‘Retail is an amazing business to be part of’: meet the Aldi director who came up through the ranks

·4-min read

When Sireesh Nallanthighal joined Aldi’s graduate area manager programme after leaving the University of Birmingham with a computer science degree, he knew things would move fast. And sure enough, four months in he found himself taking on responsibility for a 30-strong team of store colleagues. “It was a big learning curve, but also an amazing experience,” he says of the training scheme.

“Of course, I was initially attracted to the company car and one of the highest graduate salaries in the UK. But the opportunity of the role itself is massive. It’s a level of responsibility I could never have dreamed of elsewhere.”

Aldi recruits approximately 100 graduates to its area manager programme throughout the year. It’s competitive but the graduates who make the grade will be rewarded with a package that includes a company car, £44,000 starting salary (rising to £81,415 by the fifth year), five weeks’ holiday (plus bank holidays), and private healthcare.

Participants will learn leadership, teamwork and strategic thinking skills, as well as how to motivate and develop a team. After a year-long training programme, they’ll be given the responsibility of looking after the people, processes, efficiencies and targets for a group of stores, effectively running their own multimillion-pound business. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit – Aldi’s CEO and many of the senior directors started out as area managers.

For Nallanthighal, the graduate scheme proved to be a springboard to a successful career in retail. After completing his training, he was given responsibility for five stores in Northamptonshire and on the Leicestershire border, something he describes as “a very proud moment”.

After a few years, he moved across to the company’s national IT department at its head office, where he would eventually become national IT director. “Timing wise, it was a fantastic opportunity. My team was responsible for the technology in stores, covering software, hardware, openings, closures, networks and payments. We opened an additional 450 stores while I was there.”

He now has responsibility for digital transformation projects across the UK and Ireland. One of his more recent successes was opening Aldi’s first checkout-free store, Aldi Shop&Go, in Greenwich which recently won the Grocer Gold Awards’ technology initiative of the year. “My parents raised their eyebrows a bit when I said I was joining Aldi but have always supported my decision – and now they shout it from the rooftops,” he says, adding that there was probably an expectation from his British Asian family that he’d become a doctor, dentist, solicitor or accountant.

He says: “The opportunities at Aldi have been fantastic. I’ve really appreciated the trust and credibility that I have within the organisation, as well as being able to lead and work with lots of great people.”

Aldi is growing its workforce alongside its store expansion plans and recognises the need to reflect the communities that it serves. Last year, it launched a new diversity and inclusion strategy called Embrace.

Embrace is built on five strategic pillars, and includes training, support, raising awareness and tracking workforce diversity data. At a graduate level, Aldi engages with a diverse range of universities across the country and is working with Bright Network to target candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. It is also running a series of colleague listening groups where people can share their experiences, and leaders will undergo unconscious bias training. Thanks to some of these initiatives, Aldi has just been named employer of the year at the Grocer Gold Awards.

Many studies have demonstrated the business benefits of diversity. Organisations with a diverse workforce and leadership team are more likely to be innovative and profitable. One research paper found that inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time. The decisions they make also deliver 60% better results, the study found. It’s the opposite of “groupthink”, where team members who all think the same way are only able to come up with limited solutions.

Related: From solar panels to switching off lights: how Aldi is reducing its environmental footprint

Nallanthighal is one of those who has shared his personal story on diversity at the workplace. “If leaders can appreciate the characteristics that make us culturally diverse, they can really help and support everyone to be themselves. It’s not just about goodwill. It has to be a directed effort,” he says.

“And this is a topic right at the most senior level of the business. I’ve always felt very secure at Aldi and I’ve had an incredibly varied and rewarding career,” says Nallanthighal. “For me, Embrace gives us the strategic and structured vision to build on what’s already there in terms of positive initiatives, and proves that diversity and inclusion is an intrinsic part of how we operate as a business.”

For those considering applying to the Aldi area manager programme, his advice is clear: “Don’t hesitate. Retail is an incredibly fast-moving environment and this is an amazing business to be part of. The opportunities to learn, grow and develop are plentiful. I’m very proud to be here.”

Are you ready for a career that means more? Join Aldi’s graduate area manager programme