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Meet the team: Karen Cullom on the transformative power of technology

Green crates full of clear packages full of candy, labeled for sale. Inset is a photo of Karen Cullom.

With almost two decades of experience in the consumer goods industry, Karen Cullom, VP Product Development for the Food, Beverage and Consumer Goods focus at TELUS Agriculture & Consumer Goods, has seen first-hand how technology has unlocked new efficiencies and profitability for manufacturers and distributors.

“I remember working as a pricing manager at Conagra Brands, where I was evaluating the profitability that our sales folks were offering the retailers or restaurants,” she shares. “Believe it or not, some of these deals would be written on a crumpled napkin. It was just the way it was, and we quickly realized we needed a better way to organize and manage and evaluate our pricing – and at a quicker pace, too.”

She discovered the solution she needed in a set of applications from Blacksmith Applications, which became part of TELUS Agriculture & Consumer Goods in 2021. “I was one of the first users of the product, and I could see how it was going to revolutionize the consumer goods industry,” she says. “It was an incredible success.” So much so that two years later, in 2004, she joined Blacksmith, helping it grow from a start-up to part of the TELUS family.

Today, Karen enjoys providing customers with solutions to help them track, analyze and act on their pricing and promotional activities – without a hastily scribbled note in sight. “Not only do we have a tool where they can enter all of their contracts, we can also measure their profitability,” she says, reflecting on how much the industry has changed over the last two decades. “It’s a lot more advanced now. Technology has been a game changer. Now we have products and solutions to assist us in managing large amounts of data and evaluating it at a much faster pace. I’m not getting deals coming in on crumpled napkins anymore, that’s for sure.”

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5 things to know about Karen Cullom

What inspires her

The most rewarding part of my role is just seeing all the work that we put in to succeeding and positively impacting our customers. When you see your customers using it in real life and loving the product, it feels a bit like winning a scratch-off lottery card or finally beating my kids at Mario Kart. It’s a great feeling. 

What people should know about grocery store prices 

Many consumer products are based on commodities. Think of cream cheese, where it's taking into account butter and the milk market. Or a sausage patty, where they’re depending on a beef commodity. As those commodity prices increase, the price of the product increases. There’s also the cost of transportation to distribute the product to a warehouse and then to the store. All of those things have an impact. 

How she gives back

I'm involved in a community called Women in Product, where we connect and support each other in different types of challenges we may be having, and with career advice and advancement. I’m also mentoring a lot of people who are just now starting out their careers or launching new products. I find I gain as much as I give when I have these conversations.

The TELUS value that resonates most with her

For me, it’s, “We grow through spirited teamwork,” because I've experienced it firsthand. When you have a strong team, they will deliver exceptional results beyond your wildest imagination.

The advice she gives to others

I always tell people to keep an open mind. Be open to learning as much as you can, and make sure you're building your connections and your network. I think that we learn a lot through sharing stories, and you never know – somebody you meet today may be somebody that you can either help or who can help you down the road.

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