The Shelby Report and The Grocery Group together present this series, People to Watch, to focus on current and future leadership in the grocery industry. In this installment, Grocery Group Founder and CEO Cindy Sorensen interviews Phyllis Johnson, senior director of business development (own brands) with Catalina USA.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you like to do with your time away from the office?
I enjoy traveling, supporting local non-profits in the Jacksonville community, attending sporting events and fitness/strength training. I am passionate about health, wellness and fitness, so working out early each morning is a must. Spending time with my family is my happy place, whether it is a holiday, vacation or an impromptu get-together.
Please provide a brief description of Catalina.
Catalina is the market leader in shopper intelligence and highly targeted in-store and digital media that personalizes the shopper journey.
Leveraging the world’s richest real-time shopper database, we help CPG brands, retailers and agencies optimize every stage of media planning, execution and measurement to deliver $6 billion in consumer value annually. Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, we have operations in the U.S., Costa Rica, Europe and Japan.
What is your role at Catalina? Responsibilities?
As senior director of business development (own brands) for Catalina, I am part of the U.S. Retail Center of Excellence Team focused on driving cross-functional collaboration to accomplish the needs of the retailers we serve.
Even before COVID, retailers faced numerous challenges. Their time is limited and valuable, so I partner closely with our retail sales teams to ensure we are putting in the hours behind the scenes in order to thoughtfully engage our retail clients with laser-focused solutions that align with their strategies.
I also oversee our own brand strategy, leveraging our company’s 37 years of CPG brand expertise and near real-time analytics and insights to drive growth for private brands that account for $52 billion in annual U.S. sales in our network.
What was your career path to this position?
I began my zig-zagging retail career journey as assistant to a GM of own brands, where I received great foundational industry knowledge. I wanted to understand how the pieces fit together, as I am a big picture thinker and learner, and took every opportunity to cross-train in other departments and help out while others were on vacation or holiday.
This curiosity and willingness to step out of my area of responsibility has stayed with me throughout my career. I have had the privilege to work in various positions, serving numerous retailers throughout the U.S. and even the UK. These experiences led me to Catalina.
I worked with Wes Bean, SVP of Catalina’s Global Network, when he was leading own brand strategy at Southeastern Grocers. Wes and I shared a passion for the success of own brands and quickly developed a great working relationship. When he came to Catalina and saw the opportunity for Catalina to drive own brand growth, he reached out.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
I believe the greatest opportunities are in how we address, embrace and drive true diversity. In the retail industry, the consumer base is as diverse as it comes, and we need leaders who reflect that diversity.
We need leadership development programs that put diversity front and center, so our next generation of leaders see diversity as the key to long-term success.
Successful leaders should believe that diversity of thought and experience at decision-making levels will be the competitive difference in who gains and keeps
the largest market share of loyal consumers and talent.
In what ways does Catalina focus on developing future leadership?
Catalina offer leaders at all levels the opportunity for growth and development. Our robust talent review and succession planning processes identify potential and help build skills and define career progression.
We have a three-tiered formal leadership development program for experienced leaders to increase their acumen and network, and all employees have access to self-paced and instructor-led Franklin Covey programming.
Catalina leaders also have access to an executive coaching program as needed, and an internal organizational development pro, who assists with visioning and teambuilding.
Do you personally play a role in helping to develop/coach/mentor future leadership in the industry, either internally or externally?
Very early in my career, I took a personal interest in mentoring the younger generation and have formally and informally mentored and coached numerous associates in and outside the industry.
I take special interest in mentoring young women, as I saw how difficult it was for so many to gain the confidence and skills needed to move up. Still today, I take pleasure in staying connected with industry contacts who reach out to me when they have an issue, need direction or just an ear to listen.
The payback is receiving a note, email or text message years later, thanking me for the time and advice given.
Did you use or participate in any mentoring/coaching experiences as you developed your career?
I have participated in several formal programs, although I have had more informal mentors and coaches during my career. Why? Because I always keep my eyes open to find people I admire for their integrity, professionalism and overall business acumen. Then, I ask them to serve as a mentor or coach.
I always outline a plan at the beginning of a relationship. I share what I need and ask them how much time they can devote to the relationship and what the weekly deliverables will be. That way, I’m demonstrating my commitment to the mentoring relationship – and the burden is not on them to figure it out.
What advice do you have for college students and young professionals looking at the grocery industry as one where they can build a career?
The grocery industry is incredibly dynamic and interesting, although I am not so sure the industry’s message to college students and young professionals is clear, concise and motivating enough to draw in the young talent.
The industry is not just about the stores. There are numerous jobs, skill sets and unique expertise needed to make our industry run.
I would advise the younger generation to research all the opportunities that exist and talk with as many people to learn as much as they can. In addition, they should find a mentor, raise their hands for special assignments and do everything with excellence and professionalism. A career in the grocery industry can be super rewarding.
What pieces of advice did you receive as you built your career to this point that you found most helpful?
Be authentically you. No one can beat you at being you. Care about others and their success. Give of your time, talent and treasure to others that need help. Lastly, be kind.