Tag Archives: CEO

Why Are Australian Retailers turning to the UK for Leaders?

I know what you’re thinking. Surely we have enough great retail leaders on our home turf, right? Well, not according to the facts and figures. The people behind the large supermarkets and major retail stores in Australia seem to prefer the idea of been led by the British. In fact, more and more UK retail executives are being called upon for their services.

Businessman holding in hand a global connection,communications concept

Now, I don’t know about you, but it bugs me a little bit. More than a little actually! That said, we wouldn’t have to look further afield for worthy talent if we had it on our own doorstep. Even Woolworths is believed to be getting in on the poaching action. So, why is this happening?

The reason is that some of the leading UK trained executives have the ability to take an average, or even good, retail store and turn it into a bloody great one. That isn’t to say that Australian leaders can’t do the same, but let’s take a look at why international retail talent is so desirable.

New blood = significant change

According to some of the big retail players, they experience less positive changes when hiring Aussies. However, management and leaders from abroad know how to make the right changes to stay competitive. It’s like a breath of fresh air for retailers that have struggled with strategic foresight and innovation. Many believe that foreign talent also have the edge because they have new unencumbered views.

So – what does that say about us? We’re afraid of change. I don’t understand why, though. Consistency and less change are not going to make you stay ahead of the game. In fact, it will do your organisation more harm than good. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen businesses stay in the shade while others are moving forward in the right direction.

The longer you avoid change, the more expensive change will become. That means you’ll spend more investing in things your competitors have already done. If you ask me, there’s no point in investing in change at all when you’re already too far behind everyone else. You should constantly be investing in change as your business grows.

Think back to 2008 when UK retail executive, Ian McLeod took up the reigns at Coles. His no-nonsense, low-cost strategy was a winner from the get-go. In 2015, David Jones headhunted John Dixon for the CEO role. John Dixon played a huge part in turning around the Marks & Spencer food business, which is an area David Jones were desperate to get into at the time. These are only two out of a countless number of UK leaders who have made their way to Australia.

Take a leaf out of some of the British-trained executive’s books and start delivering global standards and experience. If you don’t, an overseas leader might end up being your replacement.


What is a Retail COO?

Having been a CEO, COO and CFO I find that there is still some confusion in the industry about the role of COO. My real passion and ability is to understand complex situations and simplify them, which falls within the remit of a COO.

A Chief Operating Officer (COO) is the executive who oversees ongoing business operations within the company and usually reports to the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) and is second-in-command within the company.

The COO role exists to allow the CEO to play his role outside the company and at the board level while the COO concentrates on internal day to day operations and supply chain.

A COO is responsible for facilitating smooth functioning of organization’s operations and ensuring that these meet their objectives. The COO is the head of Operations. He/she mentors and leads a team with multiple responsibilities, ensuring that the organisation gets the right structure to deliver and grow to be the best in the industry.

The CEO is typically more focused on the long term strategic goals of a business and is commonly the “face” of the business.  The COO generally manages the day to day operation of the business.

The focus of the CEO is strategic and the focus of the COO is tactical.

Functions reporting to the Retail COO can include some, or all, of the following depending on the organisational structure of the business:

  • Accounts
  • IT
  • Merchandise Planning
  • HR
  • Supply Chain
  • Logistics
  • Store Ops
  • Admin
  • Purchasing

Types of COO: (not mutually exclusive) – A COO can usually wear 2 of these hats, but cannot wear all of them at the same time. Interestingly, I have acted as COO in each of these types at different points in my career:

  • Executor – Execution of strategies / right hand man – makes the CEO’s vision a reality
  • Balancing – Complementary to a CEO with different skill sets – the yin and yang – often times the CEO is a strong sales and marketing expert and needs a pure operational COO
  • Advisor / Mentor – Guiding an Entrepreneur / Founder – an experienced COO can take a young entrepreneur and guide them through business obstacles
  • Co-Leader – Partnering with a CEO – similar to the Balancing COO but in this case the CEO and COO are a true team that have equal authority
  • Change Agent – Turnaround, projects, structural change, expansion

What makes a successful COO:

  • Good communication between the CEO / COO / Board – they all must be on the same page and be strategically aligned – they cannot allow employees / clients / vendors play one off the other.
  • Trust / Chemistry – if trust does not exist between the CEO and the COO, it will not work – regardless of how good the CEO and COO are, if the chemistry and trust are not there it is near impossible to make the situation work.
  • Ability to take a back seat with recognition – the CEO is the face of the company and the COO is the person that pulls the strings behind the scenes – someone with a big ego will not succeed in the COO position.
  • Clearly defined responsibilities and authority – there needs to be very clear lines of authority between the CEO and COO – there is no right or wrong way to divide the responsibilities, but they need to be specific – there can be no stepping on toes, or the feeling of stepping on toes.
  • The right TYPE of COO to fit the particular position – as seen above there are different types of COO’s and different fits – a COO that might fit perfectly into one organisation may not fit at all into a different organisation.
  • Clearly defined expectations on succession – as with all positions, there needs to be clear KPI’s that define whether the COO is succeeding – these KPI’s may be different and less specific than typical KPI’s but they need to be in place.
  • Adaptability – the COO has to role with the punches and pull different strings as the company changes – every successful business evolves and the operational needs evolve with it.

The role of COO is often misunderstood, and yet, it is a key position in running a successful retailer. A good CEO/COO combination can turn a good company great (more on that in future blogs).