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Coffee and a Chat with Terry Sparling, DRW

We’re thrilled to welcome Terry Sparling as our Managing Director at DRW! With a diverse career journey spanning from accounting to commodity trading, Terry brings a wealth of strategic and business expertise to our team.

In this Coffee and a Chat, Terry shares insights into his career, what he feels makes the coffee industry unique in comparison to other commodities, and his initial impressions of DRWakefield. From his thoughts on the coffee supply chain to the culture at DRW, Terry’s journey into the world of coffee promises exciting developments ahead.

Hi Terry,

Thank you for joining us for this Coffee and a Chat. 

Could you tell us about yourself and provide some insight into your role as the Managing Director at DRW?

Happy to do so, given I am a SME (subject matter expert) on Terry Sparling!

I started my career by qualifying as an Accountant in the NHS but quickly realised I didn’t want to be an accountant. Fortunately, an opportunity opened at Tate & Lyle Sugars to join their Commodity Trading management team and fast forward 25 years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working in commodity trading and don’t regret leaving accountancy. Through my various roles in the commodity trading, I’ve covered business management from start-ups to company turnaround roles, from manufacturing to commerce, public sector to investment banking. It has been a constant learning process and seen me switch from checking B L’s to formulating competitive strategies to win market share, often in the same day!

It is this broad spectrum of business that I believe will support the continued business development here at DRW. My actual coffee experience is very limited, so I am extremely grateful to see so many dedicated, knowledgeable and professional colleagues whom I can turn to for advice.

Your career journey has likely been quite diverse. Could you share some key experiences that led you to your current role as MD?

I think my roles heading up a commodity platform in large multi-commodity businesses together with my financial training has naturally led up to this role. In particular, strategic and business planning are 100% transferable to the role here at DRW. More technical aspects of my past like OTC option proprietary trading strategies are unlikely to be relevant in a merchanting business. But the role of MD is rarely all about technical skills. Soft commodities is a people business and of all my facets it is this that I hope will prove most beneficial in supporting my integration to the DRW team.

Coffee is a unique commodity. How does your experience in other commodities compare to your involvement in the coffee industry?

Sugar and Coffee are as different as chalk and cheese! Physical sugar trading has two broad products: bulk raw and bagged whites. There is little customer loyalty, and it is extremely competitive such that most physical trades are at less than replacement. The economic proposition is therefore return on risk as position making is the main driver of profitability. Coffee seems to be more personal. The ratio of customers to products is nearly one to one!!! There are long term supplier and customer relationships stretching to introducing customers to your suppliers. Something totally unheard of in sugar. So, whilst the tools and techniques are similar, the approach couldn’t be more distinct.

Having only been in coffee for a month, what has surprised you about the industry?

The closeness of the supply chain. The need for sustainability and traceability is new to me and it means the coffee supply chain is necessarily more joined up than other commodities. The range of products is astounding. The industry has managed to “de-commoditise” the commodity!! Other commodities could do well to look at the changes in the past generation or so in Coffee Trading.

As a recent addition to the DRW Family, what are your initial impressions and observations about the company?

People. A brilliant and dedicated team who relish the task of bringing top quality coffee to their customers. The culture of the company is unique in my experience. People are genuinely friendly and professional. I haven’t heard a raised voice, or a reply in haste let alone, anger. It’s a great place to come to work every day.

Looking ahead, are there any particular challenges on the horizon that you anticipate facing in the coming months?

I think things are generally in pretty good shape here at DRW. The biggest challenge is following in Simon’s 35 years’ experience. I’ll be 90 before catching up and that assumes I learn at the same pace as him! I suppose the major challenge is how do we keep growing at the current pace or in line with the growth in the market. Undoubtedly this will mean better structuring of our data and an improvement in our trade and execution efficiency using improved systems and processes. These changes are initially often painful but are essential infrastructure work in creating a lower-risk environment upon which to grow.

Your work has taken you to many places. Where is your favourite destination you have travelled to and why?

I’ve been so lucky in my career to have visited many places and interacted with many cultures. My two favourite places, I also (conveniently) had offices in and visited many times; Rio de Janeiro and Singapore. I also really enjoyed working in Jordan with the Government on Grain procurement for food security. The most “off the beat” places were Togo, Malawi, Swaziland and Myanmar, all to source or distribute refined sugar. They were interesting but not necessarily a place I would rush back to. Finally, the most difficult places I travelled to for business were Nigeria (investment banking) and Bangladesh (raw sugar sales). They were both ridiculously busy urban conurbations – too much for a country boy!

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your spare time?

I have lived in Mid Norfolk for the last twelve years and really enjoy the rural setting. We have three Spanish Water dogs, who require lots of attention and walking.

Before the pandemic we lived on a small holding and raised Sheep and Alpaca’s. Most of my hobbies I live vicariously through my wife Clare’s interests as between working in Geneva, other travel and farm commitments there wasn’t time for anything else! I’m a long (long) suffering fan of Leeds United Football Club and recently started going to nearby away fixtures again. This coincided with their relegation, so fans have asked me to stay away from now on!

Is there a personal mantra or philosophy that guides your approach to both work and life?

I wouldn’t say I lived my life by any particular mantra, but I do have a sound humanitarian belief system I gained from my parents. You know, the usual “treat others as you would like to be treated.” In addition, I am great believer in personal freedom and responsibility. Do what you like (within the law of the land) but in the process, try not to harm or impede the freedom of your fellow man, animal or nature. Not rocket science, but life is complicated enough without burdensome rules and boundaries.

And lastly, how do you prefer to enjoy your coffee?

In a walnut cake with a cup of tea! I’m not a coffee aficionado and next to so many experts I’m not going to “wing it!” But I do like a mid-morning/afternoon flat white. Whilst traveling in Brazil I became partial to the odd “cafezinho” as I went from sugar mill to sugar mill. Since joining DRW I am expanding my horizon and heading towards a French press Central American black coffee. Beyond that it’s all a mystery to me!