Sales Leader of the Week Interview: David Irwin

ecruit’s mission is to share the wisdom of the UK’s best commercial minds, in order to inspire sales leaders of tomorrow, and attract stars into the commercial world! After all, as Kevin Spacey says ‘if you have done well, you have the obligation to send the elevator back down’, passing on your top tips and wisdom.

This series of interviews gives us insight into the minds of people who are at the top of their game, in a light-hearted and informative manner. We’ll find out what makes them tick, their career highlights, as well as best advice that they have been given…

David Irwin is the European Integrated Business Planning Director at Bacardi, where he is currently responsible for rolling out best practice Commercial Planning across the region. David has previously spent time at Innocent drinks, where he headed up their Grocery division, and Unilever where he led their Home and Personal Care business within Morrison’s.


Q. Tell us what you do.

A, I improve the capability of our key account managers in the European Region. I provide them with solutions that allow them to make better and faster commercial decisions to ultimately drive Bacardi-Martini Gross Profit.


Q. What do you love about your job? 

A. I love working with people, and the coaching and mentoring part of my job is important to me. When I was working as Off Trade Director at Bacardi, I hired a National Account Executive. He was quickly promoted to a Manager role, and is now running a top Grocery account and managing a team of his own.


Q. What frustrates you?

A. I work in a fabulous sector of the drinks industry, but I’m frustrated about the experience that our customers have instore. The emotional connection that customers have with our brand does not tie up with the retail experience and this is something our industry needs to address.


Q. What traits define a great sales person? 

A. I think the ability to bounce back is really important – you need to be able to roll with the punches as, unfortunately, not everything will always go your way. To succeed in a sales role, you need to have a real sense of both ownership and responsibility for the business you manage – take it personally!  You also need to be able to build and manage relationships, as connecting with people is still very important.


Q. What is the best career advice that you have been given? 

A. I’m going to quote a golfer called Gary Player, who said: “”The more I practice the luckier I get!””. I really believe that you get out what you put in, and you need to take responsibility for your own success.


Q. Is there anyone you look up to? 

A. I was lucky enough to work with the three founding partners of Innocent when I headed up their Grocery division, and what they achieved really inspired me. To put this into perspective, many larger FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods) companies have great connections with key trading contacts, big investment budgets, skilled marketing teams and experienced product developers and yet,  product launches fail year after year. Whereas Innocent were able to create an amazing business despite starting with very limited resources.


Q. Can you describe your “”career defining”” moment?

A. I’ve had a few! Perhaps the best example was when I moved from an Account Management/Sales role into a Trade Marketing position. I learnt a lot about how the wider business ran, how important it was to have accurate forecasting, and how to bring products to market. This really helped me to develop a broader business perspective. I think that it is really important for sales people to develop knowledge on how the general business works.


Q. What’s “”hot”” in your industry right now?

A. Gin is still “”in”” and we have seen a real movement into micro-craft level. You are seeing lots of local gin distillers who trade off their geographical provenance, which continues to fuel the growth in the gin category.


Q. If you didn’t work in sales, what would you do?

A. I would have joined the army or the police force.


Q. What is the best freebie you have been given?

A. We are very lucky in the drinks industry, in that we can get good freebies! I’ve visited some amazing distilleries and the homes of some great products – one that particularly springs to mind was in the Nordics, where we spent the day ice fishing and skidoo riding!

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