“If there ever comes a day when I’m not selling chocolate, I’ll certainly still be eating it” – Richard Houseago

The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.

In this edition we meet chocoholic turned sports enthusiast Richard Houseago, who was recently promoted to the position of Mondelez World Travel Retail Head of Customer Development.

1. Tell us about your childhood. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in the English county of Norfolk, but moved when I was very young to a village in Northamptonshire, where I was raised. I’m the eldest of four, so our house was always a pretty lively place.

My brother and friends were all crazy about sports, so any free time outside of school lessons was spent playing mostly football, whatever the weather. In fact, I seem to remember rain being the preference because it gave the chance to get particularly muddy…

2. You studied Business Management with Sports Development at the University of Gloucestershire. Which bit did you prefer the most, sports or business?

I actually chose the University of Gloucestershire with an intention to major in Sports Development, because it had a good sporting reputation at the time. My very first lecture was on the philosophy of sport, with two solid hours devoted to an exploration on how to turn a ‘throw and catch’ game into a sport… I quickly concluded that it may be difficult to make a living from an expertise in this field, and so I switched my minor in Business to the major.

Apart from all the life lessons involved with leaving home for the first time, I learned the most about business from a work assignment between my second and third year of study. I got a job working for a company called Cadbury, selling chocolate to a group of 160 independent retailers every month. Driving a giant purple van around wasn’t great for my 18-year-old ego, but it was certainly character forming! Many of the basics that I learned during that time still hold true and in hindsight, I’m really pleased I had that experience.

3. Tell us about your time at supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. How did your time there shape your career?

I was accepted into the graduate buying scheme at Sainsbury’s, which was an achievement in itself, as competition for places was pretty high. I’d only worked in sales up to that point, so to have the training as a buyer with responsibility for a category was particularly valuable. Professionally, the time spent “on the other side of the table” gave me a real appreciation of the perspectives of others, and informs the collaborative style that I at least try to adopt today.

Taking some time out: Richard chilling in the mountains

In the end, being a buyer in Central London wasn’t for me; however, my time at Sainsbury’s certainly had the most valuable outcome: meeting the lady who would later become my wife. The now Mrs. Houseago introduced me to the slightly leafier suburbs of West London, which is where we live today.

4. How did you come to enter the confectionery business and what drew you to it?

When I was looking for a work assignment during university, my dad suggested that instead of looking for a job, I should look for a good employer. Cadbury was a very famous British company whose history was built upon treating employees well, with the Cadbury family introducing benefits that were seen as revolutionary over a hundred years ago. I figured that sounded like a good employer to me, and in a very roundabout way (via Kraft and Mondelez), my dad was proved to be right as usual.

“Driving a giant purple van around wasn’t great for my 18-year-old ego, but it was certainly character forming”

5. Would you describe yourself as having a sweet tooth? If so, what is your favourite confectionery product to eat?

At the risk of sounding corporate, I’ve always liked chocolate. I remember going on a school trip to Cadbury World at the age of six or seven and eating enough to make me feel pretty unwell on the coach home! Cadbury Dairy Milk would have to be the favourite, although I am partial to a Toblerone Crunchy Almond nowadays. We are certainly spoiled in the office as we have a good variety of samples to choose from.

Sweet tooth: some of Richard’s favourites

6. You’ve recently been appointed as Head of Customer Development, World Travel Retail (congratulations!) – what do you hope to achieve in this new role?

Thank you. I’m lucky to be joining the Customer Development team at a time of real strength. First and foremost, my role will be to continue to provide the team with the tools they require to work with our retail partners on best-in-class in-store execution. We have a stable of leading brands with tremendous heritage and I do feel a strong commitment to ensure that we represent them in a way that does them justice.

In terms of hopes for the role, I’m really looking forward to overseeing the further strengthening of our Customer Development capabilities with the digital expertise in Mondelēz International. The opportunity to leverage our digital knowledge and skills to the travel retail channel and thus shape Mondelez WTR’s digital agenda is something that I’m already enjoying and I’m keen to see where the journey takes us.

That aside, I’ll be playing my part in contributing to Mondelez WTR’s creation of a dedicated biscuits category within stores in the channel. It’s an ambitious task, but as category leaders, we feel an obligation to take a slightly longer-term view on game-changing growth opportunities such as this.

“We have a stable of leading brands with tremendous heritage”

So, if we’re still seeing best-in-class in-store promotions and personalisations on brands such as Toblerone, Cadbury, Milka and Oreo, plus leading the journey on topics such as digital and biscuits, then that should be enough to keep me busy!

7. You obviously love working at Mondelez. In your opinion, what sets Mondelez apart from other confectionery companies?

I couldn’t tell you how it compares with our confectionery colleagues… But I sell chocolate brands that people have grown up with, and I do it with a group of diverse, intelligent, interesting, but mostly importantly, good people – many of whom I now genuinely consider to be friends.

The Mondelez WTR family don their Lycra (L-R): Victorinox Director Global Travel Retail/Duty Free (ex-Mondelez WTR Head of Regions) Thomas Bodenmann; Richard and Mondelez WTR Senior Business Development Managers Peter Max and Carlos Granados

I work for one of the largest food manufacturers on the planet, yet within the WTR business unit I feel trusted to do the right thing while also being able to be myself at work, which is very important to me. On top of that I’ve been given the opportunity to experience life in a new country with my wife while working for two years in the Mondelez WTR HQ in Zürich.

So, on balance I’d say that Mondelez has been OK to me…

8. You have worked in the confectionery industry for a considerable amount of time. Can you ever imagine a time when your life doesn’t revolve around chocolate?

If there ever comes a day when I’m not selling it, I’ll certainly still be eating it…

9. Outside the worlds of travel retail and confectionery, what does Richard Houseago do in his free time?

Apart from spending time with the wonderful Mrs. Houseago, sport is still a pretty strong thread through my personal time. I’ll watch pretty much anything, although going to Franklin’s Gardens to support the Northampton Saints rugby team with a couple of school friends has got to be a firm favourite.

Richard running the Berlin Marathon in 2009

I play less football than I used to, so aside from running and swimming I’m mainly getting into middle age slightly early by getting on my bike. For the past three years, three colleagues and myself have taken a long weekend to explore parts of Europe by bike. We’ve so far conquered a section of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, County Donegal in Ireland and raced around Denmark. The Swiss mountains in the canton of Ticino are on the agenda for 2018.

10. Let’s finish with your favourite place to travel to and why.

I wasn’t much happier on travels than when following the England cricket team in Australia. The grassy bank at the Western Australia Cricket Ground in Perth was pretty special, although as a city I was a huge fan of Melbourne. If only it wasn’t such a long way away…

*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE:

Meet F.I.N.E Jewellery Founder Ari Johansson

Meet Blue Storks Founder and Managing Partner Arnaud Fauvarque

Meet Orlebar Brown Founder Adam Brown

Meet Meet Brilliant Cosmetics Founder and MD Mariette Scoop

Meet Tito’s Handmade Vodka International Managing Director John McDonnell

Meet Travel Blue Executive Director Jonathan Smith

Meet Antony Kime, a travel retail flying Kiwi

Meet Essilor sunglasses specialist Francesco Leccisi