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2021 Star Women in Grocery winner Penney McTaggart Cowan (Q&A)

Senior-level Star

Penney McTaggart Cowan

Vice-president, Marketing & Member Experiences Chair, Calgary Co-op Foundation
Calgary Co-op


How did you get into the grocery business?

I’m passionate about marketing and retail, and I love to eat, so grocery is the ideal place for me. I love everything about it. Calgary Co-op has always been attractive—a fantastic history, great brand, unique assortment and strong connections to the community. To be part of this organization is a privilege, and I am excited to contribute to its growth and to shape our future.

What would you say is your best quality?

Resilience. Not only being resilient, but also demonstrating resilience, which is always key to ensuring that others are also able to adapt. The past year has been all about resilience. We have had to make many changes and adapt in ways we never thought possible, all while working remotely, but we did it and we are emerging stronger for it.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?

The greatest challenge and risk in my career has been in making the change from a successful career in consumer market research to move to client-side and take on marketing planning for a national retailer. As a market researcher, I would deliver research reports and insights, but it was an entirely new experience to implement these insights into marketing plans and activities with direct sales implications. It was exciting and slightly terrifying all at the same time! It was a challenge to make the pivot and a big risk, but I learned a lot about myself and lots of lessons along the way. It was entirely worth it.

What are some of your biggest career highlights/greatest achievements?

I am most proud of the work we do to engage our members and the community to support those who need it the most. Being a cooperative, we have always had strong ties to the community and throughout the pandemic we engaged our team, the larger organization, and our members to support those most directly impacted by the pandemic. The results were stunning, and together with our members in 2020 we contributed $2.2 million in food and funds directly back to the communities we serve!

How would you describe your leadership style?

Leadership is about people: identifying their strengths and allowing them to play to those strengths, along with coaching when needed. This includes ensuring that people feel supported and have what they need to accomplish what is required. For me, it’s about developing a deep understanding of what makes people “tick,” understanding their fears, and actively listening to ensure they have been heard. I want my team to know that I am supportive of the path forward. I believe in my team, and I know what they are capable of achieving; it is my role to provide guidance, help assess risk, and ensure we are aligned to broader organizational goals. I have been very fortunate to have had incredible leaders and mentors in my career, and I think my style is a combination of all of these people.

What do you like most about your job?

I am part of an incredible organization and part of a fantastic team. They inspire and challenge me, and through it all I am continually growing as a person, leader and marketer.

Click here for the full list of 2021 Star Women in Grocery award winners.

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