Combining creativity and common sense is Debbie’s award-winning innovation formula

July 5, 2018

Debbie Pye, our Strategic Innovation Director, won the Infrastructure Above and Beyond Award at the 2018 FTA Everywoman in Transport and Logistics awards. She was praised for being at the leading edge of innovation globally – and writes here about her work...

When I joined the business 11 years ago I was an industrial engineer, now I’m involved in designing innovative solutions that could change the way we work across the business. It’s absolutely fascinating because the opportunities are endless. It’s a great field to work in, knowing that the solutions we develop today will change the way we work for the next five, 10, 20 years – and doing something that’s never been done before.

I love the whole excitement of doing something new and knowing that sometimes it won’t be 100% right but going through that change curve is fantastic and taking people on that journey is great.

As director of strategic innovation my responsibility is to help international markets deliver automation, innovation and continuous improvement projects, and support team members with their development. At the moment in the UK we’re looking at a number of new projects using automation and robotics and innovative concepts.

I am genuinely passionate about what I do and I always try and engage people early in the process. It's challenging to get someone engaged when you’re already part way through the change process.

One way to convince people of the need to keep innovating is to have a reputation for delivery. So I aim to deliver all projects to a high standard and if something isn’t successful I want to really understand why to make sure we don’t make the same mistake twice.

I see the way we shop in future moving to more online and more on demand as customers have higher expectations for speed, accuracy and low cost. Automation will help us deliver all three. It will help reduce cost, reduce errors and provide a more ergonomic working environment for colleagues to work in.

I’d recommend this as an industry for people who’ve got an engineering or mathematical process mindset. I think there’s a massive opportunity and one that will become bigger.

When you talk to the major automation vendors they’ll tell you there’s already a shortage of skills in the industry. I also think there’s a massive opportunity to reskill some of our own colleagues to join the engineering, maintenance and support teams. I’d also like to see more and more women come into the industry. We’re still massively outnumbered by men but I’m seeing more and more skilled young females coming through. If I meet bright people who are really interested in this line of work I try to encourage them to join the teams because there’s a massive opportunity. The more we see female role models in the industry the more that will encourage others to come into it.

When I left school I went to work in a clothing manufacturing company where I did my qualifications and got a postgraduate diploma in Ops Management, then a Masters degree in Business. After that I decided I wanted to see the world so I became a flight attendant for two and a half years! Then I joined MFI as an industrial engineer before coming to work at Asda.

Being a flight attendant was a great experience for developing communication skills and being independent. I actually learned a lot of different skills doing that role. You have to quickly build relationships with teams. On every trip you’re with different people and sometimes you’re away for up to a week, so you really need to build those relationships.

In innovation you need a creative yet logical mind. I meet some people who are really creative but don’t have any common sense – you need a good mix of both creativity and common sense and logic to make sure the solutions we develop can deliver value. And you also need numerical skills which is important when you’re calculating rates and payback. But the main thing is you really have to have an enthusiasm and passion about what you do. You’ve got to give others confidence in you because they’re putting their trust in you to deliver something new.

In my 11 years at Asda I’ve always been given amazing opportunities to grow and develop as an individual. I think if you work hard and have the right attitude everybody in Asda gets that opportunity. There’s a wealth of opportunity in the business if you’re open to developing as an individual and put in the hard yards. I can genuinely say I can’t imagine working for another company that could give you so many opportunities to develop your career.

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