From archaeology to sales director, v2food’s Rory Gilbert has had an unconventional start to his career. He spoke to Retail World about his experiences and journey that lead him to his current role, mentors he has taken inspiration from, and his sentiments on the future of the retail sector in Australia.
Name: Rory Gilbert
Company and title: v2food Sales Director – ANZ
What is your background?
I’m originally from the UK, growing up between Leamington Spa in England and Glasgow in Scotland. I moved to Australia just over seven years ago and recently became a citizen here so now I’m a proud English, Scottish, Aussie.
Where did you start your career?
I had a bit of an unconventional start to my career having graduated from university with a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology. I actually worked on an archaeological excavation called ‘The Poulton Research Project’ near Liverpool in the UK before I eventually started my career in FMCG.
As well as the archaeology, I worked part time in a number of independent retail outlets through school and university and always really enjoyed the interaction with customers and helping them discover great products. I was interested to understand how I could do this on a larger scale and ended up applying to a number of retail and consumer goods graduate schemes. I joined United Biscuits as a graduate account executive on its Morrisons sales team and had the chance to work with some brilliant people that really helped kick-start my career and channel my passion for the retail industry.
What is your current role?
For the last seven years, I worked for Mars Wrigley Confectionery where most recently I was a portfolio director leading a team of marketers in developing and growing some of the world’s most iconic brands and products. I absolutely loved my time at Mars and believe it is a fantastic business, driven by its five principles and genuinely focused on long term sustainable growth.
Earlier this year, I decided to leave Mars and join one of Australia’s most innovative start-ups called v2food as Sales Director.
v2food is a purpose-led organisation, delivering plant-based protein products which are delicious, nutritious and don’t cost the earth. It’s been an awesome experience joining a smaller business on a rapid growth trajectory and playing a role in setting the business up for success in we hope will be generations to come.
If you get the chance, I highly recommend trying the v2burgers or v2mince available in your local supermarket or our Rebel Whopper, which is available at Hungry Jack’s. The products are all made in Australia and are absolutely delicious for vegans and meat eaters alike. I’m really proud to have the chance to introduce these products to people everyday and seeing their reactions as they try them for the first time. It’s awesome.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given?
Whilst I was at Mars Wrigley, I had a great mentor who advised me when hiring people to look for those who are “hungry and humble”. It’s been a useful model to help me spot talent or differentiate candidates through a recruitment process. I’ve also tried to take that forward in my own approach to always have some level of healthy dissatisfaction with results, not get too carried away when winning and not get too discouraged by setbacks. I just try to keep my head down, have a good level of passion for what I’m doing and drive to deliver results.
What advice would you give to those starting their career?
I would say firstly, as you move through your career you will get a clearer idea of what a great line manager feels like for you. When you are looking for new roles, feel empowered to really understand more about the manager and if they are right to support you in your development. Clearly you learn something from every line manager (good and bad) but a great manager can be a game changer in helping you achieve what you want to from your career so feel free to be picky.
Secondly, make bold decisions to broaden your perspective where possible early in your career. This could be getting involved in projects or roles outside of your core areas of expertise which make yourself feel a bit uncomfortable at first. For me this was taking the chance to work in other countries, working in a variety of businesses and moving functions through sales, marketing, and category management. Whilst there is a period of adjustment each time, I’ve found it to be exciting and one of the real benefits of our industry where there are so many opportunities.
A great place to start is by entering the Joe Berry Retail Executive award. The entry process will get you thinking about a topic effecting our industry as a whole and give you the chance to broaden your network too. Further details are available at joeberryaward.com.au.
Who inspires you in our industry and the world?
In FMCG, I was consistently inspired by Indra Nooyi during her time as CEO of PepsiCo. Indra created such a clear vision of a more sustainable future for PepsiCo and defining where growth was going to come from in the future. The strategy was bold, brave and despite being met with mixed feelings from shareholders, Indra pushed forward and has transformed that business.
Through winning the Joe Berry Award in 2017 I had the chance to spend some time with Greg Foran during his time as CEO of Walmart USA. Greg is often referred to as the world’s greatest retailer and I entirely agree. During Greg’s time in the US, Walmart accelerated its growth both in store and online and have held its own as a genuine competitor to Amazon. I believe these results came from Greg’s value driven approach and focus on supporting people every day. He’s an inspirational leader and I’m excited to see what he will deliver for Air New Zealand in his new role.
Outside of our industry, it’s hard not to be inspired by the likes of Greta Thunberg and Elon Musk too. It’s clear we need to make a change as a society to meet our climate goals by 2030 and 2050 as agreed in the Paris agreement and I believe we need more people to speak up and inspire others to make a change like both of them have done in their own unique ways.
What excites you about the future of retail in Australia?
As challenging as Covid has been for so many in Australia and around the world, I am intrigued by the acceleration in technology which we have the opportunity leverage as we come through the other side. I’m interested to see how ecommerce settles in Australia after so many have engaged in online shopping for the first time during the pandemic. I’m keen to see how retail landlords such as Westfield change its strategy to offer affordable rents to struggling retailers and new strategies to engage shoppers both online and offline.
I also believe the pandemic has caused consumers to reflect on what is important to them and their values and we will continue to see growth in more sustainable, Australian made products. This is really exciting for our industry and let’s hope it can be a catalyst for innovation to drive growth back into the market. I believe retail can be a real growth engine to bring the Australian economy back from recession and lead us into a bright new post-Covid future.