Tag Archives: Board

Why you need a cranky old bastard on your board

There are too many boards with soft inexperienced directors. You know who I’m talking about – the ones who are more concerned with keeping people happy than making the hard decisions; the ones who avoid confrontation; the ones who think they always know best (when they don’t); the ones who think that if they ignore a problem, it’ll go away.

Cropped shot of an unhappy senior boss standing next to the table in the office


The simple fact is that many retail failures can be avoided if you have tough, experienced leaders asking the hard questions. You need to solve problems together as a team, and that means embracing confrontation.

Look, I understand that no one likes conflict but you’re no longer children, so it should be easy to remain civil during a conversation and avoid this. Confrontation and conflict are two very different things, and board meetings need to be a bit confrontational in order to be productive.

That said, you need to tread carefully to make confrontation work for you and your business. Here’s how you can do it.

Choose the right time to ask questions

Bad timing can prevent effective confrontation and communication. When emotions are high, people have a tendency to act without thinking. Negative feelings may provoke anger, and that isn’t what you’re trying to achieve. Choose a time when you can prevent interruptions and a private place where everyone can state their opinions freely. Lead others by asking open-ended and probing questions.

Stick to the facts

I don’t care what John in sales or Lucy in marketing told you on the grapevine. Stick only to the things you know are true. State facts. I’ve witnessed too many incidents where co-workers have gone at one another like bulls in a china shop as a result of hearsay. Always ensure your board focus on real issues from the start and have evidence to substantiate what you’re stating.

Tell your board what you want

Be upfront and honest from the word go. Don’t beat around the bush, or you’ll provoke angst and waste time. Whether you’re looking for a change, commitment, or whatever, tell your board and allow time to let emotion settle. When declaring what you want, it’s also crucial that you state what you are going to do to make it happen. You’ll often find others want the exact same outcome as you.

Remain cool and confident

We all feel a bit touchy when told something we don’t want to hear, but it isn’t an excuse to act like a child. You’re allowed to have emotions, but you need to remain in control of them, regardless of what the other person says. Out-of-control reactions and outbursts will fuel negative emotions, as well as add to your own. Go into your board meetings with a positive attitude and keep your cool.

Listen, listen and listen

Most people like to be heard, especially senior level executives and management. While it’s essential to know what you want and put your point across, you must also be prepared to listen to different viewpoints. Someone may even suggest or state something that you weren’t previously aware of and that may or may not change your opinion or desired outcome. Never argue. Confront and listen.

What is a COO?

A Chief Operating Officer (COO), also known as the Director of Operations, has a valuable role to play within an organisation. More than just second in command to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), a COO is focused on internal day to day operations – the nuts and bolts, so to speak. This allows the CEO to concentrate on investors, partners, press handling and board meetings; to be the face of the business, the job they were ultimately hired to do. When the two positions work in complete harmony, then the company can flourish.

Typically, the COO’s areas of responsibility include production, sales, marketing, research, logistics and development. They may mentor and lead a team of experts in order that the organisation can grow, develop and deliver.

As an example, take a look at this extract from a recent job description at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“The chief operating officer position provides the leadership, management and vision necessary to ensure that the company has the proper operational controls, administrative and reporting procedures, and people systems in place to effectively grow the organization and to ensure financial strength and operating efficiency.”

A COO frees the CEO from involvement in operational details of the business. When the CEO is set the task of considering what is the best thing to do for the company, the COO determines how to make it happen.

While operations are the total sum of the parts, the actual breakdown is determined by what the COO can offer to the role and what the CEO requires from them. The value that a COO can bring to the fore can be at times, tough to replace, particularly within the retail environment which is volatile and difficult to stay on top of. With market and manufacturing trends changing constantly, along with changes to national and international standards and trading agreements, the role of COO is especially vital to larger retail organisations.

A recent report from Ernst and Young shows where COO’s believe they offer real value to the organisations they work for.

The work of a retail COO varies according to the needs of the business and the skills of the CEO and CFO he or she works with, but is constantly driven by the need for cost savings and efficiency.

While the day to day duties may differ, there is a particular skill set that needs to be maintained. In particular, the role demandse need for cost savings and efficiencyss and the skills of the CEO and CFO he or she works with.

considerable organisational skills, management skills, budgetary experience, recruitment experience, policy and procedure handling and an ability to focus on long-term goals. But as always the balance of skill areas is a grey area, and one which is only defined by the particular organisation, the CEO and the company needs.

Business is complicated, and managing a large retail organisation is demanding, requiring more attention that one role can supply. As long as the CEO and the COO can work together, complementing one another’s efforts to shape the business, then success should follow.011616_0048_TheBuyingPy2.jpg

Simplify Chaos

In the world of rapidly changing retail/wholesale landscape, critical projects can make or break a retail business. After working 25+ years internationally in the retail industry, I understand the pain that a botched project can cause. It can disrupt and restrain a business that is otherwise sound, as well as mask further issues within the business.

I have made a career of fixing issues within retail/wholesale businesses and have practical methods to ensure that projects get resolved, one way or another, allowing you to get back to focusing on your core business.  I typically work with retailers that have 20 to 300 stores and I possess the unique ability to cut through the turmoil of a project that has fallen off the rails and get it resolved quickly. I SIMPLIFY CHAOS. Whether it is a bungled software upgrade, a difficult transition to a new warehouse / office, a merchandise planning plan that has not achieved the desired result or an under-performing division that needs to be “dealt with”. After a proper assessment, I will sort it out by getting it back on track, starting over or putting it out of its misery.

What to do / How to do it

Consultants come in all shapes, sizes, expertise and prices. Most will tell you what you need to do; few will tell you how to do it.

From time to time businesses need the help or the perspective of someone from outside the organisation. On a specific project you may decide to use a consultant from a broader background who works with clients from different industries.

These people can offer you an outside perspective of your business and how it compares to other businesses in other industries. They bring in knowledge from a broad range of backgrounds, industries and perspectives. Bringing in knowledge and expertise from outside your industry can be useful in differentiating your business and creating competitive advantage.

However, if you want someone who can help drive real change and improvement then you need someone who has a substantial background in your industry with a thorough understanding of the relevant business processes.

  • These consultants might not wear blue suits, white shirts and red ties.
  • They probably won’t give you a big glossy report which you can show off to the board and other executives.
  • They will not give you template based, out-of-the box solutions. After all, every company in the real world is unique and as its own way of doing things.
  • They will, however, tell you the truth.

These guys have worked in and held senior positions in the industry you are in. They have decided to go out on their own to become a consultant. So typically they are independent or work in smaller specialist firms.

They are hands on doers, who get things done. They offer greater value for money.

Consultants from the large firms are typically from within the consulting industry, not your industry. They lack hands on real life experience.

These consultants have their place. They can give credibility to a project that you are pitching up the chain. You will get beautiful reports with graphs and pictures. You will get a large amount of junior consultants that they can throw at a project.

They can help you to a certain extent on what you need to do. They will not help you on how to do it.

To elaborate on the “What to do / How to do it” comment above let’s look at the retail industry.

Examples of What to do:

  • Reduce your inventory to help the balance sheet
  • Put a new POS / ERP system in
  • Expand internationally
  • Sell a division
  • Put in better controls

Examples of How to do it: (using example one above)

  • Create a proper product hierarchy that allows merchandise planners to control OTB and product mix
  • Implement xxx merchandise planning system
  • Open an outlet
  • Sell obsolete / slow moving stock to xxx
  • Reduce the price of slow moving stock earlier in the season
  • Ensure you are getting up to date relevant information as soon as possible
  • Reduce your skus
  • Evaluate your range

Each of these items needs to be specific to your business. Anybody can tell you “you need to reduce your inventory”, few will be able to give you specific areas of how to reduce your inventory.

The consultant you employ not only needs to be able to cater for the unique needs of your business they need to understand the risk factors associated with particular actions. A consultant with a general background will not have a sound appreciation of where things can and do go wrong, because they do not have the industry background and experience.