Toni Wood has worked at some of the UK’s most well-known brands. And despite her career spanning many sectors, from retail to personal care to food and drink, one thing that ties each role together is her desire to solve problems and be part of change within a business.
“I’m really curious and driven. I always want to be part of driving the growth agenda and building teams,” she explains.
Starting out in a graduate position at Sainsbury’s, Wood’s first role was in the category management department. She explains this job was a great way to kickstart her career because it provided “structured learning”, which was useful at the time as she hadn’t yet decided what she wanted to do.
Wood spent six years at Sainsbury’s before moving to soft drinks giant Britvic to take on a leading role in category management, where she crafted a valuable new set of influencer skills. Three years later, she landed a position at Gillette – which was acquired by Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 2005 – and this role provided her entry into marketing.
After almost a decade at P&G, based in Geneva, Wood decided she wanted to take the skills she had learned to a smaller business, so she accepted the role of group category director at frozen food company Findus. This gave her an opportunity to relocate to Scandinavia.
“I got to a point in my career where I wanted to be part of the bigger agenda, and I had enough tools and experience to reapply them in a different way,” she explains.
Wood spent two years at Findus before returning to the UK, where she put her brand-building skills to good use at Jordans Dorset Ryvita as head of marketing.
She then moved to Costa Coffee in 2014, taking on a digitally-focused position, before landing her current job in 2016 as CMO at furniture retailer DFS. It’s here that Wood believes she is finally able to apply everything she’s learned during her career.
“When you’re more junior you don’t realise how good you are. You don’t understand that everything you’ve learnt is in you and you can take that, and reapply it to anything,” she explains.
From graduate trainee to manager
Sainsbury’s, various roles including category planning manager (1992-1998)
“Sainsbury’s offered me a job on its graduate scheme. This was a great starting point in my career, because I received structured learning, as well as a frame of reference. I learned some essential skills about leading a team and running departments.
“Being part of the journey Sainsbury’s was on at the time really gave me fire and passion. If I take a step back and look at what I’ve done over time there’s a common theme and it’s about the power of data and insights and using that to make better decisions to drive business growth.”
Britvic soft drinks, category development manager (1998-2001)
“In retail, the pace is really fast and you’re always close to the customer. But when you work for a brand or manufacturer you’re removed from the customer, so you don’t have that real-time feedback. The balance of power shifts and you suddenly learn a bunch of different influencing skills.
“For me, that was using the power of data to influence. Category management is theoretically objective, so my job at Britvic was not only to recommend its products, it was [to use data to provide insight that would best grow the category for our retail partners, as well as the Britvic portfolio of brands].
Taking on a European role
Gillette (then Procter & Gamble), various roles including senior category manager and associate marketing director (2001-2010)
“After Britvic, I took on a bigger role as category manager for Gillette. I was based in the UK when they asked me if I’d be interested in applying for a role in the European oral care team, which would mean moving to Geneva.
“That’s when you have to ask yourself, ‘what’s the risk?’ You need to have people around you who will give you the confidence to take that leap.
“At Gillette Europe, I encountered Alan Sutherland, the vice-president for oral care. I told him I really wanted to get into marketing and he was brilliant. He said I still needed to do my category management job, but I could take on part of the marketing agenda to see if I liked it.
“[Thanks to him] I went from being a European category manager with a little bit of marketing to being one of the lead directors in the oral care business.”
Change of pace
Findus Group, group category director (2010-2012)
“Findus has more equity in European countries than it does in the UK. If you go to Scandinavia people are proud of and love the Findus brand. Frozen food as a category also has a completely different reputation – it is viewed as a way to preserve vitamins and ensure nutrition is locked in.
“Chris Britton [then CEO] was highly ambitious. He was tasked with putting Findus back together. It was a really exciting time. It was less the brand, and more Chris’ ambition for the future, that really caught my attention. I was working in Scandinavia for about nine or 10 months, which was an experience I never would have got if I’d stayed in a big blue-chip.”
Moving back to the UK
Jordans Dorset Ryvita, head of marketing (2012-2014)
“A few headhunters said it would be really useful for me to return to Britain and take on a UK marketing role. I spent nine years in Geneva where I was a global marketer, but you need to demonstrate that you can come back and work in a UK environment where your day-to-day dealings involve going to a supermarket and justifying why your products should be on its shelves.
“I felt an immediate connection with Carol Welch [former marketing director] at Jordans who was my first female boss. She had worked at Pepsi, so we shared a similar language. Because of my brand-building skills from P&G, she absolutely understood the frameworks I would use and I understood hers. It meant we had an easy vocabulary about what we wanted to do with the brand.”
Focus on technology
Costa Coffee, global brand and digital director (2014-2016)
“Carol Welch [now global CMO at Costa] presented me with a role that got me really excited, because it was focused on brand strategy and innovation, but was also 80% digital. Carol believed Costa didn’t have as much [digital capability] as she wanted it to.
“In most of my career I’ve had the sales director or local business unit director as my day-to-day contact, but this role was different because I was partnering with the chief technology officer every day and working out what we needed to change in the technology infrastructure.
“If you just stay in marketing you don’t necessarily get the opportunity to truly understand how you build the tech platforms required before you arrive at digital marketing.”
A great growth opportunity
DFS, chief marketing, commercial and manufacturing officer (2016-present)
“DFS wasn’t a brand I knew a lot about. It wasn’t a category I knew incredibly well either. When you start to research DFS as a business, however, it’s fascinating because it’s vertically integrated. It owns the customer journey from the point of using customer insight to design a product to then buying that product either from a third party or in-house.
“DFS is four times bigger than its next competitor. It’s a big brand to play with and has massive appeal, but it’s also got a great growth opportunity. When you better understand that, it’s interesting.
“I got to define what [digital marketing] meant for DFS and spent my first two years implementing clear segmentation. We did not possess a clear idea of what our positioning was and we didn’t have a strategy.
“Everybody – no matter what part of the communication channel you work in – has to understand how digital works, because it touches everything.”
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