6 December, 2017
The story of the 33-year career that started by accident
“They say it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. In my case I’d say both are equally important. 33 years ago I was studying Business Studies at Plymouth Polytechnic. As part of my degree, I needed to complete a placement year. To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure what kind of business interested me or even what I wanted to do. Luckily for me, my mum was there to intervene. She produced an application form, together with the words ‘M&S would be a good firm to work for’. That was back in 1984 and I’ve not looked back since.
“Today, I’m a Head of Region. Basically, this involves leading and coaching a fantastic team of people to deliver the M&S brand so our customers believe in it as much as my mother did all those years ago. It’s a brilliant job. Covering 27 stores across the South West means it’s always challenging. But it’s a privilege too. I help our people bring out the best in themselves so customers can experience the best of M&S.
“My understanding of M&S and what it stands for started on that Business Placement all those years ago. It gave me a first-hand taste of what good retail is really all about: bringing people and products together. It taught me the buzz of trading – and this is what drew me back; the interaction; the pace and the people.
“I covered a lot of ground during the early years of my career; I worked in Plymouth, Basingstoke, Guildford, Worthing, Cheshunt and Ealing. In fact, Ealing was where I took on my first Deputy Manager role. This helped me to develop quickly and I was seconded to a Head Office audit role. Here, I devised a way to audit a store’s commercial performance. I can’t say I loved it but it did teach me a great deal and gave me some invaluable insights before heading off to Ireland.
“I spent four years at our subsidiary business. Living in Dublin was a brilliant experience and the job was great too. My development also continued apace. Working in a low-profit, unionised business gave me my first true experience of what it feels like to lead change; they were tough times but it was all the more rewarding to see the business improve and grow.
“When I came back to the UK, I took the opportunity to diversify my experience and joined the HR Group as a Training Manager. This saw me leading the induction, training and appointment of 200 graduates across the South East. Passing on what I had learnt and supporting new colleagues into our business made for another fantastic experience.
“It wasn’t too long, though, before I was back on the frontline managing my own stores; first in Coventry, then Swansea; before moving onto regional management in South Wales and then being made Head of Region for the Midlands.
“At 50, I thought the twists and turns of my career were all in the past. Then up popped the opportunity to Chair our colleague representative body, BIG, the Business Involvement Group. You’re never too old to learn new tricks and it’s been yet another fantastic experience to lead a body of 3,500 people, representing 8,000 colleagues across stores, offices and depots.
“I also chaired the European Works Council that represented our colleagues in continental Europe. Here, I worked independently to give our business leaders at every level the colleague view of how things were working. Both roles taught me the value there is in taking people with you when you set out to change things. You need people to feel involved.
“After three years in Head Office, I’m now back in my favourite role, Head of Region. We are striving to grow the business through our customer strategy to ‘make very moment special’. To me, this means making sure we deliver an unrivalled service consistently. If you enjoy variety and pace; being part of a people business that strives to improve all the time, I’m sure you’ll love working here as much as I have.”Inside M&S