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IWD 2021. My Story: Linda Cudjoe

On International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate the amazing women in our business. Harrods is a place that looks to challenge the perception that you need to be a certain type of person to succeed. We spoke to Linda Cudjoe, Head of Food Safety and Technical get her thoughts on #choosetochallenge, working at Harrods and inspiring others who may want to work in their industry.

Hi Linda, could you tell us a bit more about your career and how you came to work at Harrods? From an early age, I wanted to be a Doctor but missed the chance marginally. At that stage, I thought – ‘what next?' I considered a few options and ended up becoming a food scientist. It was a pure accident. 

My first job was as a Product Manager at Sainsbury's. My role was wide-ranging and I worked my way up from retail food safety to Senior Product Manager (Technical Manager) working with suppliers and manufacturers. After almost 10 years, I had my first child and planned to be a stay-at-home mum. At the same time, I wanted to make the world a better place and have a tangible impact on people’s lives, by making food safe through understanding microbiology, food chemistry, and the impact on food.  So I registered for a full-time MBA program at Cranfield. I had young children when I started the MBA. It is one of my proudest achievements. 

After my MBA, I joined the Pizza Hut Group as their Technical Manager. The business was a 50/50 joint venture between Whitbread and the American YUM group, and my role was to review and adapt the American system to fit into the UK market.  After two years I decided to set up my own consultancy; this time was phenomenal in building me as a person. I loved every minute of running my own business and did so for 14 years. Having the ability to combine three vital aspects of food safety management, Consultancy, Training, and Auditing, gave me a great USP, made me stand out, and made a difference in building technical strategies to support business turnaround.  

In 2016 I did some consultancy work for Harrods NPD and the Technical department. A couple of years later I get a call to interview for the opportunity to lead a new department merging technical and food safety!  And just like that, I came full circle back to being employed full time! 

Why did you want to work at Harrods? 
I have always been someone who admires a high-end business because of the opportunities a business like that can present. Within the food business, you have safety and you have a quality that works together most of the time, but could also be at odds. At Harrods, you find a brand that is non-compromising on both safety and quality.  

I have a strong passion for good food and safe food. When you have price elasticity as we have at Harrods, you have room to manoeuvre within the quality arena and add provenance which is ideal for story-telling. It’s all about what is possible with the product. What can you do with those quality ingredients to turn it into something magical with full integrity? I wanted to get my hands on this opportunity.  

Harrods has the name and the brand and this profile comes with a lot of vulnerability through which I saw as an opportunity to grow and develop the technical and food safety arena to build solid due diligence through introducing a Food Safety Culture. Almost 30 years in the industry gives me enough insight to benchmark companies on Safety, Quality, and Integrity management with the view to leveraging the best quality for the benefit of Harrods. 

What projects are you working on at the moment? 
I am currently overseeing the development and roll-out of an automated End to End Supplier and Product Management System that will serve as a database and also facilitate our management of own-brand products and suppliers from approval of product and suppliers through product development, legal label information generation to ongoing surveillance. This will save a lot of time spent on the manual generation of information and management of suppliers and also prevent mistakes in transferring information. It will also make life simpler in managing supplier performance with a dashboard of relevant data and pivot tables to hand.

I am also leading the rollout of Sustainability and Ethical sourcing though our supply chain of Harrods Own Label product. Ethical sourcing touches on conditions of the labour force of which in some industries is made up predominantly of women who are very poorly paid and are made to work under difficult conditions. 

How does Harrods support and develop women?  
I do not see that there is any distinction between the way men and women are treated/supported by Harrods. It is evident by the number of women in senior management that we are given a fair chance and recruitment and promotion is on merit, purely based on performance and contribution to the business. I joined Harrods as an older employee with teenage children but looking around me I can only assume that women are allowed to bring up young families whilst building their careers. Whilst it will inevitably be a bit more of a challenge juggling motherhood with work, the company is very supportive of family life and at management level, we assess people based on productivity rather than working long hours for the sake of it.  

What can businesses do to promote equality? 
I would expect parity in salary, based on productivity/performance rather than gender. I would also expect flexibility in terms of obvious things like return to work post-maternity to allow mothers to make the transition back to work easier. Flexi/agile working where possible is always a good thing and the pandemic has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that this works.  

Why you support International Women's Day? 
This is an interesting question because I am not one to promote Women’s day in particular. I would rather promote every day being everyone’s day. By that, I mean that there should be parity in the treatment of all regardless of gender, race, status etc. Interestingly, in the 21st century, the world is still having to grapple with issues of gender disparity. This is a sad reality notably is some countries, which I guess makes International Women’s day relevant.

Could you tell us a bit more about the women you mentor? 
I currently mentor 3 ladies. One common thing between all three is their ambition, passion and determination in what they do. It has been a joy to watch them grow, hold their own and develop through the different stages of their lives and their careers, as they negotiate the challenges of the workplace. Outside work, I mentor another young lady who again is growing into a fine professional and is holding her own very well in the medical industry. Very gratifying to see the glass ceiling shattering for women not through facilitation but their own perseverance and hard work. 

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