Development Program Grad Class of 2012: 10 Years Later: Veejay Costello
What first attracted you to 84.51° (formerly dunnhumby)?
I first heard about 84.51° (formerly dunnhumby) from a friend whose father worked at the company during campus recruiting at Indiana University. From everything I heard, I was interested because the company tackled complicated problems and was at the cutting edge of analytics and data. It was a culture and a work-life balance that was better than traditional consulting, but with the exposure to the kind of problem solving that really attracted me.
What was your first title at 84.51° (formerly dunnhumby)?
I was originally an Intern working on Shelf Review applications beyond assortment. My first full-time role was as a CSA on merchandising.
What were your primary responsibilities in your first role at 84.51° (formerly dunnhumby)?
When I started full time, I was a CSA on the merchandising side of our business supporting the Price Strat promotion optimization pilot. I worked across different category managers (many of whom are still around Kroger Merchandising!) and with the Price Strat team at dunnhumby to help train, implement, and support with rolling out promotion optimization across various category managers. The pilot was to get feedback and further develop the tools to improve usability and effectiveness.
What are your primary responsibilities in your current role?
Today, I help lead PearlRock Partners (PRP) for The Kroger Co. / 84.51°. PRP is a new venture for Kroger in which we use science to identify emerging brands, invest capital in them, and then use our science, media capabilities, and merchandising execution to maximize growth for these brands.
Describe your path to your current role. How did you get here?
I have been lucky in my career to have worked on a lot of different areas that dunnhumby / 84.51° have touched.
I started in a solutions-oriented role, interning on shelf review applications beyond assortment and focused on price and promotion opportunities. When I started as a new grad, I picked up in solutions-oriented work focused on the Price Strat pilot, training, and implementing new sciences across merchandising. Eventually, I became a more traditional Merchandising Client Lead (MCL), working with the Seafood and Packaged Meat departments. After some time as an MCL, I wanted to develop experiences on the sales / CPG side of our business and transitioned to being an Manufacturer Practice Client Lead (MPCL) in which I led DSD CPGs (snack, soft drink, and adult beverage manufacturers) with Shop, Shelf Review, and Custom Insights projects.
When I left the MPCL role, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work on the integration of Vitacost.com into the Kroger enterprise, focused (1) bringing customer insights to Vitacost and (2) learning about e-commerce for Kroger. When we sunset the Vitacost project, I moved to e-commerce strategy and helped expand ClickList, pilot and launch delivery, improve Scan/Bag/Go, and work on Kroger Ship strategy.
I moved to Chicago in late 2017 to be closer to my then girlfriend, now wife. As such, I did not think I could continue to support the Digital / e-commerce role and moved to the 84.51° Partnerships team looking at new ventures. In this role, I helped lead work around exploring new business lines which led to the eventual formation of commercial platforms. As commercial platforms was formed and we began to stand up businesses (PRP being the first,) I was given the option to either move to PRP or stay on partnerships. This was a unique opportunity to work on a brand-new venture and so I jumped at the chance to work on PRP.
What has kept you at 84.51° for 10 years?
In my experience, the company has always given me great opportunities to learn and grow my career. I've always had challenging roles, great mentors, and incredibly smart colleagues. When my personal life has necessitated flexibility – like moving to Chicago after years of a long-distance relationship – I've found that the company has often met me in the middle and been really supportive.
I've always seen new opportunities for development at 84.51° and continue to see them as I look to the future.
What are your career highlights or most memorable experiences at 84.51°?
Working on the Vitacost project was incredible – we did great work with a heavy travel schedule (Vitacost is based in South Florida) and I got to work with some of the most talented people I've ever met at 84.51°, Kroger, and Vitacost.
Working on the expansion of ClickList is a bit of a continuation of the Vitacost project, but was a thrilling ride as we opened several new stores every week for years – learning as we went.
Launching and then building PearlRock Partners has been the greatest experience of my career so far. It's awesome to witness everything our team has built in just a few years to create this brand-new venture.
How do you feel the Development Program prepped you for success at 84.51°?
When we started, I remember being surprised and excited about the amount of training and learning opportunities afforded to us right away. We were all keen on learning as much as we could about the company, the industry, and the data. Looking back, I think this learning of how each of the different pieces worked together has helped me a lot in my career at 84.51°.
Looking back when you first joined 84.51° (formerly dunnhumby) 10 years ago, is this where you thought you'd be in your career?
No way. I had always preferred solutions type of work and didn't see myself working on more business / client-oriented types of projects long-term.
The company has also changed a lot in the last 10 years – evolving with customer needs and Kroger's priorities – which means there's new opportunities that we didn't even imagine 10 years ago.
What advice do you have for someone starting their career at 84.51°?
Learn as much as you can from everyone you can. We're lucky in that this company is full of some of the brightest people solving really complex problems together. Soak that in!
Stay humble but advocate for yourself. It is a tough balance to strike that I don't always manage but finding the right mix of humility and assertiveness has been important for me. Humble when you don't know and are learning; assertive when the data is strong and the path forward is clear.
My career has been a series of lucky opportunities and hard work when presented with them. Keeping an eye out for the wind changing and a door opening is as important as working hard in your job.
Make time for family and friends. I've admittedly done a poor job of this in the past. A friend of mine in Cincinnati recently reminded me that we hadn't seen each other in a year or more despite the fact that I travel to Cincinnati multiple times each month. We've since corrected this. One thing that is challenging in the current era is becoming re-acquainted with seeing friends and family but it is something that 84.51°'s culture and benefits enable and so I'd recommend folks take advantage of that. Don't trade career / daily work for your personal life.
Do you have any mentors with the company? Who? Please explain.
I've had a bunch of mentors in my time at the company. I genuinely think every manager I've ever had has been a great mentor, helped me develop, and has played career coach for me throughout my life. Three specific mentors I would call out:
JoLynn Kaylor was my first full time manager at the company and always gave me great advice. She's always been thoughtful and caring in her perspective about career growth and my opportunities to grow. JoLynn also served to whip me into shape and get me on the right track at the beginning of my career.
Rich Hall was my manager when I worked on Vitacost and then on E-Commerce. This was a pivotal moment in my career / life: I was taking on more responsibility, developing leadership skills, and traveling heavily for the job. Rich helped me navigate the uncertainty and chaos of uncharted work and challenged me to be better than I even knew I could be.
Piyush Zaveri was my intern class's executive sponsor. Back then, Piyush was always a great representative of the company's values and culture. 10 years later, I report to Piyush. While our relationship has changed, Piyush has always played an important role in my career: challenging me, providing stability, keeping me humble, helping advocate for me, etc.
How has 84.51° changed in the 10 years you've been with the company?
First, the company is much bigger – there are so many names and faces I don't always recognize.
Second, things seem much more organized than ever before – we have real processes and strategies and ways of doing thing.
Third, we're solving bigger problems with bigger dollar impacts than 10 years ago – with our relationship with Kroger and the amazing growth of the company, the stakes for any given project are much higher than they used to be.