2021 Star Women in Grocery winner Deb Craven (Q&A)
Canadian Grocer staff
Chief Financial Officer
How did you get into the grocery business?
I have been very fortunate to have worked at wonderful companies (Purolator, Nike, Canadian Tire, Deloitte) where I learned a lot about logistics, retail, problem solving and agility—all from amazingly knowledgeable team members. That set me up well for a call from the Longo’s team, whose CFO was retiring. It was a big decision as my husband and I were living in Calgary at the time, but it felt like a great way to weave together all that experience and knowledge, while learning about an entirely new-to-me industry. My discussions with the Longo family and the leadership team about the opportunity reinforced what a great culture it would be to work in. Our two adult children and extended family were back in Ontario as well, which made it a definite win/win.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Have a point of view—based on the facts available and what is best for the team and the business—and share it. How many times have you sat in a discussion with a question or point that you feel strongly about, but held back because a) maybe it shows you don’t fully understand what is being discussed; b) it might be taking the discussion on a different path; or c) it isn’t in your “swim lane.” You are in finance, you think, so should you jump in with a point about operations? What inevitably happens is that someone else asks that same question or raises that exact point and everyone comments on what a great question it is, and it generates fantastic discussion! You end up mentally kicking yourself for not saying it, but do the same thing at a future meeting. Jump into the discussion, ask questions and learn about other areas of the company. Also, don’t underestimate the power of thanking someone, with sincerity and full acknowledgement of what they do.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
Implementing a project that would have a profound impact on the business and generate significant benefits if it worked well. It didn’t work well at the beginning. The hard part was assessing that it could, and what needed to be true to get there, while creating the space and support for the team to make it happen. There was a strong level of doubt from outside the project team, which made it difficult to keep the team motivated. A strong team with an amazing ability to identify the core issues and answer the “what needs to be true to fix them?” questions were the key. (And it worked!)
What are some of your biggest career highlights/greatest achievements?
Some of my favourite moments are when a team member is hesitant to take on a challenge, is encouraged and supported to take a risk, and then they soar. Often, they don’t think they have 95% of the skills or experience to be successful, and want to wait for the perfect project that fits their existing skill set. It isn’t going to happen and, on the rare chance it does, it isn’t going to give you the opportunity to stretch and grow.
This past year was a significant highlight. Learning about the grocery industry during a pandemic while also working on a new partnership between Longo’s and Empire was exhilarating, all-consuming and so rewarding. Playing a role in setting up the next chapter for Longo’s growth and having the chance to help drive the growth going forward has definitely been a chance to stretch and grow, which is what I love.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Caring, collaborative and focusing on opportunities—hopefully with some laughter and lightness as part of the mix. We all work so hard and dedicate a lot of our time to our careers and, if this past year has taught us anything, it is that family and our lives outside of work are the core of who we are. While I missed seeing team members in person, the silver lining was the chance to get to know them a little better by meeting children, significant others, pets (and the occasional delivery person) over video calls. We all have a better sense of the whole person each of us brings to work each day now.
What do you like most about your job?
The culture at Longo’s is focused on “family” and building happy, healthy lives. It is unwavering, and every decision is truly made with that lens. We had some incredibly difficult decisions to make this pandemic year, navigating in mostly uncharted waters with fewer facts than we would have liked at times. During those many video calls we always went back to what would be best for our team members and our guests. It didn’t always generate the easiest course of action, but when you are treating people like family, it was the only course of action that made sense.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am overwhelmed and so grateful for this recognition. My team is made up of exceptional people and I am incredibly lucky to work with them.
Click here for the full list of 2021 Star Women in Grocery award winners.