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My Harrods Story: Linda Cudjoe

We caught up with Linda Cudjoe our Head of Food Safety, and Technical to find out about her wonderful story. 

What is your career journey before 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! 

What was it about Harrods that made you come back? 
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 maneuver 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 do you say when people ask what it’s like to work at Harrods? 
It’s a wonderful business to work for. The people who work at Harrods are normal hard-working people who all have a shared passion for what they do. Harrods provides an environment where people can strive and do things differently, offers opportunities, and wants the best for the community and its people. There is a true ethos of excellence that runs throughout all the teams and there are so many talented people working here.  

Tell us a bit more about your team 
My team are the guardians of brand integrity. Harrods is nearly 175 years old; our reputation has been built since 1849 and that name, Harrods, is synonymous with excellence. Whatever we sell must reflect what is on the label and what our customers expect of us; a safe product that is the best of the best. We must be able to defend that product with objective evidence and facts. That is our due diligence and that is what my team stands for.

As a team, we are “techy” people. We are essentially scientists but what makes us different is we are scientists with commercial awareness. When you strip food down, it’s basically a natural product from a plant or an animal. The natural product has a finite shelf life quite short in most cases.

Shelf life may be hours, sometimes days. Humans want to extend the length of shelf life to fit in with our lifestyle and also to introduce flair and complexity. As soon as you start to do that through processing i.e moving from its natural state and extending life, you introduce risk. As a team, we have to understand the chemistry and microbiology in these changes so we can mitigate that risk for the benefit of the consumer. We also have to maintain the taste and quality as we do that. Safety and quality can fight against each other, my team does everything they can to keep the safety at the highest level but maintain the quality and goodness that makes our customers come back for more. We try to get that balance right in ways that other businesses cannot. 

What does the Art of the Possible mean to you? 
One thing I always say is, “everything is possible”. When there is a request I ask – how can we make that happen? Once you say something is impossible, you become a ‘me too’. Harrods is not a ‘me too’ business, it cannot be. We must stay ahead of the competition by leveraging all of our experience and by going the extra mile to provide customers with the excitement and delight that they come to Harrods for. 

One example is how the Food Safety team supported the Commercial team with the launch of the very successful water infused with fruit. When the request came through, the initial reaction from the team was ‘this isn’t possible’ and it is clear to see why. This sort of product would normally be made in a factory with space set aside to prepare the fruit for that purpose. There was so much that could go wrong but we put in simple but highly effective procedures to keep the fruit “sterile” before filling. This may not have been possible two years ago, but now it is and really shows what can be done if you make the effort. 

Which of the values resonates with you most? 
There is a place for all the values but the one that stands out for me is We Build Trust. Our values are primarily internal people values guiding how we interact with each other. In my view, these values are just as relevant in our dealings with our most valuable stakeholders, our suppliers, and our customers. Our loyal customers come to Harrods year on year and are prepared to pay the premium because they trust our brand. I often hear people say, “It’s Harrods, it must be good” - we must live up to that trust. Failing to do that will result in a fallout that could be very difficult to recover from. It’s all about trust, our best people guard that providence. 

What are you most proud of working at Harrods? 
When I joined Harrods the Technical Team were not well known. By the end of 2020, we can proudly say that the Technical Team and Food Safety Team are recognised as a group of professionals doing vital work to help guard the integrity of the Harrods brand. We have created a centre of excellence with sound technical knowledge and are trusted by the business to guide and guard that Harrods brand.  

Finally, what is your Uniquely You? 
Most people will not know that I started my MBA with two children; a two-and-a-half-year-old and an 18-day old and by the time  I finished a year later I had my third child who was also 18-days old! I couldn't have planned that if I tried! 

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