Welcome to Meet our Activators! During this series, we will share insights on what it is like to be an Anthesis Activator. Find out how members of our team started their careers in sustainability, the exciting projects they’re working on and advice for people starting out in their sustainability career.
In this interview, we are featuring Honor Cowen, Associate Director and Head of Retail & CPG in North America at Anthesis.
Tell us about how you ended up at Anthesis
I worked at Best Food Forward for two years after completing an undergraduate in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, until it was acquired by Anthesis in 2013. At the time, Anthesis was only three months old; I chose to stay through the acquisition and thus, have been not only in the same career but pretty much the same company for over 10 years.
What was it like going from Best Foot Forward to Anthesis?
Anthesis was so small at the time – 30 people! – so I had a lot of opportunity to get to know the founders. It was really inspiring! I got to help define the Anthesis spirit and bring the vision for the company to life; this included leading one of our annual strategy days. I have continued to feel connected to the mission of Anthesis as global sustainability specialists. I can’t believe there are over 900 of us now!
“… at each stage of growth [at Anthesis], there has been opportunity and support presented to advance my career.”
Five years ago, you moved from the UK to the US – how did you end up in North America?
One of the first big projects I was put on at Anthesis was with Tesco; I helped build the Tesco Supplier Network from scratch. I originally was supposed to be on the project for six months, but after a year and a half I told my mentor at the time I needed a new challenge. She suggested spending a year with the team in North America in 2016… I’ve been in Boulder, Colorado ever since.
Describe the kind of work you do now
I have worked my way up to Associate Director, and I also lead the retail and CPG sector in North America. I am the key client manager for our biggest retail clients and co-lead the global apparel team. As an expert in the retail sector, I do a lot of business development, which includes proposal writing and new relationship development. I love connecting people, whether that’s internally across Anthesis, or externally with clients, or both! One especially satisfying part of my job is when a client gets promoted through the support we provide.
What do you like most about working at Anthesis?
There’s little ego and few hidden agendas with the people I work with. There’s a greater goal outside of all of us – making a difference to the world’s biggest challenges. It is also an excellent breeding-ground for ideas, and I hugely enjoy the creativity required to solve a particular issue – be that the project approach, a data quality problem, persuading a senior leadership team to buy into a new strategy, etc.
What is your most memorable work moment?
Two come to mind – going to South Africa with Textile Exchange, Target and other apparel brands to visit various parts of the apparel supply chain. We visited cotton fields, a wool auction house, a tannery, and a cut and sew factory. It was truly a memorable trip; it was a privilege I did not take for granted! The second was the Anthesis leadership conference held in Barcelona in the fall of 2019. Connecting with our highly motivated and experienced team was inspiring and I learnt a lot about parts of the business I interact with less frequently like the education team in Spain and the ecological services provided in the Middle East.
When you’re not at work, how do you spend your time?
I’ve been learning to fly planes for the past year, so that keeps me busy. I also DJ electronic/house music at the weekends.
What’s the best advice you can give to someone who just started their career?
Almost all my knowledge and skills have been learnt on the job, so be open to learning; don’t be intimidated if you don’t have all the skills right now, because someone in the company will and there is a real open-door, collaborative culture at Anthesis. There is so much opportunity in the industry right now – the sustainability sector is growing at an incredible rate – and we need the best minds on the job to solve these complicated, multi-faceted problems.
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Anthesis has offices in the U.S., Canada, UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Finland, Colombia, Brazil, China, Australia, Switzerland, Singapore, the Philippines and the Middle East.