in your business to become your champion is crucial for taking the next step in your career," she said. "Using peer networking is the perfect way to discover them."

Thomson said the number one thing he looks for when seeking talent within the business is someone who is a leader among their peer set. 

"The better you get to know your peers the more you can learn from them and leverage their knowledge," he advised.

"I prefer working with people who can talk among their peers about a problem rather than just coming straight to me for a solution." 

Farqahar agreed: "Work towards a common goal and you'll all be lifted."

Thank you to Lion for hosting such an insightful afternoon. Here are some photographs from the event:

Women in Drinks is an initiative by The Drinks Association to highlight issues facing women in the workplace, champion opportunities and offer networking events for women working in the drinks industry. The Drinks Association is a not-for-profit organisation that offers everything from industry data to targeted forums and a broad spectrum of events, publications and websites, including Drinks Trade, Drinks Bulletin and Drinks Guide. It works to build a stronger, more informed Australian drinks industry by providing commonly required services.