Transition Story: FTSE 100 – The Power of Career Planning

FTSE 100: In control of your career

Marcus Denison left the army as a Captain in 2013 and joined Tesco as a buying manager. He’s now Head of Business Resilience and chair of Tesco’s own Armed Forces Network. Here he shares his career journey, with tips for transitioning to FTSE 100 companies.

What were your career ambitions leaving the army?

I was a junior infantry officer and prior to leaving had never considered having anything other than a career in the Army. I had no idea what I wanted to do afterwards – The world of business was completely alien to me. Most of my friends who were also leaving had aimed themselves at Financial Services, this didn’t resonate with me. I wanted to be in an organisation that made something or moved stuff about.

I thought working in a FTSE 100 company would be most likely to provide me with the time, space and expertise to learn and understand a world I was very new to.

Despite the fact that Tesco ticked all the boxes I had put it to the back of the queue, relatively early in my resettlement planning. My naivety of how a company worked meant I couldn’t disassociate working for Tesco from being a manager of a store; something I didn’t want to do. However, a friend highlighted a particular opportunity in Tesco’s Head Office and began the process of my transition.

What has been your career path in Tesco?

I was recruited into Tesco’s procurement department before my last day in the army. I left the army. There was an assessment day where we were given a problem, a short time to solve it, and we had to present our solution. A softer version of Regular Commissions Board/Army Officer Selection Board. It was something I was very comfortable doing.

I joined Group Procurement with very limited understanding of what I was supposed to be doing. I had not decided that this was what I wanted to progress with for the rest of my life, but I knew it was a foot in the door to an organisation I wanted to learn from. I was made to feel very welcome and reassured that my lack of knowledge was not a problem as they recognised my other skills.

I spent six to eight months in Procurement before I started to move across the business. I was recruited into Group Communications, I worked briefly on a project team before I moved into my current role as Head of Business Resilience. In each of these different roles, there was an opportunity to use what I had learnt in the military to add value to how the business worked. Even though sometimes these opportunities were, to some extent, obvious, they were not always easy to deliver.

So far at Tesco, I haven’t followed a career path with a particular destination in mind. The path I have taken has been as a result of seizing opportunities as they presented themselves. In terms of my long-term ambition, to a large extent, that is still an unanswered question for me. So, having just left, there’s no need to be concerned if that’s your position.

What training should I consider, before applying?

Going through the resettlement process you are bombarded with sales bumf for courses like PRINCE2 or Lean Six Sigma. It’s very tempting to spend your resettlement money on these courses. Think of your resettlement money as cash in your pocket and spend it really wisely. You are at a vulnerable stage in your life and throwing a couple of thousand pounds at a course may seem like it will secure you a future role; it probably won’t. If you’re planning on applying to a large company, these qualifications are unlikely to tip the balance in terms of whether or not you’d get the role.

More important, I’d argue, is that you can demonstrate how your skills and experience can transfer to the commercial world.

How can people transitioning make their skills work in a FTSE 100 company like Tesco?

First, recognise your own value. The people who struggle more with transition are those who don’t recognise the value of their military experience. There’s a tendency for some to write off what they know as irrelevant to a civilian company. Qualities in common to most military candidates are the ability to plan and execute and the motivation to overcome obstacles.

Your experience is incredibly valuable to an organisation, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily obvious or easy to translate. Problems that would have been quickly dealt with in the military might take longer to solve in a company.

The tenacity and the methods you’ve learned are what you most have to offer here. Don’t try to be what you’re not. When I worked in procurement for Tesco I wanted to know how I was going to change from an infantry captain to a Buying Manager. I assumed to be successful I needed to be more like the others in the room. One of the people who recruited me gave me a fantastic piece of advice: “We hired an Infantry Captain, be an Infantry Captain.” Your military experience will likely be a differentiator; don’t seek to be the same as the people around you. Instead, listen and make the calls based on your experience so far.

How far are you in control of your career?

Probably more in control that I’d like to be! Unlike in the military, career planning in a FTSE 100 company like Tesco is entirely up to you. There’s no board or committee that plans where you’re going. It’s a very different way of managing people than you’ll be used to.

In some ways that’s good and in some way it’s bad. You can sit still and do what you’re doing, but then you risk stasis. If you want to go forward, you need to open your eyes and always be looking at where you are now and where you want to go.

What tips would you offer to those looking to work for Tesco or other FTSE 100 companies?

1. Know what you want. If you want to progress, think of short and long term goals.
2. Use your experience. Learn how to recognise where a skill you already have can be applied to a business problem. Have the confidence to follow your intuition.
3. Know yourself. Don’t forget your value and experiences. They matter and have a huge value to employers. Remember the roles you’ve fulfilled and build on the strengths you already have, rather than imagine they don’t apply. They absolutely do.

To find out more about what you can expect from working at a FTSE 100, take a look at our webinar on Head Office Opportunities at a FTSE 100 – Tesco