Making the move to a Non-Executive Director role


Non-Executive Director roles are no longer the domain of retired executives looking to maintain a level of professional involvement, with many people making the transition to an NED role as a positive career move.

Portfolio careers, or ‘going plural’ as Allan Leighton called it, is now viewed as a serious alternative career plan for executives at a much earlier stage of their career than NED’s of the past. For many retail executives who have thrived in working within the fast paced world of retail, a move to a portfolio career could offer both variety and a fresh challenge. Joining a large corporate board provides a seasoned executive the opportunity to use their technical skills and commercial experience to influence business critical strategic decisions that can impact on hundreds of jobs. At the other end of the spectrum many NEDs that join start up or early stage businesses enjoy the challenge of working alongside the management team to help support business growth and influence investment partnerships.

For women the NED route may be a speedier path to gaining a seat at the boardroom table. Analysis of FTSE100 board appointments in the last year revealed that whilst female executives accounted for 38% of board appointments made, the majority of appointments were into NED roles.

Fiona Davidson who heads up court & spark’s Main Board Practice comments: “If the NED route helps to increase female representation across mainstream board appointments then clearly it is a desired trend. However we do not see an NED appointment as one that should be gender biased. As with any Executive appointment, we help the organisation find the candidate with the most suitable experience, skill set, persona and career profile. In addition to industry experience an exemplary NED needs to have a thorough understanding of the corporate landscape including governance and fiscal acumen. The most valued NEDs will be able to demonstrate first rate communication and relationship management skills to facilitate the diverse range of talents and insights from the whole of the non-executive team. They seek to advise, inform, challenge and forecast industry trends and global opportunities. In essence they should aim to future-proof the organisation rigorously and bravely.”

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With 4000% growth in its user base since its launch last year it looks like Pinterest may mature into mainstream use – so what’s it all about and how can Pinterest be used by retailers and retail executives?

First of all, let’s look at the basics. Pinterest is a bookmarking website which you can use to bring together a variety of content that you might have found all over the web. Once you’re signed up to create a Pinterest account you create an online pinboard – a ‘board’ – which you can then ‘pin’ content too in relation to a particular theme which you might find in sites all across the web.

Pinterest uses a ‘wedding planner’ theme as a great way to explain how Pinterest works. Brides-to-be in particular might ‘pin’ wedding items they find on the web, whether its cake ideas, decorations, clothing, on a wedding ‘board’ and in one snapshot they’re be able to see all the things they have found. Apart from saving on printing out loads of web pages, a useful Pinterest feature is the sharing functionality on facebook and twitter, so you can share the board with whoever might be interested in the same theme. For the bride-to-be it might be the fiancée, parents, bridesmaids or other brides who are looking for inspiration from fellow wedding planners.

For retailers Pinterest is a great PR and sales tool as the sharing functionality enables your consumers to showcase your items out to their followers, but the content will always link back to the original website where it was found. So if a Pinterest user ‘pins’ your content to one of their boards, whether its fashion, for the home or something else, they’ll not only be PR-ing your product, but helping friends and followers to track back to your site to make a purchase.

If you’re a job hunter, particularly in the creative sector, Pinterest is a great way to showcase your portfolio, and businesses can use the site to bring their client list and business achievements to life in a much more interesting way. court & spark has just created our own Pinterest site – so take a look and feel free to ‘re-pin’!

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Although I’ve worked with high street retail businesses for more than 30 years, my experience living in Italy more recently has reminded me of the critical contribution retailers make to the local community.

Italy has a two-speed retail scene, with hot spots such as Rome, Milan and Florence home to a host of international brands, while independents dominate elsewhere. With fewer multiples to compete against, Italian indies have not been squeezed by the high street rents and rates that have stifled UK retailers, and the cultural differences in the way Italians shop have kept the high street as the hub.

Local sourcing and buying is really important to Italian consumers, who make shopping a daily ritual, not just the weekend leisure experience it is in the UK. This cultural difference means even small villages can support local retailers and maintain the high street as a community hub.

Many believe Italy is set to see the same growth in multiples as was experienced in the UK. Greater choice is always good for the consumer, but I hope we ccontinue to also support our local independents who keep the heart of the community beating.

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court & spark consulting has reinforced our leadership team through the appointment of highly regarded retail player Michael Hobbs who joins as Chairman. Michael has spent over 30 years operating within the retail sector in roles with H&M, Burtons, Laura Ashley, Mountain Warehouse and was CEO of Adams Childrenswear.

In his role as Chairman, court & spark will benefit from Michael’s considerable commercial and business strategy expertise, together with retail industry experience and network to help the business realise further expansion plans. court & spark’s Founders and Joint MD’s Claire Beasley and Pauline Wood are currently driving the business on a growth strategy and in the last twelve months have made key appointments within their E-commerce, Mapping & Research and Main Board Practice areas.

Hobbs’ appointment also marks a return to a more active involvement in the retail sector, following his last retail role as Chairman of Mountain Warehouse in 2007. Having achieved significant success during his nine year tenure at Adams Childrenswear, transforming the mature, single format retailer into a profitable multi brand/multi channel business he stepped down to realise his dream of developing Appassionata, an Italian lifestyle business, incorporating property development, a vineyard and truffle plantation. Even though Michael has maintained his retail sector links through Non-Exec roles and involvement with other commercial ventures, his main focus has been Appassionata. As this business is now in the capable hands of his wife and daughter Michael believes the time is right to increase his presence within the retail industry and his role at court & spark will act as the first in a number of new opportunities.

court & spark’s Joint MD Claire Beasley comments: “Pauline and I are proud to have grown the business to its current scale and we are committed to fuelling further expansion. The appointment of Michael Hobbs as Chairman will help facilitate development of increased capability for court & spark. Michael’s retail sector connections, novel ideas and business strategy expertise will provide Pauline and I with a great sounding board as we make key decisions to grow the business. We wanted someone with a proven track record and fresh perspective to add value to our business expansion and it’s a real coup to appoint Michael as our Chairman.”

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court & spark continues to broaden our retail sector executive search capability through the creation of a dedicated E-commerce Practice team headed up by E-tail specialist Kate Hills. This now creates six dedicated Practice teams for court & spark consulting; the others are Retail Operations, Head Office, HR, Main Board and Mapping & Research.

Kate has been operating in the fashion and retail sector for over 20 years working in design, commercial and buying roles for an enviable portfolio of brands which have included Burberry, Levi’s and Marks & Spencer.

Having spent 10 years in buying, culminating in a senior role managing a large team at Debenhams, Kate realised that the future of retail was increasingly dependent on digital skills. She says that the best thing she ever did was enrol to on the UK’s first Masters Degree in Internet Retailing, run by Manchester Metropolitan University in conjunction with Econsultancy. Not only did the course enable her to understand the fast moving ecommerce sector, from web to marketing to supply chain management and logistics, but the contacts that she has made in the industry have been invaluable.

Kate comments: “I’m really looking forward to the challenge of increasing court & spark’s activity within E-commerce and build upon the existing strong track record the business has. E-commerce has links into all areas of the retail operation, including branding, customer service, marketing, merchandising, PR, logistics and finance. It means the range of assignments the Practice can handle is diverse and I will be working closely with court & spark’s Retail Operations and Head Office Practices so collectively we can secure the best candidates to match the brief.”

Claire Beasley, Joint MD of court & spark consulting comments: “The pace of change within E-tail and E-commerce makes it a very exciting place to be and we are seeing high demand from retailers who are investing in bringing new people with digital skills into their business. The fast moving landscape means retailers need experts who have retail industry and digital knowledge to handle executive search within E-commerce appointments – learning on the job is not an option. Through the appointment of Kate, we are pleased that court & spark’s clients will be able to immediately access E-commerce knowledge and expertise, together with being able to tap into a great digital candidate talent pool.”

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As a business founded by two passionate female retailers, we have long supported the work that everywoman does to showcase and celebrate retailing talent and the contribution women are making to the retail industry. That’s why this year we have been proud to support this year’s everywoman in Retail Awards which were held at The Savoy on 13th September.

The awards seek to identify the dynamic female talent working at the top of the retail industry and showcase the broad range of career opportunities that retail can offer women, beyond the shop floor. These awards are vital in presenting the industry as one that welcomes, values and rewards talented women, and present it as an industry sector where women can fulfil their career aspirations.

This year court & spark helped shine the spotlight on young female retailers by sponsoring the Star of the Future Award. So naturally we’re really pleased to support this year’s Star of the Future Award which is presented to a woman aged under 30, who the judges felt has shown energy, ambition and generosity of spirit to represent the positive future of the retail industry.

Commenting on court & spark’s sponsorship of the event, Claire Beasley said: “Although court & spark is regularly helping to place women within senior retailing roles, the industry in general suffers from a shortage of women reaching the senior echelons of retail. So we believe the everywoman in Retail Awards is an important opportunity to showcase top retailing talent and celebrate the achievements being made by women in our industry. We’re proud to play our part in supporting the event and congratulate all female retailers who were shortlisted for awards and of course pay tribute to the award winners, including Asda’s COO Judith McKenna and Alyssa Smith in the Star of the Future Award which we were proud to present.

Click through to the everywoman in retail awards page to see all finalists and winners.

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Whilst social media has revolutionised the way we work, psychology experts believe that the move towards online networking is damaging the confidence of people being able to network in the real world.

In the past, time spent networking could reap multiple benefits, whether you were buying, selling or just trying to stay on the radar of fellow professionals. Today, workplace demands make it difficult to justify spending time out of the office and the internet can offer an easy way to network in the virtual world.

At court & spark, we believe our network is one of our most important assets, and we have built and developed relationships by meeting hundreds of people over the years. We are convinced that meeting people face-to-face provides the strongest opportunity to really understand what makes a person tick and get a feel for a person’s confidence, gravitas, personality and chemistry.”

The threat is as the networking environment becomes less familiar, people lose the confidence to engage within professional forums and events and miss out on making new connections and acquaintances.

If you need help to improve your confidence in a networking environment here’s a few of my top tips:

1. If possible, pre-arrange to meet a contact at a networking event – it means that you can be guaranteed to get some benefit out of the event, and it’s possible the contact that you’re meeting can introduce you to some new connections.

2. If you see someone on their own, invite them to join your conversation, or strike up a conversation with them – it’s likely that they are also there to make new connections so will welcome the opportunity to engage.

3. Have an exit strategy so you can move on when the conversation has died, whether it’s a refreshment break, making a call or searching for another contact.

4. View networking events as a long term relationship builder and don’t expect to walk away with an immediate opportunity. Cultivate the new contacts you have made by following up with email contact and future invites to other similar networking events.

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Challenging market conditions have created a void in the availability of senior level talent, and retailers have to work very hard to attract senior executives into the organisation. Salary is clearly an important factor, but many other factors come into play so smart retailers are offering new hires a very personalised package which we describe as having the ‘X-factor’.

Talent shortages at the top are being created as executives decide to ride out the economic storm by staying put and also day to day job pressures do not allow time for retail professionals to think about career moves. Even executives who have been affected by redundancy are snapped up pretty quickly, especially those with in-demand skills such as e-commerce. This means retailers have to work very hard to attract senior executives into the organisation and whilst salary is clearly an important factor, retailers are putting other elements onto the negotiating table in order to offer the ‘X-factor’ over other employment opportunities the candidate may be considering.

For example many senior executives looking to move recognise how instrumental the CEO will be to their potential working environment and job role so the candidate wants to understand how the CEO operates, including chemistry, management style, access levels and engagement with senior managers. Whilst it’s not always possible for retailers to involve the CEO in the final stage of selection, retailers who can give candidates a good feel for how the CEO operates through current internal communications and employee engagement activity will help candidates get a feel for the job on offer beyond the raw job specification and salary numbers.

Other elements we see come into play during the negotiations can be around other soft benefits such as commitment to mentoring and training, flexible working hours, gym & health benefits, mobile phones and tablets. The economic climate and corporate structure of some of the larger retailers means that they cannot keep pushing the salary boundaries, but by offering a competitive salary together with thinking creatively around a range of soft benefits and career commitments retailers can provide executives looking to move with a compelling offer.

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The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ latest view of Women in the Boardroom shows there has been growing recognition for the benefits gained by business, the economy and society by appointing more women to decision-making roles within business.

The report showed that 15% of FTSE board directors were female, an increase of 2.5% from 2009, indicating that more women had a seat at the boardroom table than in the past. In the retail sector, based on analysis of board level representation at the seven retailers within FTSE 100, of the 94 board positions available, 27% were held by female executives, representing a 5% growth in representation. These figures illustrate that the retail sector has a higher representation of women than generally seen across business and echoes the general increase in the number of women who are now holding the most senior positions.

The BIS report provides encouraging evidence that boardrooms are becoming more reflective of our society and its great to see the retail sector is helping to lead the change. I believe that Retail is a fantastic industry for women to develop their careers and is a real meritocracy, but leadership roles outside of the retail fashion sector continue to be male dominated. In fashion we see exceptional female retailers such as Angela Arendt’s at Burberry, Jane Shepherdson at Whistles, Nicky Dulieu from Hobbs and White Stuff’s Sally Bailey at the helm, but there are only a limited number of female CEO’s across the wider retail sector, and indeed WHSmith’s Kate Swann is the only woman heading up a FTSE listed retail business.

The release of the latest Women on Boards data also coincided with the opening of nominations for the everywomen in retail awards, the annual event which recognises outstanding female retailing talent. It’s an event which court & spark has supported for a number of years and we’re already looking to paying tribute to some of retail’s brightest stars at the glitzy event in September – so we hope to see you there.

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court & spark has been working alongside Hallett Retail – The Concessions People for over two years and has been behind the placement of over 12 management and executive appointments. The business was started over 12 years ago by former Arcadia retailer, Wendy Hallett, who spotted a gap in the market to provide brands with a unique route to grow their distribution, while also helping provide retailers with an easy solution to broaden their product mix. Today, Hallett Retail operates 1,500 concessions across 30 host retailers who include Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, House of Fraser and New Look who feature over 50 fashion and accessory brands such as Apricot, AX Paris, Pussycat, Rage, Mela and Sodamix. Hallett Retail has also recently diversified into jewellery and is operating concessions for jewellery brands such as Guess, Ted Baker, LK Bennett, Cath Kidston and Karen Millen in House of Fraser.

Despite the challenging retail environment Hallett Retail is bucking the trend and is continuing to expand. Wendy Hallett explains: “Our retailing model is beneficial for retail partners and brands as we facilitate easier expansion and growth than if they were going it alone. Through inclusion within one of our umbrella concession store formats, brands, especially the smaller or newer ones, can gain all the benefits of a strong presence on the high street without the cost and we can help retailers by streamlining the resources spent on maintaining relationships with a host of smaller fashion labels.”

“By retailing through a Hallett Retail concession, brands also benefit from our retail expertise, from range planning, merchandising, staffing and IT, so brands can concentrate on focusing on their product while we take care of the retail detail.”

Wendy Hallett believes that the success of Hallett Retail comes down to ensuring that they always have the right product on offer, together with the speed in which the product mix can be changed in response to consumer trends and shopping patterns. She concludes: “With over 50 brands within our fashion and accessory label portfolio we can offer retailers a tailor-made mix of brands to meet their own trading needs, but we continually monitor sales data using our custom-developed IT systems so we can move at lightning speed to adapt the space and brand mix to meet changing consumer demands.”

The growth in Hallett Retail’s nationwide footprint has been reinforced by the growth within its senior team, with a number of high profile appointments including Retail Director, Donna Toppin, and HR Director, Jacqui Margolis, both of whom have been placed by court & spark consulting.

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