Aileen Thow

Aileen Thow

As part of our #DYWKeyWorkers campaign we spoke to Aileen Thow, customer service manager at Macphie to ask her what her typical day looks like and gain insight into her career journey.

What attracted you to the industry you are in?

To be honest, it was the company I was attracted to, not the industry. I grew up just five miles away from Macphie and had always heard great things about how it supported and developed its people. Eight years on and I’m yet to be proved wrong.

How long have you been with the company?

I've been with the company for eight years and in my current role for two years.

Describe your day-to-day role

It's my job to manage the customer service team and it’s up to us take orders and make sure we get them out to the customer on time and in one piece. This involves everything from answering customer calls, monitoring stock levels and co-ordinating delivery with our hauliers. As manager, it’s up to me to make sure everyone knows what they need to do and has everything they need to do it.

What kind of training have you done?

Most of my training has been on the job or has been focussed on the systems we use to process orders. I’ve done export training and workshops on giving presentations and since progressing to a managerial position, I’ve undertaken several management courses.

What skills have you learned?

My time in this job has taught me a wide range of skills including time management and prioritisation which are key to getting everything done.

Have you completed any professional qualifications?

I've just completed a Managing People for Growth programme which looked at how we can best support our teams as leaders. It covered everything from communication and leadership styles to tackling difficult conversations. It really helped me understand my own management style but also understand how my behaviour ultimately impacts the performance of my team. We collected feedback from our peers and took time to reflect which you don’t often have the chance to do when you’re getting on with the day job.

Do you like living and working in the North-east?

I'm proud to be part of the North-east’s food industry. Scottish food and drink has a reputation for quality and our region produces some incredible products from gins and whiskies to cheese and chocolate. Based in rural Aberdeenshire, Macphie’s products are enjoyed by people worldwide. My team helps get them from our warehouse in Glenbervie to coffee shops in Dubai and rooftop restaurants in Hong Kong which is incredibly satisfying.

What skills are the most important for you to do your job well?

It's important to remain calm. In my role, things happen all the time that are completely out of my control. A delivery vehicle could break down at the side of a road, meaning we won’t reach a customer on time and it’s up to me to solve this problem. I have to be able to stop, and think about the situation rationally before deciding on the next steps. I also have to be able to prioritise and work out what needs done, when. I might have list of things to do, but if something else crops up, I need to work out with my team what gets moved further down the list, who can take on extra work and how we can still achieve as much as possible. Time management and delegation are key to making this happen.

Was there anything about the job that surprised you?

When I first joined Macphie, I was incredibly surprised to hear of how far our products travel and the big brands who use our ingredients. Working in customer service, I get to work with these big organisations and have sight of where our products end up. It’s a great feeling to be out for dinner with friends and be able to point out which dishes on the menu contain the ingredients produced here in Glenbervie.

Is there anything unusual about your role?

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 our business has switched from bottling sauces to hand sanitiser in a matter of days. This has thrown up a completely different way of working – with new suppliers, new legislation and new customers. As a team we’ve had to adapt to new ways of working in a short space of time.

Do you get a lot of support from your company?

Absolutely. As a key worker, I have continued coming into work throughout lockdown. The business has taken extreme measures to keep everyone safe including moving desks, installing numerous hand sanitiser stations and providing appropriate PPE. But they’ve also done a lot to make sure I’m doing OK. We have weekly updates direct from our CEO to explain what’s happening across the business and our occupational health team is available if we’re ever feeling things are too much. I have close relationship with my line manager and while he’s currently on lockdown at his home hundreds of miles away, I can reach him over video call, email and WhatsApp any time.

What's your favourite part of your job?

My favourite part of the job is the people. Our workforce sits at just under 300 employees but we’re a close-knit bunch. We have a variety of functions from engineering to produce development and HR to food production so everyone brings different skills to the table. Because of this, I’m always learning – whether it’s around how to reduce the salt content of a sausage roll or how to ensure the required alcohol levels of hand sanitiser are met.

What advice would you give young school leavers looking to start an apprenticeship?

Have a plan. But don’t get too upset when things don’t go to plan. I think it’s good to map out a plan to achieve what you want to, but as you grow and take on new opportunities, you learn more about yourself which can change your course of direction. So don’t get too bogged down in the milestones you’ve set yourself.

How does it feel to be a key worker on the frontline supporting the country's fight against COVID-19?

To be honest, coming to work feels like any other day. We have a job to do, so we do it. Our products help keep supermarket shelves stocked and they go into meals in care homes and hospitals so we have to keep going. Obviously things are a little different but I’m getting used to a new way of working. We have fewer people on site with some on furlough and some working from home. And we have new measures in place to help protect ourselves and each other.

Tell us what makes you proud to be a key worker

I'm proud of my time. They’ve had to adapt quickly to new ways of working and they’ve done so without one complaint. Some of my team are on furlough and some are working from home but either way they’re doing their bit to stay safe and to support the business as we do our best to get through this.