‘I’ve spent my career in companies that were at key transformation points’

15 Jun 2021

Image: Adele Cooper

Adele Cooper talks about her current focus on the e-commerce sector, how she made a big career move just before the pandemic, and what she learned from Sheryl Sandberg.

Adele Cooper is an Irish business leader who has worked at some of the world’s biggest tech companies. She held roles in Google and Facebook in both Europe and the US, before becoming UK and Ireland country manager at Pinterest.

Now, Cooper is a non-executive director for e-commerce analytics platform Conjura and for omni-channel vehicle retailer Motorpoint Group, which are both based in the UK. She is also a consultant for Irish start-up Wayflyer, which is focused on the e-commerce market and recently raised $76m in funding.

‘I’m passionate about the ability of data and technology to create a compelling customer experience and transform businesses’

Describe your role and what you do.

I have what is described as a portfolio or plural career. I work as a non-executive director (NED) on two boards and part-time – it varies from two to three days per week – as a consultant.

Prior to working as an NED and consultant, I held a full-time executive role as GM for Pinterest in the UK and Ireland. Pinterest is headquartered in California and I would typically work a full day at the office and then head home and log on again every evening. While incredibly rewarding, I have a young son and I reached a point where having a better work-life balance became important.

I left Pinterest at the end of 2019. In retrospect, leaving a stable, permanent job just before the start of a major global pandemic was probably not the wisest move! However, it’s worked out extremely well, so I’m very glad I had no idea of the chaos 2020 would bring.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Board meetings are actually very easy to organise around, as meeting dates are discussed in a consultative manner and agreed well in advance of the fiscal year. I then book out time in advance of each meeting to make sure I’m well prepared.

Of course, unexpected issues and opportunities can arise and those are prioritised when they do. In my consulting work, I tend to prioritise action items based on the potential impact they will have and the urgency.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Given the nature of my work, I typically operate across a variety of sectors. However, my current focus is on the fast-growing e-commerce sector.

The most significant challenge – though also a key opportunity – I see facing businesses in this sector is the ability to structure and use data in a meaningful way. E-commerce businesses that figure out how to structure and use data have a distinct advantage over competitors in terms of planning, buying, pricing, marketing, merchandising and selling.

Additionally, managing working capital is another issue e-commerce businesses face. A typical, early-stage e-commerce business will have to pay for inventory a long time before it receives any goods. Shipping can then take a long time as goods are often sent to Europe or the US from Asia. The business will then need a marketing budget to promote the goods. And only then will the e-commerce entrepreneur see any revenue come in. Solving this working capital issue is key for any e-commerce business that wants to grow and thrive in an increasingly competitive space.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on in e-commerce?

Better structure and utilisation of data to drive decision making and improve the customer experience.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I’ve spent most of my career in companies that were digital start-ups or at key transformation points when I joined. I played a part in helping those businesses scale and achieve global success and learned a lot from the experience.

I’m passionate about the ability of data and technology to create a compelling customer experience and transform businesses.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

The best advice I’ve been given in relation to mistakes is that you have to take the learning from the situation, but then leave the mistake in the past and move on.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I have primarily worked for companies that are strongly mission-driven and I believe you can get the best out of your team if you inspire them to align in pursuit of a common purpose. I’ve found that people are more motivated when they understand the overall vision or goal and then how their role contributes toward it.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

I do think there is a diversity problem at the leadership level in most sectors. I believe businesses need to track diversity by function and level, and then establish internal goals to increase diversity, where needed.

It’s also critical that the recruitment pipeline is stacked with diverse candidates at the start of the recruitment process. This needs to be a focus for both recruiters and hiring managers.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

I’ve never had a formal mentor but I’ve had a number of amazing informal mentors throughout my career. I also continue to learn all the time from the leadership teams I’m working with now.

In terms of a single person who was pivotal to my career, I would have to point to Sheryl Sandberg. She interviewed me for a role in Google Dublin back in 2003 and during the interview she shared advice she’d been given (and which she has since also shared publicly) that if you’re given a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask which seat, you just get on.

After she moved to Facebook, she reached out to me about a marketing role there and I followed her over. She’s a leader who invests hugely in building the management capability in her team. I learned a tremendous amount in the 11 years I spent working in organisations led by her.

What books have you read that you would recommend?
  • Shipping Greatness by Chris Vander Mey
  • Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull
  • The Everything Store by Brad Stone
 What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

All of the Google tools: Search, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps. Slack. Notion. And, of course, Zoom.

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