The source of everything
"At school, business and geography were the subjects I was really interested in, and I didn't want to do a degree in one or the other, I wanted to study something which was in the news and a growth area. At that time there were just three degrees in the UK covering sustainable business (I went to the University of Dundee), now there's hundreds, so I was glad I graduated when I did! At the end of my first year I had learnt a lot about companies that were leading on CSR and sustainability, especially M&S. They showed leadership by being the first to start charging people for carrier bags, the first to be zero waste to landfill and they were building really innovative stores all around the country. This left an impression on me, and so this was a role I wanted to get into.
I know we are doing a great job in making sure that the raw materials (e.g wood, soy, palm oil, coffee and cocoa) we use in our products don't contribute to deforestation, but we need to keep raising the bar as we learn about our impact on the environment and communities. If we can, continue to move M&S forward every year. If we can share what we are doing to become a responsible business, then we can really play a part in doing something about the rate of deforestation.
Our commitment to only source sustainable wood material was one of the first under Plan A. This commitment covers everything. So on the product side it's furniture, it's photo frames, it's Christmas cards. And then it's the packaging that the customer takes home. After that it's our buildings, the fit out, the displays. It really is everything. We really want to be the most responsible buyer of wood supplies in everything we do.
18 months ago we had made great progress but had got stuck; so I started looking at this commitment. It really was a needle in a haystack exercise trying to look into the traceability of some of our supply chains. So, we changed the process and asked suppliers for far greater supply chain information, right back to the forest it came from. That isn't always easy for suppliers to get hold of due to business confidentially, limited purchasing power and more often than not other buyers don't require the same level of due diligence as we do, so they're not used to passing this kind of information on.
To give you an idea of the scale we now go to on this particular commitment, in 2013 the system recorded over 58 million kg of wood material to a detail that I could tell you the forest the abrasive paper on our nail files comes from in the Far East.
But it's not just about us. We're seen as a leader in this space and we have to maintain that. Our aim is that all our wood will be FSC or from recycled sources, but for some of the wood material we use, these sources simply don't exist yet. And we can't just click our fingers and have an FSC supplier overnight, it takes years to get forests FSC certified and for some small forest owners it doesn't make financial sense.
We want to lead in integrity, so we have to be out there, engaging with NGOs and sharing our learnings with other retailers. There are companies out there selling more wood products than us, so if we can engage with them, get them asking more questions and demanding more sustainable products, the easier it becomes for all of us. That way we really can change things for the better, across the sector, at the pace required.
I've learnt a lot about what 'integrity' means in practice, for M&S, for NGOs and for our customers by delivering on this commitment for the business.
For me, our systems and policies are the catalysts for building our integrity, they give us confidence in the market place and instill customer loyalty and stakeholder trust."
A taste of what's next
"I love tasting our food. And, when we're tasting a range, we get to taste a lot of food. It's a great perk of the job.
I started as a pastry chef aged 17 and I've always worked in Michelin-starred restaurants – I've been lucky. It's been a long hard career. I was Gary Rhodes' Head Pastry Chef and was head pastry chef at Mandarin Oriental in London. All Michelin- starred places.
Now, I develop all of the desserts for M&S and we have something like 170 different desserts on the shelves at any one time. I'm the guy that gets to write the description of what we want a dessert to do and then we send this out to our suppliers. For example, if we launch a new range in November, we start the previous October. What I do is I identify what techniques we want, what finishes, what types of products and so forth. Then the suppliers pitch back to me and together we develop the products.
Together with the suppliers we go through this series of gates. Every time we're testing what we can do. Can we do this? Can we do that? There are six gates we go through, from the brief right up to when we sign it off, we package it, manufacture it and launch it. Then it's ready to go on the shelves.
I'm very lucky – I've got a good food background. I've worked as a trendsetter in the past and now we have to keep our finger on the pulse so that we are the best trend follower.
We try to create products that are restaurant quality and I think M&S do that really well. We're watching restaurants like Hakkasan and some of the best patisseries to make sure we're doing things as well as we can. I've worked with some of the best chefs and I can safely say I'm now working with a very innovative company.
I love staying ahead, planning, and being the best. It's November now, and I'm already planning next Christmas's range. We really do set the pace in this industry."
How you can start your career at M&S.
"Autumn is my busiest period. It’s when we open all of our undergraduate and school leaver schemes for applications to join our business the following year."
"It’s a really exciting time to consider a career in retail, especially at M&S as we are laying the foundations for growth and development with our international expansion plans and a strong focus on technology. Joining M&S now on one of our management programmes means you will have the chance to get involved in shaping the way our business evolves in the future, whilst fast-tracking your career."
"Our School Leaver Programme offers individuals the opportunity to start their career straight from school – it’s a 12-18 month programme that coaches, trains and develops you to become an M&S Commercial Manager. At the end of the programme, you will be responsible for running your own area of one of our stores, overseeing multi-million pound budgets and line managing a team of Section Managers and Customer Advisors."
"Most people underestimate the variety of roles at a retail organisation. Our graduate opportunities, for instance, span many areas of the business. These include everything from Software Engineering and IT Business Analyst roles to Buying & Merchandising, Logistics, Design, Marketing, HR and Product Development."
"Our Retail Programme has the largest number of places available and opportunities nationwide. We also offer many places at our Head Office in Paddington, London. If you have a real motivation for retail, enjoy working in a fast-paced environment and are prepared to hit the ground running, we’d love to hear from you!"
A truly International, multi-channel retailer
"As the Head of E-commerce for China, it's so exciting to think that we can reach customers all over the country, and I see huge opportunities around how online exposure will improve awareness of M&S.
"Every day we work really hard to keep quality and innovation front of mind. We want to help our customers better understand our products and make it easier to find what they need. So, when we first thought about 'store picking' we knew it was a truly innovative idea that was right for M&S. We are the first within M&S to have both retail and E-commerce stock available to the whole Chinese market. Today our customers have access to more products, and that means they get a better customer experience and we sell more stock. It has generated an extra 30% in business we otherwise wouldn't have got.
"To see my colleagues trying to improve efficiency with store-picking, designing this special shelf for more efficient product sorting and packing - that's inspirational. I saw store staff willing to make the extra effort to fulfill store-picking orders so we could show that our multichannel works. It has been well supported by all levels locally. I am proud we have done this because it really distinguishes M&S from the other brands. That is what will bring customer loyalty. "Inside M&S
The source of inspiration
"When I was designing the dress for the competition, I drew inspiration from a recent visit to Charleston farmhouse in Sussex, where artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved during World War I to escape bombings in London. The print draws inspiration from the artists' unique, decorative style. Organic brush strokes were used to create repetitive patterns, which covered the walls, doors and furniture of the house. The silhouette reflects the feminine laid-back approach to life in the countryside. I didn't go there seeking inspiration for the design especially, it just came to me while I was there.
"You can go anywhere to get inspired. I might go out, or read a book, or go to exhibitions; because it's really good to open your eyes, to actually live experiences and go places. I try and put my personality into my designs – bringing outside experiences into my work to keep it fresh and original.
"Everybody buys from M&S. You can go anywhere and you'll always see an M&S store. So, when I design something I'm thinking "wow, my Mum might wear this," or I might wear it, or perhaps my cousin might wear it - so you're always dressing up a lot of people. I like to design clothes that people can wear. You're not just designing things because it's in fashion, you're designing things so that people will want to wear them. That's what inspires me every day – the idea of designing clothes which people will make people feel good when they wear them."
Best friends reunited
"The story began when a newspaper contacted us and asked if we could help a little girl – Lucy – who had lost her M&S toy bunny rabbit.
"I spoke to colleagues around M&S and eventually we found another bunny – but we still had the problem of explaining where her bunny had been! So I made up a postcard from the rabbit that said "I'd been on holiday – sorry I had to leave you. I've been travelling with another girl who didn't have a rabbit to go with, but I really missed you so I've come home". The newspaper ran the article with a video of the girl getting the rabbit back.
"To see the little girl's face. That is what it is about. It often happens, that request – but we can't always find the exact replacement toy – to see her face and hear her little squeal when she opened the package was really special.
"I love the interaction with the customers. You never know what you're going to get. Every contact is different and you have to treat it like that. You have to treat each contact as if they're the first one of the day – it doesn't matter if it's a quarter to five and you've been there since 9 a.m. – that customer, they're really important. You have to make them feel that they're the most important person you've spoken to that day. That's when you really show you care, and you're in touch."
More than just a missing slipper
"We received a lovely letter addressed to the kidswear department, really beautiful, saying this young boy, Thomas, was searching for a missing slipper. The family had sent in a gorgeous photo showing him wearing one small slipper and one large slipper – making his feet hurt. I thought Yammer was quite new to people so why not write Thomas's story there? I wanted to use the story quite creatively and used the photos the mum had sent in (without showing his face). It was the story that seemed to captivate people because it went quite viral inside M&S after that!
"All that time, we were in contact with his mum¬ – we wrote back saying that we were really sorry and they were trying to find one on the new internal system – then his mum sent back an email showing how Thomas was really proud with his letter. We simply had to find the right size, and eventually the team at Waterside were able to send a brand new slipper set direct from our factory.
"I think making a connection with our customers is so important. Stories like this really illustrate it. If you actually take the time to think – it seems like a massive thing that we've done but how important was it to that little boy? and what does it say about how we value all customers? I think it's amazing that as a company we could go to that effort to do it. But I think it gives a lesson as well that we need to take the time to think about why it's so important to that person.
"The other thing that really made me think was how you engage and connect with people. If I'd have just gone on and filled in a stroke number and said look in your Sale section, probably nobody would have responded. But it's taught me that if you tell people a story, and why it's important, then you get a response. And we always talk about that as a company; that you have to tell the 'why'. Why is it worth bothering looking for this slipper? Because a little boy has actually taken the time to take these photos at home and his mum has written a card – that's why it's important."Inside M&S