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  • Role: Store Management Trainee
  • University: Oxford
  • Degree: Modern History

Richard Hodges

Where and what did you study?

I studied at Oxford University, reading Modern History at The Queen’s College. The course itself was superb, it offered a great deal of flexibility around what, and when, you read – and supported this with tutorials with leading researchers on your chosen subject.

Did you go on a gap year?

After Oxford, and before joining Tesco, I took a year out to play cricket in Sydney and then travel around South East Asia…it was fantastic! Before travelling around Asia, I had to sit down and plan a route – with costings and timings, valuable skills to be practising before starting a career in retail. Once I arrived in Asia, it was great to sample different cultures to what I had previously experienced. Furthermore, being in countries where English was not the first language, and in some places barely spoken, meant I was able to develop my communication skills.

All in all, I’m really pleased to have taken the year abroad, and feel it stood me in good stead for life in Tesco.

Why did you choose retail as a career?

Retail is an exceptionally fast-paced environment, with its own fascinating challenges. Within a shop, you are managing numbers to deliver budgets – and with that comes the opportunity of working with, and managing, teams of people. There are not many other industries that give graduates such opportunities so quickly.

How did you start in this industry?

After successfully getting through Tesco’s application process, I began as a graduate trainee in Regent Street Metro, in Central London. It was a great place to start, and I was paired with a brilliant store manager who always took time out of his day to coach and support me. Even now, two years down the line, I can still pick up the phone and get his advice on anything I want.

What are the schemes at Tesco like?

Tesco had 13 different graduate programmes when I started, and I joined the Store Management Scheme. On it, you get the best of both worlds; real experience in shops combined with great support from the office. The scheme itself ran for 18 months, and was mainly about my own development. Numerous training materials were made available, and there are great people within the business to learn from.

Everyone knows of Tesco, but can you give us some insight into the company?

Tesco is the UK’s leading retailer, offering almost everything possible to consumers – after all, we now even own a bank! It’s a seriously forward thinking business that wants its people to develop, and crucially enjoy what they do. The opportunities are endless, with the option of working all over the world. There’s a constant pursuit of excellence, and a desire to do everything better, and within that there’s a ‘one team’ approach – the camaraderie is brilliant.

What is a typical day like for you?

A cliché, but there isn’t one and that is part of the attraction. Within a ‘normal’ week, you’ll be managing people, thinking about how to deliver budgets as well as your vision for your shop and people. However, unexpected events always come along – for instance, last month the G20 protests were right outside my shop! And only this week, all of my backroom chillers went down meaning deliveries had to be rescheduled and rotas shuffled about.

How does your job impact on the business?

Currently, I’m running a Metro in Central London. Tesco has four different formats of shop (and graduates in all of them), of which Metro is designed to cater for shoppers on the high street, with typically a lower basket spend than a Superstore or Extra. The complexity is in maintaining a great shopping trip within a relatively small space – I have 30,000 customers coming through my doors each week.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Without a doubt, the people and atmosphere within Tesco. There’s a real team environment in which we all work together to try and deliver the best possible results.

What else would you like to achieve?

A lot, I’m only just beginning my career – many of the current board started on the grad scheme.

Do you have any general advice for graduates wanting to get into this industry?

Try to say yes to every opportunity, and be as flexible as possible. In retail, chances come along very quickly and your plans have to accommodate this if you want to move through quickly.

What do you think is the biggest myth about your industry?

That we’re always stacking shelves. Sure there are times when you need to do that, but if you get to run a shop, you’ll be responsible for running a business with possibly a multi-million pound annual turnover.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned since graduation?

I’m not sure it’s since graduation, but definitely the biggest thing is to listen to others. Within a shop context, there is always someone who will know more than you on a particular routine – make sure you ask for their advice.

And finally, how do you escape at the end of a hard day’s work?

Usually through sport – or failing that, enjoying some of the many attractions London has to offer.

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