FoodGrads Podcast Ep 34: What does a project manager do with Morgan Genge, Innovation Project Manager at Arterra Wines

Welcome to episode 34 of the FoodGrads podcast, this week on the podcast we interviewed Morgan Genge, Innovation Project Manager at Arterra Wines. Arterra Wines dates back to 1874 and since then has become Canada’s leading producer and marketer of globally recognized Canadian and imported wines. They have grown and evolved to owning and distributing over 100 wine brands which include Jackson-Triggs, Ruffino, Kim Crawford and Sawmill Creek.

On this episode Morgan talked about what exactly an innovation manager does and the path she took going from Biology graduate at Waterloo University to now. Veronica dived deep down into questions about her job and how project management works. As well, how Morgan doesn’t get overwhelmed with things, stay on top of thing and the tools she used. A lot of this episode was focused on talking about Morgan’s co-op experience and why she believes it is so important.

Show Notes

[00:02:37] Can you tell us more about Arterra Wines and what you do there?  

  • Morgan is the innovation project manager at Arterra Wines Canada which includes brands like Jackson-Triggs, Raffino and Kim Crawford
  • As an innovation manager her job is to help launch new products from start to finish. In terms of the day to day, it’s different all the time. What is important is how fast your get to the market with a high quality product. It involves managing a time line, working with people and solving problems.  
  • As a product manager you need to anticipate problems that go on downstream and think about that impacts different functions.

[00:06:55] Can you tell us more about the path you took to get to where you are today?

  • Morgan has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Waterloo. She went into that program not knowing what to do but was attracted to the co-op problem. Morgan at the time wanted to become a optometrist but during her finding her first co-op was difficult to find anything related to biology. Eventually, she ended up at Conestoga Meats as a quality and research technician. It was an eye opener seeing the slaughtering house and how much work it takes to bring food to our table.
  • Though she still wanted to explore other careers options so Morgan did her next co-op term at Dupoint Pioneer at their canola biotech lab as a research assistant and realized that being in a lab all day was not for her.
  • Her last placement was for eight months at Canada bread which at the time was owned by Maple Leaf Foods which she then when back to after she graduated. Then shortly after transitioned to Dr. Oekter’s in London.

[00:14:42] Did you find that there was any skills or just small things  that really stuck with during your co-ops that can be applied now?

  • Be open-minded to things when walking into your co-op. Always try to find a positive perspective and  things can open up for you. The co-op position led to Morgan taking some food science courses.  You never know what can help you out in the end. Even being in that environment can open you up to knowing what different people do and their jobs. Not to mention what is important to the and create a better manufacturing facility.
  • Even a bad co-op position can tell you what you don’t like which in itself can be valuable too. Try to learn as much as you can.
  • Morgan believes that everything happens for a reason

[00:19:03] Where does your project management position sit in terms of the hierarchy of decision making?

  • Depends on the organization and how big they are. At Dr. Oekter they didn’t have a project management role specifically and they were more together. The roles were divided across different people like the brand managers and R&D
  • After R&D Morgan realized that she was kind of good at organizing plant trials and working at the plant. Her and her fiancé were looking to move back to Toronto so she thought to give project management a try. This led her Kraft Heinz where she ended up as a commercialization manage. Brand managers and marketers work really closely together and their really close to the consumer.
  • There are many paths to becoming a project manager. It all depends on the company because they are looking for different functions and skill sets. Some of her team members come from logistics, supply chain and even marketing.
  • When looking for job postings it is useful to look for associate commercialization managers or junior project managers.

[00:23:45 ] What tools do you use for example if you are looking to commercialize a brand new wine? How do you get things done?

  • It’s about having good relationships with people and talking with them
  • Morgan has used basic tools in the past like Excel but being an already organized person things came together. However, currently she uses Microsoft projects.
  • However, every project she has ever worked  has never went exactly to plan. Things change but you have to try to plan things and try to figure out how things could affect things. It’s about being proactive. It is good to have checkpoints with leaders and decision makers frequently.
  • At the end of the day things are a business and you need to make sure that product is viable. Products move at a fast pace.

[00:28:17] In cases where things go wrong or maybe a project feeling makes you feel overwhelmed by the moving parts what do you do?

  • It can be difficult when you are new to a role. Though it comes down to your relationships and knowing who knows what, who does what so that you can save time and get the information from the right people. You learn from the past and use that knowledge to try prevent things from happening or dealing with them quickly.
  • Every project is different with it’s own complexities. If you don’t like uncertainty than don’t go into project management. The true reward is seeing your product on the shelf at the store.
  • However, that is okay. You need people in organizations with a whole set of skills. You need marketers that are creative and kind of really thinking outside the box. And then you need the people in operations that are really living the day-to-day and managing costs and managing people and the food safety and quality making sure that products are safe. So there is a role for everyone.
  •  If you’re interested in food and you have basically any degree, any background, there is something for you because it is such a cross-functional world, that there is a place for everyone, even you don’t even think about, on the food regulation side of things, like there are lawyers that are working on food law and that kind of stuff.

[00:32:19] Is there anything you know now that you wished you knew in school that could have helped you today?

  • It’s okay not to know what you want to do because there is so much out there. So just go out and experience things and take everything for a learning opportunity. And even if you hate it, that is a valuable lesson.
  • If you know there is a role that you want to get into like R&D. Try to get what you can out of where ever you are right now. You never know how it is going to help you. Everyone’s paths are different and that is okay. Live the experience.
  • Even for Morgan’s first job as product management she never had done a role like that before. So you have to start somewhere. At the end of day organizations are always going to teach you the technical skills so what is important is building those experiences.
  • The things that are harder to teach or that are more valuable to come in with already having those experiences are communication skills, relationship, building skills, your people skills, being organized and having attention to detail. Those soft skills. We don’t really think about or focus on in university really.
  • Even working in places like McDonalds or a warehouse can be super valuable experience because you learn things. If you truly believe that, think about all the things that you’ve learned, that then you will be a lot better at selling it. I think also doing interviews, you just have to, the more you do the better get, and that was another good thing about the co-op program is I did a ton of interviews.
  • You can use mentors to help identify to things you have done. They have a bigger picture of things so they might be able to help you.

[00:41:57] Where can people find you?

  • LinkedIn
  • Morgan’s FoodGrads Blog Post

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