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CSW Industry Perspective: Kim James

Vice president of merchandising at bp shares her journey as a woman in the convenience-store industry
Kim James, bp
Photograph courtesy of Kim James

I entered the convenience-store industry just about 20 years ago from another retail sector. I have held many positions throughout my tenure in the channel, almost all of which were in the merchandising, product and marketing space, with a short stint in operations as well.

My time in operations was hugely beneficial as it complemented my background in merchandising and marketing, and it gave me a true appreciation for how things get executed in the real world out in stores by our team members. This context has helped me in many ways over the years to form better strategy, planning and communications to enable stronger execution at store level.

In each of my roles, I was fortunate to work with strong leaders who allowed me many opportunities to showcase my abilities to the organization. It was up to me to take advantage of those opportunities. At the same time, I was often the only woman in the room. Now, later in my career, this experience has allowed me to be a better leader, committed to building diverse teams and encouraging inclusion across the organization.

Much has changed in the last 20 years—while still not maybe where the industry needs to be, I frequently see many diverse voices in the room. Momentum in the right direction. 

The CSW Event

For me, the CSW event demonstrated the collective group taking charge to have a voice in the industry. The sheer power of the tenure, talent and knowledge in the room was inspiring.

I took so many notes in the general session, the Missing 33%, from Kelly Lockwood Primus. What we expect from C-suite leaders, and how we look for talent has clearly been unbalanced over the years. Very insightful! I also thought the targeted session by Quendrida Whitmore, Show them the Money, had thoughtful and practical content on how to close the perceived gap on strategic and financial acumen.

The power of being in a small group with the tenure, talent and knowledge of the individuals in my power team to discuss important topics within the industry offers value. Value to me for personal growth, value to my organization and the organizations they represent and value to the industry as a whole. Win. Win. Win.

One of our organization’s rising leaders, Brandi Gaston, joined me at the event. Brandi is a regional sales manager and leads a team for us in the Sacramento, California, area. For her, the experience to see herself in a room of such talented individuals allowed her to realize that she is equally as talented. Her confidence in having a seat at the table was validated. Personally, I can’t wait to see what she does in 2024 and beyond with this renewed perspective!

I think it is important for any individual to have the tools to rise and succeed. Specifically for women, we sometimes are afraid to ask the question and put out there that we are looking for a tool, resource or even help. With that in mind, conferences like this open the door for valid and valuable conversations with peers to seek and understand what tools are available and how to find them.

I would give two pieces of career advice to women. First, don’t always look for the next position up the ladder; look sideways. In my experience, cross-functional knowledge from a lateral move can be the differentiator that makes you more successful in that next-level role. Don’t be afraid to go sideways to go up.

Second, don’t lose your voice. You are talented. You are good enough to be at the table. Find your voice and use it in meetings and within your organization. If you’re not sure how, find someone that you think has a strong voice and ask how they got comfortable in this space. Use your voice productively and with savvy—just make sure you use it. 

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