2021 Star Women in Grocery winner Sandra Veledar (Q&A)
Canadian Grocer staff
Vice-President, Information Technology and Digital
How did you get into the grocery business?
I have always been passionate about food. As a newcomer to Canada in my teens, family trips to Farm Boy perusing high piles of fresh produce made us feel at home, and I continued to be an avid customer throughout my life, always in awe of the experience and products the stores deliver each day. Prior to joining the team, I built up a wide-ranging skillset by starting with a technical career as an engineer, adding a business foundation with an MBA and then honing my business transformation and service delivery skills at a “big four” consulting firm. Looking for my next challenge, I saw a big opportunity to help Farm Boy scale through a significant growth phase and I decided to take a risk and reach out to the Farm Boy leadership team. When I heard back from them, we built a relationship, which ultimately led to us working together to shape my new role. I am immensely proud to share the story with others—especially women—to encourage them to be brave, to go off the beaten track and take action to carve their own career paths.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Perfection gets in the way of progress. My time at Farm Boy has taught me not to be afraid to trust my judgement and make decisions with the best information available at the time, rather than wait for things to be perfect—which they never are. I have learned that the key to success is to get going, identify and mitigate risks as needed, and pivot along the way as you learn. Planning is important, but there is a point at which it can hold back making real progress and gaining the wisdom that is only realized through the process itself.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Supporting Farm Boy and our customers through the global pandemic has been the biggest challenge of my career. At the start, all the teams worked together tirelessly through a whirlwind of critical requests evolving by the hour to continue to provide the best and safest customer experience. In IT, we tech-enabled a traditional workforce to work from home or safely distanced, supported new operational requirements in retail stores and production sites, and launched an e-commerce service with a customer support centre in three weeks flat. Subsequently, we went on to support a year of highest retail store growth to date through the waves and challenges of the pandemic. Overall, this has been a challenge like no other, but also a most rewarding experience to see everyone rise to the occasion and innovate under unprecedented circumstances.
What’s your proudest career moment?
When I joined Farm Boy there was no IT project delivery team. Working together we built up a strong, cross-functional team that complements the existing talent and together delivers the next generation of IT services. The moments I feel most professional pride are when I get to see the team flowing in unison delivering value and watching the individuals reach new heights.
How would you describe your leadership style?
If you asked someone at work about me, they would probably tell you that I’m not a quiet person and that I’m passionate about what I do. I try to bring that energy to my team and colleagues every day. As a leader, I work to set an inspiring vision, lay out a roadmap of how we will get there and equip the team with the guiding principles, tools and information they need. Then I empower them to get the job done, with support along the way. I push myself and my team hard to achieve strong results and I put a priority on creating a culture of high performance, but I also try to sprinkle a little fun in, too. We work hard, spend a lot of energy on how we collaborate as a team and grow as individuals, but we also laugh a lot. That’s an important balance to strike and one that I always keep top of mind with how I lead.
What do you like most about your job?
I am grateful that I have been able to find a way to marry my love for technology with my love for food. I work with a great group of people and I am proud when we deliver new digital experiences to our customers or provide our operational teams with better tools to succeed in their roles. We know that when our teams are working at their best, our customers benefit—and that’s what matters most to me. We have a real opportunity to improve people’s grocery experience and ultimately how they feed themselves and their families. This ability to play a role in making people’s lives better is the best part of my job.
Click here for the full list of 2021 Star Women in Grocery award winners.