24 hours with Symington’s Australia

Name: David Cherrie

Company name: Symington’s Australia Pty Limited

Title: Managing director

What are your primary roles and responsibilities in your job? Give us a day in your working life.
My key responsibilities include:

  • To lead Symington’s Australia in the delivery of the company’s strategic business plan
  • Accountable for the overall performance of the company and for the day to day running and management of the company’s business
  • To participate as a member of the Symington’s board
  • To understand the business, the marketplaces and sectors in which we operate and assist in developing the strategy to take advantage of the opportunities that exist or can be created
  • To develop strong retailer relationships in the Australian market and to ensure that Symington’s is positioned as the supplier of choice in its chosen categories

A typical day:

The great thing about working at Symington’s, is that there is never a “typical day.” No two days are ever the same, which means that there is never a dull moment.

I usually start my day with a freshly brewed coffee from one of the many great coffee houses across Melbourne. Having not been a coffee drinker before moving to Melbourne, I have come to appreciate this pastime.

Getting to the office, I usually review my calendar to check the meetings and activities planned for the day and review my ‘to do list’. My list acts a reminder of the tasks and deadlines I have – and is often kept at my bedside table during the night so that any thoughts or ideas can be jotted down if they pop into my head at 2am!

We try to do a “huddle’ in the morning to run through what everyone is working on, any big deadlines approaching or any support that anyone requires.

Other daily activities can include reviewing our financial and trading performance, analysing P&Ls, monitoring progress against our business plan as well as ensuring our service levels to customers remain within agreed targets.

Business development is also another key part of my role, we are looking to significantly expand our business in Australia and are always on the look-out for new brands to join our portfolio, either through acquisition, joint venture or licensing.

Finally, reporting is big part of my daily/weekly cycle. Weekly progress reports will be written to the board with full P&L analysis for the week and outlook going forward. This would also include a weekly “facetime” call with my boss (The Symington’s Group CEO) David Salkeld.

What training/education did you need for your job?
Passion for food has been integral to working with Symington’s. This is something I developed at a very early age. I got into baking cakes and would take them to a home for the elderly across the street to sell to the residents. They loved being able to get fresh cakes delivered to their door as well as having someone to talk to for a few minutes.

On a more formal basis, I did my degree in International Business and Languages, which included living a year in Germany. The degree allowed me to learn and appreciate the aspects of running a business, as well as exposure to business in different markets and cultures.

Throughout my career, I have also had the privilege of attending many different training programs including project management, selling and negotiation, and managing teams

How did you get to where you are today? Give us a bullet point career path.
Following graduation in 2001, I started my career at Diageo, working in Business Development.

I joined Arla in 2004 in the sales team with initial responsibility for the independent and cash & carry channel and growing the business in this channel by of 25 percent in the first year. I then moved on to manage the McDonald’s business (Arla supplied McDonald’s with their dairy needs (such as milk, milkshake and ice cream). At the time of taking over the account, Arla had 50 percent of the business with another supplier. Through a successful business development plan, I was able to secure 100 percent of the business, meaning Arla became the sole dairy supplier for McDonald’s – a significant achievement.

Following the start of my career in sales, I moved into the Marketing team at Arla. I was heavily involved in the launch of Lactofree (a Lactose free milk). With a strong marketing support plan, I was able to grow the brand to become a 12 million GBP grocery brand at RSV from a standing start.

After developing Lactofree, I then moved onto Cravendale (a top 100 UK grocery brand) and first branded milk in the UK.

I joined Symington’s in 2009, and have been there for almost six years.

The company completed its acquisition of Chicken Tonight, Raguletto and Five Brothers in Australia in 2013, and I was asked to go to Australia and set-up Symington’s here. Since then, I have been running Symington’s Australia.

What tools and/or software do you use on a daily basis?
I must admit I would be lost without my iPhone. The ability to check e-mail, calendars, use apps on the go is invaluable, particularly when travelling. I can open Google maps and be directed to anywhere I want to go.

What is the one thing that you are most proud of in your professional life?
The one thing I am most proud of in my professional life is setting up and launching Symington’s Australia. To have the opportunity to move to a completely different market, recruit a team, set up a business and its systems and processes, get familiar with doing business locally, integrating acquired brands into this business and ensuring a smooth transition with no service disruption to customers has been fantastic. In just 12 months we re-introduced well known Australian brands (Chicken Tonight, Five Brothers and Raguletto) back to Australian consumers, with new packaging, new recipes, and new advertising and are now seeing the brands grow significantly.

Biggest daily challenge?
Symington’s has been producing great tasting food for over 185 years, and there’s a huge amount of responsibility to uphold that legacy in Australia, especially when we are still relatively new to the market.

Biggest career challenge?
Shifting from a role that was focussed primarily on marketing to become a Managing Director with responsibility for all facets of the business in a new market. It is a challenge I am still enjoying as we continue to grow our team and brand portfolio here. I always work on the philosophy – you have to learn something new every day for your role to remain exciting, and this role has certainly given me many learning and growth opportunities.

What is your biggest frustration in your job?
As a new and proud Melburnian, getting to grips with the nuances of AFL has its moments. I love the AFL atmosphere and was quick to adopt a team (go Hawks!), but it is taking a bit more time to understand the many and varied rules of the game. I was told when I moved to Melbourne that if I didn’t understand AFL, then I would have nothing to talk about at the office on a Monday morning!

What is the biggest challenge facing your business?
There are preconceived notions that foods prepared for increased convenience are automatically unhealthy or poor quality.  At Symington’s we believe that you don’t need to compromise on taste or quality when it comes to convenient meals and snacks, regardless of whether you are cooking for one or feeding a family. We strive to achieve this in everything we do, and try to communicate through our packaging and advertising.

Is there anything else about your job you want Australia to know about?
We are very pleased with the results from our promising first year in Australia. As we progress through our second year, our focus is on innovation and growth and bringing more products and brands to Australian consumers.

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