Face Time with Deborah Cooper from Frucor Suntory

Deborah Cooper is the Head of Petrol and Convenience at Frucor Suntory. She’s an adrenaline junky at heart, but these days is dedicated to spending time with her beautiful family and helping her team to succeed. This is her story…

I was born in Wollongong in New South Wales and had a pretty stereotypical upbringing for the area; my dad worked at BHP Steel and mum worked as a lecturer at Wollongong University.

I come from a pretty large family, and I was the fourth of five kids – I have two brothers and two sisters – and as the youngest girl in the family, I definitely had plenty of protective siblings growing up.

I’ve always loved sport and would play just about anything that I could at school – from cross country running, to swimming and Oztag. Growing up, my older brother and I would regularly be in the backyard playing footy or out and about on our bikes.

As I got older, my passion for solo sports like cross country faded and I became more into team sports. I found that I had a real love of playing football and I begged my dad to let me plat Rugby Union with my friends, but he wouldn’t let me, so I reluctantly played Oztag instead. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I finally got to play Rugby League and I loved every minute of it!

My first job, like many of us, was at McDonald’s and I was working as soon as I was legally old enough at 14 and nine months. I was at McDonald’s for six months before I got a job at the Novotel North Beach – a job that saw me through high school and university.

I’ve travelled overseas quite a bit over the years for both work and pleasure. When I was five years into my professional career, I decided there was more to life and so I quit my job and went travelling overseas for 12 months. I spent time in the US, and also lived and worked in London where I drove an ex-Sussex Ambulance that had been converted into a camper van through Ireland and Europe. I wrapped up the trip through Southeast Asia, across Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It was an amazing experience, and it completely changed my view on life and the world – I couldn’t recommend it more.

I’ve always been a bit of a thrill seeker, so in terms of the craziest thing I’ve ever done, it’s hard to choose just one – I’ve done many crazy things along the way! But I would probably say skydiving and bungee jumping would be the craziest… but I loved the adrenaline rushes!

From a personal perspective I want to ensure I always have enough time for family, to see my kids growing and progressing, and not missing out on the important things for them.

Family is so important to me, and with my beautiful wife, we have four amazing kids. My wife Nat and I have been married for five years, and we have Romi who is eight, Jasper is five, Harlow is four and our youngest, Xander, is one.

I find that there isn’t a lot of spare time in our lives, but Nat and I always make time for family. I coach my eldest’s Oztag team in the summer and will try to squeeze in a bit of exercise in the mornings before the kids get up.

If we have a free day, we generally head to the beach with the kids. Sitting and enjoying the sun and sand with them is great! And if my wife and I are able to get ourselves a babysitter for the night, we like to head out to dinner for a delicious meal.

There have been a few pivotal roles that have led me to my current position as Head of Convenience at Frucor Suntory – I won’t go all the way back to the start, but there are a few roles that have definitely led me to where I am today. My first National Account Manager role was in the petrol and convenience channel, managing 7-Eleven and Coles Express, which taught me a lot about the channel as prior to that, I had worked exclusively in grocery. I spent some time heading up Frucor’s Leisure Channel, which was made up of on-premise, vending, catering, distributors… pretty much anything that wasn’t P&C and Grocery. This taught me a lot about how to work in super dynamic environments and lead a team with varying priorities.

Next, I left Frucor for four years to manage the Grocery Channel at Drinkworks. In Australia they are a relatively small player in the beer and cider market, however, globally are owned by Heineken. Here I learned about building and executing strategy, being fully accountable for results and building teams and business where there wasn’t a strong foothold previously. I was also lucky enough to be plugged into some of the Heineken global leadership programs, which gave me amazing insight into leadership within a global organization, and ultimately who I wanted to be as a leader.

Following the birth of our third child, I decided I was keen to move back to a larger organisation and again was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to lead the Frucor Grocery team as Head of Grocery. It was wonderful to come back to Frucor and lead an amazing group of people to some massive highs and also the challenges brought on from Covid. I believe the challenges of Covid brought us closer together as a team, despite not seeing each other in person for months at a time. After two and a half years (and another baby) I moved to the Head of P&C role, which I absolutely love.

In terms of my biggest career highlights, these are more about my team and seeing them succeed. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing one of my team members progress their career. I love supporting development and when it results in a customer win or a promotion for one of my team, this makes me more satisfied and prouder than anything I have achieved personally. Which brings me to one of my biggest career highlights, taking out NPD of the Year, Beverage Supplier of the Year and Overall Supplier of the Year at the 2023 AACS Gala Awards night. This was a massive team effort, and I am beyond proud of my team and our business partners that have supported us in achieving this industry recognition.

Looking to the future, in terms of my career, I’d love to keep progressing. I tend to not put a title on what I do but more expectations, I want to be leading high performing teams, accountable and continuing to learn and develop.

This article originally appeared in the Apr/May issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing magazine.

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