‘The stakes are undoubtedly higher’
My Career Path: Martin Cunningham works on Lidl’s graduate programme
Martin Cunningham: “The position of a graduate is an enviable one”
What did you study and when did you graduate?
I graduated in May 2019 and started working with Lidl the following September. I am a graduate of DCU’s unique Global Business USA program. I was fortunate enough to spend two years studying in DCU followed by two years in Northeastern University Boston, graduating with a B.A in Global Business from DCU and a Bachelor of Science in International Business from NEU.
What attracted you to your current role?
I chose supply chain management as my concentration in university because of it’s practicality, and the growth of eCommerce and my desire to be a part of it. Then, I wrote my thesis on traceability within the food industry and my interest in the supply chain of food grew. I had read so much about Lidl, particularly their graduate program, and so it seemed like a good fit.
What did you find most challenging about the working world?
The stakes are undoubtedly higher. Today, that does not bother me, in fact it’s the aspect of my current role that I value most. That being said, it took a while to become comfortable with this newfound responsibility. Lidl offer their graduates untold responsibility right from the outset. I found myself placing orders in my first couple of weeks for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of euro worth of inventory. Because we are dealing with perishable goods, having too much might result in food waste but then buying too little means lost revenue and empty shelves. This, in contrast to the ramifications of handing in a late paper, or scoring a bad mark on an exam, was difficult to reconcile at first.
Do you have any mentors? If so, what is their value to you?
At Lidl we have the enviable luxury of each being assigned a board director as a mentor from day one. My director mentor has been a constant source of feedback, a sounding board for questions related to career progression and a friendly face to meet around the office. Having a mentor that has held a variety of positions within the company, and has obviously been incredibly successful, serves as both a motivator and an invaluable source of knowledge.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned since you joined the workforce?
I would say that my ability to manage uncertainty, and work within the grey area of the unknown, has improved drastically during my time with Lidl, particularly during Covid-19. So too has my ability to communicate effectively with not only those working within the company, but also external stakeholders. I spend a large portion of my day communicating with suppliers and hauliers from all over Europe. As companies, and indeed supply chains, become more diverse and dispersed, I feel as though this is an invaluable part of any professionals skillset.
How has Covid-19 affected your working life?
Working in an essential service has been hugely interesting and a great learning curve for me so my experience has been very positive. As we are dealing with the movement of stock, we are presented with a variety of new challenges as people’s priorities, panic and preferences played out very differently on our stock levels. Whatever the flavour of the day was, be it toilet paper, canned goods or alcohol, we had to be astute and aware of these changes in order to secure increased supply. That said, I believe that if I can manage working in this particular industry during Covid-19, a normal week should be slightly less eventful!.
What is one piece of advice you would offer new graduates?
Early on in your career it is vitally important that you get exposed to situations where you have a lot of responsibility and that you are forced to operate as far from your comfort zone as possible. If these opportunities are not presented to you, seek them out! The position of a graduate is an enviable one. You will probably fail fast and often at first, but this is an opportunity generally not given to those who join a company and is the best way, in my opinion, to learn.