Alex Sowther has been working at Deliveroo for almost two years and has progressed within the company to the position of UK Planning and Performance Manager for emerging markets. As a Kent Business School Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with a year in industry graduate, Alex talks to us about his current role and offers career tips for students and graduates.
Could you describe your current role?
My title is Planning and Performance Manager for the UK Emerging Markets. The role is within the Operations Department, which means I work with a large range of teams to keep riders and customers happy. As I work with UK emerging markets, my markets are young, and scaling fast. The team needs to problem solve to ensure they scale at the right speed to ensure a fantastic customer experience, and that riders love working with us.
Tell me about a typical day?
What I love about Deliveroo is that there really is no such thing as a typical day. Every day presents new challenges, problems and opportunities to improve our service and learn. My role has evolved constantly since being at Deliveroo, which is hugely exciting. To begin with, we would often do unscalable activities to grow, however the business is now at a stage where we must scale effectively. My role is heavy on problem solving, data analysis and team work, which I love.
I have on average 3-4 meetings a day, which will be with my associates and other departments (product, tech, support, commercial, marketing). Our team works on various different projects as well as managing various different markets across the UK.
What kinds of problems do you deal with?
We deal with everything from starting cities, scaling them, to making them super efficient. We’ve become very good at identifying problems and have processes in place now to fix them quickly.
In operations we need to ensure that every market is running efficiently, meaning riders, restaurants and consumers are happy. When undergoing analysis, we’ll find plenty of quick wins to improve cities, but sometimes problems require input from various different teams, which adds a layer of complexity.
What kinds of decisions do you make?
My role has changed from very reactive to strategic, proactive decision making. Like every job, ad-hoc tasks throw up problems which require a quick fix, but my role has evolved as I’ve progressed to allow for longer term thinking (in the Deliveroo world, long term is about a month!).
What sorts of changes are occurring in your occupation?
The business is scaling so fast across the world. Deliveroo recently received an additional round of funding ($385 million) to help with the growth of the business. My role has changed a lot over the year, and I’ve gone from managing half of London, to half of the UK, which has been a fantastic experience. I work more closely with different departments across the business, where a year ago this would be less common. Operations is an occupation which evolves with the business, and changes along with the technology.
What were the keys to your career advancement?
It’s all about the soft skills. I really recommend getting a mentor within the company you work at, as well as outside it. Learning from people in the role you want is really important, and the tips they give are helpful for self development as well as career advancement. As well as that, spending time to really understand what you’re working towards, and having a genuine passion for your work is so important. If you’re not passionate about it, you’ll never be world class.
Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work, and how you dealt with it
More often than not, communicating openly with the correct people gets the problem sorted quickly. We’re lucky at Deliveroo to have a flat hierarchy, where team members are given a lot of autonomy. This enables us to action tasks quickly. I have friends who work at much larger or more corporate firms where decision making takes much longer as there are many layers to filter through.
What’s the one moment you’ve experienced that altered the trajectory of your life?
There are lots of moments, but one is when I secured my Year in Industry at Teradata where I worked in campaign management. This was a great step in helping me learn soft skills required in the working world, but more importantly for me, it introduced me to the tech scene in London. I managed to fully immerse myself in the tech/entrepreneurship lifestyle for that year out of university, founding a company with a friend, hiring an intern, and at the same time, undertaking a full-time internship at Spotify. This was difficult due to the time investment, but I learnt a lot about myself, including what I loved doing and what I hated. This enabled me to shape my final year modules around my passions, which definitely helped my final grade.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
A very difficult question! I’ve very proud of my current job role, and how I have progressed at Deliveroo. I’ve also won a hackathon at a global level, representing London against teams from the US and Europe. I was fortunate enough to pitch to 300 people in Poland, something I really enjoyed doing.
If you could have dinner with six people who would they be?
Elon Musk (founder of Tesla, SpaceX), Jack Ma (founder of Alibaba), Sandi Toksvig (comedian and presenter), Barack Obama (former US president), Stephen Hawking (scientist) and Sophia (first robot to be given citizenship). Elon Musk would be fantastic conversation about the future, Jack Ma would keep the conversation flowing regarding Asia (a place in the world I’d like to know more about), Sandi is a fascinating presenter who I grew up listening to, Barack Obama would provide thoughtful observations about the current political environment, Stephen Hawking is the smartest guy alive who can speak about space and the future and his time in Big Bang Theory (equally important). Sophia the robot would be incredibly interesting, as she has just been awarded citizenship in Saudi Arabia (first robot ever to receive this).
Where do you see yourself in five years?
My aim is to eventually have my own company full time. I have a creative mindset and enjoy creating things from the ground up, which I have had experience doing in the past.
However, I’m also realistic, and understand that running a successful company is done so by managing it well, not just having a great idea. That’s why I’m busy learning as much as possible, improving my soft and hard skills as well as making connections. Until I launch my own company, I’m really loving working at Deliveroo, and aim to progress here.
What special advice do you have for a student looking to enter this industry
To stand out from the crowd, I really advise getting internships and graduate jobs before applying, as this really helps candidates have something to talk about. To work at Deliveroo in the operations team, you need to be smart, a problem solver, good with data and a team player. I advise learning how to manage large data sets (for analysis purposes) as well as sharpening up soft skills, such as communication, focus, negotiation and presenting. It’s a competitive environment, which pushes everyone to improve, so being someone who has a competitive spirit is useful.
Many thanks to Alex for sharing his views. Alex studied a Bachelors in Business Administration (BBA) in 2014 at Kent Business School. Find out more about our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
Alex graduated with Bachelors in Business Administration in 2014 from Kent Business School at the University of Kent including a year in industry placement at Teradata in campaign management. He now works as UK Planning and Performance Manager for emerging markets at Deliveroo.