Agriculture Performance Improvement Manager
British Sugar, Peterborough UK
After a promising start to her career at British Sugar, Izzy pursued the opportunity to take part in our International Exchange Programme (IEP) to work on projects in some of our Illovo Sugar Group countries in Africa. We caught up with Izzy to find out about her experiences and how she’s taken these key learnings back into the business at British Sugar to help her thrive in her current role.
Share what a typical week is like for you? What do you get up to?
"As Agriculture Performance Improvement Manager, I look at all aspects of what our Agriculture team do and identify ways in which we can improve across our supply chain. This includes looking at our agronomy practices, efficiency of processes and relationships with growers, all of which come together to help drive the growth of British Sugar. As part of this, a typical day for me involves project managing multiple workstreams at different stages of their project life cycle, pulling together business cases and identifying opportunities for future work, thanks to having an overall view of all project workstreams and the latest figures to track how each project is progressing. The work can be very varied, as our programme initiatives cover a broad scope, from innovation and sustainability, to yield true potential, to crop risk management. No two weeks are alike, and this is one of the things I love about my role. On each project, I collaborate with a range of teams within British Sugar, across our supply chain, to external domestic stakeholders including the British Beet Research Organisation and the National Farmers’ Union, to other AB Sugar companies in Spain, China, our Illovo Group in Africa, and other ABF companies such as Primark.
"What most excites me about my role is working with the project teams to tackle our largest challenges and finding the pathways to unlock opportunities. I really enjoy problem-solving and putting all the pieces together end to end, scaling out to the big picture and back into the smallest detail. The more complex, the better, as it makes delivering the outcome more rewarding. One project I worked on recently involved working with the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) and AB Sugar to develop a warning model to communicate any upcoming risk of the crop disease Cercospora to growers, so they can take preventative measures against this disease that can be economically damaging to sugar beet yields and proactively mitigate the effect this can have."
What made you want to get involved in the IEP? Where did you go and what projects were you involved in?
"It was opportunities like the IEP that made joining British Sugar an attractive career prospect as the breadth of the AB Sugar network is so extensive. Being hosted by a different company, in a different country, with a different culture, the opportunities for personal and professional development are vast and it was a great way to continue stretching and developing myself whilst extending my network. It’s clear there’s lots of choice and opportunity on offer within the AB Sugar group to those passionate about pursuing other opportunities and gaining wider experience, and there are many examples of those who have embarked on the IEP to do just that and have gone on to have an exciting and varied career within the group.
"I spent most of my six months working in our Illovo Sugar Group operations in Africa. The first part was in Malawi, split between Nchalo and Dwangwa, then moving on to Ubombo in Eswatini, finishing in Durban in South Africa at Illovo’s headquarters. Across Nchalo, Dwangwa, and Ubombo, I worked on twenty-six projects in total, which provided significant insight into the internal dynamics of different business systems, processes and operating models. It’s unusual to work on so many projects on an IEP and to move around so much, however Illovo was going through significant change and had launched new programmes of work which I helped to scope out the projects, develop the business cases and build the project teams for. On certain projects I facilitated kicking them off and setting up the communications and processes, and for others, establishing pilots for how large scale change could work.
One project I worked on involved addressing the variation in cane deliveries into Ubombo’s sugar mill, which included a review of the available data and speaking to all involved in the process, in order to put forward insights and recommendations. Another project led me to setting up a data capture process to maximise opportunity in Nchalo’s irrigation systems, to make both processes more efficient. My experience and learnings from both these projects help me in my current role and the performance improvement work I’m doing for British Sugar.
During my time in Africa, I quickly learnt that I couldn’t rely on my tried and tested approaches that worked in the UK and embarked on a steep learning curve to become effective in these new situations in a new working environment. It’s been rewarding to keep in touch and hear how our work has come to fruition as the projects have evolved over time, and that’s one of the benefits of being part of the AB Sugar Community - an internal tool we have to connect with over 2,000 people from across multiple disciplines. It’s a really useful tool for sharing our learnings and successes and also for getting advice on how to turn a challenge into an opportunity."
What was the main highlight from your IEP?
"Moving across the different estates gave me the chance to identify opportunities to bring good practice and key learnings from one site to another. I’ve worked on some very successful projects, where one of the key challenges was how to get stakeholders involved. After carefully scoping out the project and identifying the potential value-add it could have, I had to think about how to influence buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders that would be required to execute it. So, I put my new ways of thinking and new approach to influencing into practice. Every challenge presents an opportunity and I’m not one to back down from a challenge or not capitalise on an opportunity. Therefore, one of my highlights from the IEP was, after weeks of planning, organisation and determination, standing in a field at the end of the day after completing a successful trial which proved it could be done! Looking back, my ability to influence grew exponentially as I had to challenge existing practice and change perceptions without direct authority. Overall, I learnt a completely different way of doing things and it opened my eyes to how solutions could be implemented in different markets and across cultural boundaries. This was a key learning experience for me and I’ve taken what I’ve learned back into the business with me in British Sugar and it helps me in my current role every day.
"Another highlight had to be the opportunity to explore the incredible countries I was working in, and the local teams went out of their way to show me all on offer, from climbing Mount Mulanje, to snorkelling in Cape Vidal after a trip to the Drakensberg, and many braai’s, unfortunately sometimes accompanied by watching England get beaten by South Africa in Rugby (which wasn’t a highlight…)."
What did you want to be when you were growing up? And where do you see yourself in the future?
"I’ve never been interested in limiting my scope by selecting from an early age a distinct career path and I believe there’s great benefit in experiencing a diverse range of roles when it comes to your personal development, especially in the early stages of your career. My career path to date has developed organically and both my positions so far at British Sugar have been new roles. If what I’m doing is challenging me and I’m being impactful whilst working with inspiring people, that always seems to have worked for me from a young age.
"The opportunities within British Sugar and AB Sugar are diverse and although I’ve not got a defined set of roles I’d like to work my way through, I’m confident that the network I’m developing through greater exposure will help me identify my next steps. British Sugar have been very supportive of my personal development, IEP being one such example, and I’m positive that in British Sugar and the wider AB Sugar group I can continue to find new challenges.
"The one piece of advice I’d give to those starting out their career journey is use your curiosity and fresh pair of eyes to really challenge existing practice, and your initiative to propose new ways of doing things. The graduates that I’ve managed in my time in the business so far that have made an impact have brought solutions to me that have then given them an opportunity to take responsibility for something, rather than wait for it to be handed to them. As well as identifying solutions and adding value to the business, I’ve enjoyed helping graduates develop just as the business provided the same opportunity to me."