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Leadership Spotlight – Nicola Chambers, Technical Controller

Leadership Spotlight – Nicola Chambers, Technical Controller

Having joined Ashbury in 2016, Nicola leads a team of 60 professionals to support a major client to achieve compliance and commercial success. Thanks to her extensive background in food manufacturing and retail, she brings a breadth of knowledge, insight and expertise to her role.

But it hasn’t been without challenges. Here, Nicola explores her corporate journey to date, and shares some of the obstacles she’s encountered (and overcome) to get to her position today:

What inspired you to get into the food industry?

“To be completely honest, I stumbled across the food industry by accident – this was never my original plan.

During the second year of my degree in Pharmacology and Physiology I got a job, by chance, working in a factory making gâteau’s – and I really enjoyed it. So, after completing my studies, I joined the Hazelwood graduate scheme via the milk round (where major manufacturers would approach universities to recruit graduates), and through this I began working for a leading manufacturer.”

What’s one piece of advice that someone has given you that’s supported you to your current role?

Over the years, I’ve been lucky to work with and learn from some brilliant individuals within the sector. However, one piece of advice that’s stuck with me the most is: you own a problem until it’s fixed.

This is something I’ve lived and breathed throughout my career – and I try to instil it into my team. You don’t ignore a problem or pass the buck. Yes, you might enlist help or get others involved to support you and assist the project. But it’s yours. You own it, and you sort it.”

Have you encountered any obstacles to pursuing a leadership role?

“Juggling a family has certainly made progressing more challenging. Prior to having children, I had a senior role at a different company but when I got pregnant with my eldest daughter, I knew I couldn’t give 100% to both. So I had to step back.

Unfortunately back then, there was very limited support in place for parents. I requested flexible working to support me with juggling childcare and my career, but they didn’t event consider it – I was handed my P45 instead.

I was lucky to find a role as a Spec Technologist, working three days a week, that allowed me to ‘keep my hand in’ while raising a young family.

When I returned from maternity leave with my second daughter, I was eager to get stuck back in, and picked up where I left off: determined to climb the corporate ladder.

While I absolutely adore being a mum – and wouldn’t change it for the world – I do sometimes wonder if I hadn’t had children (or at that particular time), where would I or could I have ended up.”

Now that you’ve achieved a leadership role, have you encountered any new challenges you have to overcome? 

“While I’m always eager to support working parents and accommodate them as best as possible, it can also pose a challenge managing part-time and flexibility requests.  

At Ashbury, many of our expert team work part-time to allow for a positive life/work balance. However, with high levels of such workers, approving annual leave can mean there’s potential for gaps in the business if not carefully coordinated and controlled, especially around sought-after school holiday periods. 

As a leader, I have to manage expectations and ensure we all work collaboratively in a way that is fair for all employees, upholds our core values, but is – essentially – commercially viable for the business, too.”

Do you think the food industry has enough female representation? 

“This depends on the role. From my own experience having worked in both fields, manufacturing tends to be male-dominated, but Technical and NPD roles are typically filled by women.  

But there could be a number of reasons for this. Firstly, similar to my own experience, it might be due to the fact many women take some time away from their careers to raise a young family. But it could also be that they don’t seek extra responsibility, or that they choose to take longer before taking the leap into a progression path (for a variety of factors).  

At Ashbury, we do have a high number of women in entry-level roles. And while there are less as you go up the chain, we are proud to have a significant number sat in senior positions. Lots of women (and some men, too) choose Ashbury as an employer because they have a family and want to benefit from the flexibility, which is otherwise quite limited elsewhere in the industry.”

Do you have any advice for budding female professionals looking to embark on a career in the food industry? 

“You must be resilient. The industry, (especially manufacturing and retail), is incredibly intense and hard work. But, it’s very rewarding. And gaining this experience in such arenas is invaluable for a career in compliance – without my own background in manufacturing and retail, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” 

Caitlin Stewart, Marketing Manager

My background in Food Science and Marketing means I have a unique combination of commercial creativity and technical food manufacturing experience. My ambition is to bring clarity to the complex world of compliance through the simple and eye-catching communication of Ashbury's services.

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