Headshot of Verity Warnecke

The world of a business manager

Verity Warnecke is Business Manager or Chief of Staff to Jo Whitfield (our founder and CEO of Co-op Food). During a hectic month of unprecedented events, she talked to us about how managing uncertainty is integral to her role.
Hi Verity, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
 
Hi! I’m Verity, I live in Didsbury, Manchester and I’m currently working as Business Manager to Jo Whitfield. I’m also the accountable lead for The Grocery Girls; because the network was founded and is ultimately led by Jo, I act as the link in between her and our full-time comms partner Hester.
 
I’ve been in this role for nine months – I moved into it after two years spent working for Co-op’s Chief People Officer, Helen Webb.

Outside of work, I’m passionate about sports and exercise. I love running and see it as both a way to destress from a busy day and a way to challenge myself. It started when I lived in London, mainly because I couldn’t afford to go to the gym! Since then, it’s become a big part of my life, and I break it up with other things like yoga and spinning.

So, I’m gathering you’re up for a challenge! Is your job challenging?

Absolutely. The role is incredible; it’s ever-changing and no day is the same. At the moment it’s more challenging than ever. I’m literally turning over knowledge on an hourly basis!

If no day is the same, can you tell us generally what you get up to?

I spend my time mirroring what Jo does, and stretch thinking by bringing challenges and curiosity to her interactions. I completely carved out this role for myself; it was about finding gaps and working out where I could add value. When I started my role, Jo and I called it a ‘curiosity journey’ and I think that stands true.

I’m involved in a wide range of conversations, which means I jump from meeting to meeting, having to operate as a leader, flipping my brain from each session to the next. I spend a lot of time working with internal and external comms, making sure Jo’s tone of voice is spot-on. But the next minute, I can be talking finances, which I’m terrible at!

I try to travel with Jo as much as possible, because it gives me the opportunity to have one-to-one time with her and see her in an external setting. She’s such an important figure in the retail world and seeing how she operates outside of the business is an inspiration.

And what do you do in terms of The Grocery Girls?

I play the link between developing Jo’s network and joining the dots for Hester so she has the right tools to do her job. This role has given me the confidence to communicate with external stakeholders, because I know I have the knowledge to be taken seriously.

The retail world is tough; finding a place to make your voice heard isn’t easy. Everyone has wisdom to share; our leaders at the top level don’t have all the answers, and they know they need to listen to people at all career stages. I feel really privileged to get to work with the first female CEO in the grocery retail industry, but also to be involved in The Grocery Girls, providing a platform for sharing everyone’s stories. 

Having confidence seems so crucial to your role. What’s it like working with such senior stakeholders?

At first it was a little daunting, but then you realise senior leaders are no different to anyone else in a business. It took me a while to feel comfortable talking with them, but having the opportunity to collaborate and develop a voice has been amazing. I’ve become confident enough to express myself and feel like a peer. The leaders I work with have been in the retail industry for quite a while, and I’ve learnt that I bring a fresh pair of eyes to their discussions. 

Are there any key skills that have allowed you to succeed?

Probably the biggest skills I’m flexing are communication and building relationships, as my role is about joining the dots across the food business. It’s about being the person people come to and rely on to do something to a high standard – that trust is paramount to this role.

You’re learning so much in this role – where to next?

Honestly, I don’t know. I want to do something that adds value, but this year is about testing and learning and working out what that might mean. I’m a true believer in moving roles every 18 months to two years and not sitting still for too long; I like to know I’m stretching myself and taking risks every day.
 
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