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Meet Maheen and learn about her Tesco story

Category: gender, business women, gender and equality, Asian women, career for women

Meet Maheen and learn about her Tesco story

What is your name and job title?

I’m Maheen Piracha and I am 2 weeks into my new role as Head of Range Optimisation. I currently work in Space, Range and Merchandising, where I lead a fantastic team of analysts and project managers to optimise our product ranges for customers across our store formats. I work in partnership with Dunnhumby who look after our Clubcard data and then the commercial, marketing and retail teams to implement the best product ranges and propositions we can for our customers.

What were you doing before you joined Tesco?

I studied Sociology and Philosophy at Bristol University. My parents, being Pakistani, were adamant that I didn’t have a gap year before I started University so they agreed that as long as I got a 2:1 then I could have a gap year and go traveling! We ended up going into a recession so I took the first job I got which was a Teaching Assistant at an all-boys school. It was really tough, but I learned a lot about myself and saved to go traveling to places such as South America. When I returned, I went down the accounting route (which a lot of Pakistani families believe is a good, stable career!) but I didn’t enjoy it. What I did enjoy though, was working with retail clients and helping find opportunities to improve their operation. I had a friend who worked at Tesco and asked if I would consider coming to work at Tesco. So I applied for the graduate scheme, despite having almost 4 years work experience already - that was almost 8 years ago now and I’ve never looked back!

What attracted you to apply for a role at Tesco?

I’d worked with retail clients before and I thought as an industry it was really interesting. You’re able to make a difference and it was more tangible, I could associate with retail and shopping more so than doing audits! The scale of Tesco is huge, they have the biggest retail market share, the scope and the accountably you get at Tesco to make a difference was really appealing.

"The level of breadth and variety at Tesco has been great. I don’t think I would have had this experience this elsewhere."

How long have you worked at Tesco, can you describe your career journey?

Nearly 8 years! Tesco offered me a temporary role before my graduate scheme started as I was free that summer, I worked in General Merchandise, helping to set up their Supply Chain Development programme. Then I started the Graduate Scheme in the September which was an 18 month program, it was three, 5 month rotations, a month in store and a month with a supplier. I worked in Slough Extra which was great, I got to understand how stores worked from doing day shifts, night shifts, working on checkouts, working in the back rooms. I then moved to different parts of the supply chain understanding how it all came together. The last part of the scheme was working with one of our suppliers, Coca Cola - this was brilliant! I never learned the secret formula of what was in Coca Cola but it was so interesting to see how vast our supply chain is and how it worked end to end. After the graduate scheme, I stayed in Supply Chain in the transformation department working in fresh food, looking at how we plan and forecast promotions more collaboratively with suppliers. Then I moved into Produce as the Supply Planning Manager for Seasonal Vegetables which was interesting and very fast paced. On my first day there was a drought that started in Kenya that was 3 months long, there was also an elephant stampede on the crops!! In the last couple of years I was promoted to Programme Manager and led the supply chain transformation programmes for General Merchandise and our International business. The level of breadth and variety has been great. I don’t think I would have had this experience this elsewhere.

How would you describe inclusivity at Tesco?

It’s really important. You spend so much time at work and for me, it’s not just about race, ethnicity or gender, it’s about being yourself and if you can’t be yourself what’s stopping you? In the last few years led by Dave Lewis there has been a shift, we’ve become less corporate and open & we are having everyday conversations around feedback, performance and potential.  I have been the only female manager at times in my department and I have asked myself, why am I in the minority? However, we have been focusing a lot on improving our diversity of thought within the department, particularly this year.  We need to make sure we have a curious mind set, even if you get it wrong, start with, “my intention is to understand you better”. Sometimes people are afraid to ask questions but we need to be leading by example to make that change.

Outside of Tesco, in some situations and even at school I have been in the minority as a Pakistani Muslim woman I have always felt different but some of it is mind talk. What I am trying to do this year is talk about my values, who I am as a person. In the last couple of years I have developed an allergy to light, this has had a big impact for me around working in the office, I just wanted to be normal. I was really worried about talking about it to my team. I spoke with my people partner, she said we can support you with whatever you need. I didn’t want to be treated any differently but everyone is there to help you as much as they can.

What new skills have you gained since joining Tesco?

So many! I have been fortunate to learn on the job and have access to brilliant training courses. Skills include project and programme management, stakeholder management, influencing, technical skills such as MS office, SQL and many more. I have learned how to problem solve on a large scale. We work in such a large organisation, making any changes can have a really big impact. I have also learned how to manage and lead a team in a way that’s authentic to you and in line with your values.

What teams do you collaborate with in your current role?

Commercial Colleagues across Fresh, Packaged Food and General Merchandise. I also work with the Customer team and Dunnhumby to understand what our customers want from our product ranges and propositions.  We also work with Stores and their supporting teams, particularly when you’re making a big change, you need to make sure it works well for our store colleagues as they’re on the front line.

In previous roles, I’ve worked with Central Europe, Thailand, Malaysia, Finance and the Technology teams. The list goes on. There are jobs that I didn’t even know about prior to Tesco, it’s so fascinating!

What is the most exciting part of working in the Commercial Product team at the moment?

The level of accountability and making a difference, I can go to a store and visibly see the difference I am making on a huge scale. That’s the biggest attraction & why I have stayed at Tesco so long, knowing that I have made a difference is what drives me.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking about joining the Tesco Commercial Product team?

It’s a fantastic place to work! Make sure you ask lots of questions, even if you are nervous there will be someone else wondering the same.  Really try and immerse yourself in the business, there are so many opportunities working at Tesco and you really get to learn lots and meet people who help to develop your career.

What is your favourite Tesco own brand product?

I love the Tesco finest chocolate cake and also our asparagus, particularly during British asparagus season!



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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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