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Prompted by the allegations behind the recent resignation of Tesco chairman John Allan, I believe it’s a good time to highlight what I consider unacceptable personal abuse frequently witnessed in fmcg.

We all know buyers use pressure tactics to make suppliers feel uncomfortable, because it often results in concessions. So, classics such as “the other guys do it cheaper” are frequent and part of the game. But misogyny should not be included in that characterisation.

What do you think of the following quotes, all of which were witnessed on first meetings and aimed at new female account managers under 30? “Does your father know you are wearing his jacket?” “Have you got a boyfriend?” “I’ve been in this industry since before you stopped shitting your nappies.” Bad enough on paper, but when accompanied with a smirk or a look that just makes the account manager squirm…

Training suppliers on overcoming pressure tactics is core to my business – but raising the game on standards of behaviour in negotiation is too. Talking to our clients, it appears a major culpable profile is the older, male, ex-big-retail buyer working in sectors such as wholesale and hospitality.

Perhaps GSCOP helped to reduce many of the extremes among the big retailers, or maybe they have become more professional and less tolerant of bad behaviour, and therefore moved their dinosaur buyers out. But many of these people have found jobs where their ‘experience’ is valued and, unfortunately, some of them have brought their 1980s bad habits with them.

The overall quality of the young people starting careers in the fmcg industry is so much better than it was 30 years ago, but competition is high, and these intelligent young people have many more career options. The behavioural standards held by our non-fmcg clients, particularly in tech and dotcom, are far higher. This is one of the reasons why an increasing number of these under-30s – on both the retail and supplier side – are choosing to change career and go into consultancy or digital industries.

Did you see Karren Brady gratuitously bully a female candidate in a recent episode of The Apprentice? Her defenders say she was testing candidates to see if they are ‘up to the job’, but she should try to shape a better world instead of perpetuating the old one.

The perpetrators will not change unless we make them. So, if you are a colleague of someone who behaves like this, don’t turn a blind eye. If you’re an account manager suffering this sort of personal abuse, call it out and tell your manager. If you’re the sales director of a supplier whose teams are experiencing this, don’t ignore or laugh it off, support them.

If you and your business wouldn’t tolerate people in your own organisation behaving in such a way, you shouldn’t tolerate such behaviour from other businesses either. The world is changing, and this is unprofessional and unacceptable.


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