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A short tale of how, many years ago, one person influenced the career paths of three others – and today’s reunion! 😁

The Back-story

In 1972, I joined Sainsbury’s at their flagship store – Central Croydon as a Saturday Student – working Friday nights and all-day Saturday. By late 1974, I was still uncertain as to what sort of job I wanted, after leaving school, I started my first proper full-time job with them.

Trouble was, Mum and Dad’s plan was for me was to do a ‘posh job’ – first choice: join the Civil Service, or maybe a Bank (job-for-life in those days!) or an Accountancy practice. But, in true Palmer fashion, I rebelled, and they weren’t impressed at all!! 🙄 They felt I’d deserved something ‘better’ after going to a Grammar School, better certainly than ‘working in a shop’!!! In spite of acquiring an appreciable bundle of O-Levels together with two A-Levels and already passing the entrance exam for the Civil Service, I really felt JS might be the better more enjoyable career for me 😍. From my side of things, I’d thoroughly enjoyed the physical and mental challenge of it all, having worked through the Summer Holidays at JS pretty-much full-time. A great working atmosphere, fab teamwork and lots of interaction with people.

Sainsbury’s Whitgift Centre Croydon
© Sainsbury Archive

At the time, Central Croydon was their largest (but small by later standards) in the newly built ‘Whitgift Centre’ (Branch ‘332’ since you asked) off Wellesley Road – and one of the first stores to open there (Boots, next door, being the first). Opened in JS’s centenary year of 1969, the management there were all hand-picked, as being the best in the company. The store went on to become a ‘pass-through’ for rising stars of the organisation, and in turn, that always created a fantastic buzz about the place. Yes, it was hard work… really hard work… but exceptionally rewarding!

Ken, in later years, as Regional Manager

During that time, I got to know a certain Grocery Manager, Mr Ken Barden, then in his mid-20s, really well. And as expected, he went on to command some very senior positions across the brand.

My Early Years

‘Rewarding’ it certainly was! From a humble Saturday Student earning less than 30p per hour, I joined the trainee management scheme (a recommendation by Ken) briefly at ‘332’ and then onto their store in Orpington (Branch 747), and completed the scheme in a record 11 months. Mum and Dad finally came round, and supported me all the way from there! Phew! 🥰

Next stop? Into junior management in Bromley (Branch 464) and after about a year, I joined the Area Training Team on secondment. My two-year secondment lasted around 4 years (!!!) and then came the BIG promotion. I was appointed Area Training Manager based in Romford (house move and divorce adding to the mix!). And finally, a spell at head office managing the company’s customer care programme and liaising with all the other training departments across the organisation.

Leaving JS

The unrivalled grounding that JS gave me in terms of training and development, provided me with a great insight into the importance of ‘people skills’, leading me to shed a tearful farewell in March 1989 – to start my own business training others in guess what? Yes, ‘people skills’.

Finally, the Reunion

By coincidence, Ann, and our good friend Sally, had learned, through separate casual conversations, that they too, having all worked for this mighty food retailer, had also crossed paths with Ken at different times. He had strongly influenced their career path too! – what are the chances ehh??

So, fast-forward (in my case 45 years!) and today was to be special in a number of ways. Although we’d all lost touch with Ken many years ago (although Ann and I had seen Ken briefly in the intervening years at a JS ‘do’) the three of us decided it would be good to catch up, with a view to reminisce about those heady days working for the champion of food retailing – and most of all, to thank him for pointing us in the right direction. We all realised, without his influence, we wouldn’t have been where we are today, nor enjoyed our careers so much!

I tracked Ken down through Facebook, and we all agreed to meet up at his, and then on for a spot of lunch. After a quick coffee and a natter, meeting Carol, his wife and their dogs and cats, we headed off to the Pub for 1pm!

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Pub so busy! The food was excellent, but for once (for me) that didn’t matter at all! We had so many years to catch up with, individually and collectively and I don’t think we stopped talking (and laughing) for the whole time we were there! And surely, it was a good sign that we didn’t leave the Pub until just after 3!

What a fantastic day! We’re certainly going to do it all again sometime with Ken – there are so many more stories and experiences to share! We dropped Sally back at hers and headed home.

Happy memories! 😁

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